Should Greek Life Matter When Choosing a College?
When you’re choosing a college, student life is a major part of the equation. You’ll spend most of your time interacting with your peers on campus in residential and social contexts, so it’s important to find a college where the everyday culture is a good fit for you.
In researching your on-campus options, you’ll likely come across some mention of “Greek life.” This general term is used to refer to a college’s community of fraternities and sororities, traditionally residential and single-sex student organizations that emphasize close relationships among members, offer social and networking opportunities, and work together on projects like volunteering.
It’s important to get a sense of what social life is like at any college you’re considering. Some students are eager to join a Greek organization, while others are uninterested; either way, Greek life can potentially be a factor in determining whether a particular college is a good match for you.
Here’s how to evaluate whether and how Greek life on a particular campus shapes that school’s culture, along with some tips on deciding whether Greek life is right for you.
An Introduction to Greek Life
For many high school students, their perceptions of fraternities and sororities may be heavily shaped by how these groups are portrayed in the media. Movies like 1978’s Animal House depict Greek life as a raucous parade of parties, pranks, and conflict with college authorities, and many later portrayals adopted the same tone.
Of course, in real life, Greek organizations are far more diverse, and some are dedicated to laudable causes like service, leadership, and community support. This reality may be somewhat less entertaining than the movie version, but it means that Greek life may have more to offer than some students might expect.
While Greek organizations are traditionally residential and single-sex, in the present day, they may not be either of these. Most often, the Greek organizations at a college are branches or chapters of a larger organization spanning multiple colleges, and some of these organizations have long and illustrious histories and well-known alumni who maintain close relationships.
Greek organizations typically maintain an element of secrecy and ceremony, with certain spaces and activities closed to outsiders, and may even identify themselves using secret handshakes and other special markers. Aside from the Greek letters after which they’re named, they have nothing to do with Greece.
The various Greek organizations on a campus also maintain relationships with each other. They may be located physically near one another, perhaps centered on a particular campus quad or “fraternity row.” They often make collective policy decisions through a central “Greek council,” Panhellenic organization, or similar governing body, and they may also come together to jointly host or sponsor campus events.
Typically, a Greek organization will need to remain in good standing with the college and meet certain requirements in order to maintain its status as an officially sanctioned campus group. Aside from this basic requirement, however, Greek organizations can vary a great deal amongst themselves, and colleges differ in how they manage these groups.
At some colleges, fraternities and sororities occupy designated portions of on-campus housing; at others, Greek houses are off-campus and independently maintained. Some colleges allow students to join and/or move into a Greek house as first-years, while others don’t allow students to join until later on. With so much variation, it’s important that you research the individual college and its particular Greek organization chapters to get all the pertinent details.
Potential Pros and Cons of Joining a Greek Organization
Across the U.S., approximately 9 million people are student or alumni members of a fraternity or sorority. It’s a popular activity, and it has some significant potential upsides for its members.
Here are some of the benefits you might get from membership in a Greek organization:
- Your social calendar will likely be full, both with internal events for members of your organization and with larger social events sponsored by your organization.
- At some colleges, your living arrangements may be more attractive than those available to most students, and you’ll often only have to share your common spaces and amenities with other members of your organization instead of the student body at large.
- You’ll develop networking connections, both with your peers and with alumni. Membership in the same Greek organization can be a valuable point of commonality upon which to build a professional relationship, both now and in years to come.
- You’ll have opportunities to take on leadership roles in the community, which can be important additions to your resume, as well as chances to mentor and guide younger students in your Greek organization.
- The service and volunteer activities in which you participate with your Greek organization can also add to your resume, while supporting your personal growth at the same time.
- Your fellow members can provide you with a sense of belonging and social support, during and even after college. Strong bonds of friendship and shared memories are often forged within Greek organizations.
At the same time, Greek life isn’t for everyone.
Individual organizations vary, but here are some common aspects of Greek life that might cause you to decide that it’s not the best fit for you:
- Greek life is often very structured, with rules, requirements, and mandatory meetings and events. You may not be a fan of this kind of structured environment, and you may not agree with the organization’s rules or choices of activities.
- Greek organizations often charge membership fees and indirectly require you to incur other costs, such as buying particular clothes for an event. (Some organizations do offer financial assistance to members who need it.)
- “Rushing” a Greek organization, or seeking to become a member, and then “pledging,” or going through a probationary period, can be tough and time-consuming. Many schools have outlawed stereotypical hazing practices, but the process can still be difficult, and you’ll still have a long list of requirements to meet and mandatory events to attend.
- A residential community with lots of group activities and required engagement with others may not be good for you if you’re introverted, or just want more freedom and control over your own schedule.
- The time commitment required to be active in a Greek organization may cut into your ability to take on extracurriculars, get a part-time job, or pursue other activities.
- You may not be comfortable with the exclusivity of your Greek organization, particularly if it makes it more difficult for you to maintain friendships outside that group.
Does a thriving Greek scene shape campus life?
Obviously, every college campus is different, and every Greek organization is different, so it’s difficult to make broad statements about how Greek organizations affect their colleges. What we can say is that if Greek life is particularly popular on a certain campus, it can have a significant impact upon social life on that campus more generally.
If Greek life is extremely popular on a campus, with many students seeking to join Greek organizations, you may feel more pressure to get involved with Greek life at some point in your college career. Given the potential benefits of joining a Greek organization that we’ve listed above, choosing to stay out of that scene when many of your classmates are involved may not seem like an attractive choice.
On some campuses, weekend social life may be visibly dominated by Greek organizations, so you may worry that not joining a fraternity or sorority will mean that you’ll miss out on good times and opportunities to make friends. If your existing friends plan to join Greek organizations, you might also feel the need to go with them. (You should keep in mind that other social opportunities always exist — you may just have to dig a little deeper to find them.)
There’s nothing wrong with joining a Greek organization if that choice suits you. However, if you really don’t want to get involved in Greek life, but feel pressured to do so, that can be a difficult experience to add to the other stresses of college.
On the other hand, at a school with a thriving and popular Greek scene, you may find a greater diversity of Greek organizations, meaning that you’re more likely to find a group that’s a good fit for you. Many fraternities and sororities don’t fit the stereotype, and you may be surprised at how much variation exists. It’s worth doing your research to get a better picture of what Greek life is like on a particular campus.
In the end, should Greek life impact your college choices?
Greek life is just one option among many, so it’s usually not going to be a major deciding factor when you’re choosing colleges for your list. If you’re looking forward to being a member of a fraternity or sorority, you’ll find some opportunity to do that at most colleges. If you’d prefer not to get involved in Greek life, other options exist at basically every school.
Of course, not all Greek organizations are the same; some might be known for exciting social events, others for career development and networking opportunities, and still others for their dedication to community service. Your choice of whether or not to join a particular Greek organization will depend upon factors that are much more complicated than whether or not you like the idea of Greek life in general.
If the residential and community aspects of Greek life appeal to you, but you’re not interested in joining a fraternity or sorority, you may have additional options. Some campuses offer specialized dorms, theme housing, and other residential communities outside the Greek system. When I was a student at Brown, I was a member of Interfaith House, one such community; others on campus included Tech House, International House, and the co-op West House.
On the flip side, if you’re not interested in Greek life at all, you can still have an enjoyable experience at a school where many students participate in it. Colleges are large and diverse communities, and just because Greek life is popular on a certain campus doesn’t mean that you can’t take a different path — or even create other options yourself.
Whether or not you intend to participate in Greek life, and even if that intention doesn’t impact your choice of colleges, it’s still a good idea to gather some knowledge about the social environment on campus more generally. You’ll spend far more time outside the classroom than inside, so it’s important to choose a college that makes you feel comfortable and gives you appealing social opportunities.
Your college is not just your school; it’s your home for the next four years. Socializing and making friends are important parts of college life, and while your experience depends in part on the actions you choose to take, fit matters in this arena just as it does with other factors in choosing a college.
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