Thinking about going Greek? You’ll be in good company. According to the North-American Interfraternity Conference, 48 percent of all U.S. presidents were Greek.
At several universities, Greeks are the most prominent groups on campus, even though they are just a fraction of the student body. And statistics show that Greeks are more likely to graduate than regular college students. But then again, with movies like “Legally Blonde” and headlines about wild parties, what’s the truth?
The truth is, there’s no cookie cutter Greek experience. Like everything else in life, you’ll get out of your membership what you choose to put in. From a distance, it might look like all Greek organizations are the same. But upon closer scrutiny, you’ll discover that the chapters are as diverse as the colleges they serve. “Each organization will have values and principles that have guided and sustained them for well over 100 years,” says Julie Burkhard, chairwoman of the National Panhellenic Conference (npcwomen.org) in Indianapolis.
Is Greek life for you?
These pointers can help you decide.
Deciding to rush
“The first step to potential membership is expressing interest,” says Peter Smithhisler, president and CEO of the North-American Interfraternity Conference (nicindy.org) in Indianapolis. Your college’s Greek life office can explain how and when rush, or recruitment, is held. Some colleges designate one week for recruitment and others offer informal recruitment programs year-round.
Signing up for rush neither obligates you to join nor guarantees you a spot at one of the local chapters. “Recruitment is a mutual selection process,” says Smithhisler. “It’s an active process about making friends. Expect it to be personal and one-on-one.”
After you sign up for recruitment, you will learn more about your college’s Greek chapters and meet the current members. Early in this process, you’ll most likely visit several Greek organizations. This is your opportunity to review living arrangements and to seek an initial fit. Depending on your campus, there might be several hundred new freshmen participating in recruitment activities, so be brave and introduce yourself.
Narrowing it down
As the recruitment process continues, you and the Greek chapters will each have an opportunity to express or decline interest in each other. If a potential match is made, you may be invited to participate in more personalized recruitment events. At this point, you will need to focus on your own personality, goals and interests.
“It’s important to know yourself and to find a group that matches,” Smithhisler says.
If you enjoy challenges, you might appreciate the opportunities presented by a newly established fraternity. By building the chapter’s local legacy and selecting other future members, you have the opportunity to get involved and take on a leadership role right away. On the other hand, if you value heritage and traditions, you might be happier in a well-established group.
During this part of the recruitment process, chapters will assess how you might fit into their group, so it’s important that you be yourself. “Anyone with a special skill or talent, such as service, leadership, athletics or academics will be attractive as a potential member,” says Smithhisler.
Ask questions about how the group can help you be successful. Most Greek organizations value academic achievement, but the degree to which they support or reward this can vary.
Many Greek chapters will offer scholarships for tuition or books, and
they often sponsor academic programming as well. Ask for details about
their in-house tutoring programs, mentoring and group study sessions to
determine how their programs are organized and what is expected of you.
Smithhisler says that many fraternities have expanded their
mentoring programs by connecting students with similar majors to their
peers at multiple campuses.
Making a pledge
At the end of the recruitment process, you may receive a “bid,” an invitation to join a chapter. Before you accept, make sure you know what is expected of you in terms of time and money.
In many cases, your housing costs at a fraternity or sorority will be much cheaper than a private apartment. But are you comfortable with the living arrangements? Are meals included? Does the house look safe? Who maintains it? Are you required to live there?
If one of your parents belonged to a Greek organization, you may feel compelled to become a “legacy member” and join the same organization. But groups can evolve over time, so make sure to evaluate whether it will be a good fit for you.
Also consider how your potential Greek membership might help or hinder your overall college experience. Would membership consume too much of your time, or would it help to make a large university campus seem less threatening?
And finally, even though you are just beginning college, consider how Greek life may impact your post-college success.
Leslie Wright, assistant director of the career center at the University of North Carolina in Wilmington (uncwil.edu), says that many employers actually value the leadership and teamwork that Greek membership offers. “They are particularly impressed if the student intentionally plans on and follows through with strong leadership,” she says.
Be sure to ask where the alumni are working and how involved they are in your chapter. It’s a good sign if the current members can tell you about recent graduates who obtained internships, job leads and résumé assistance from more experienced alumni.
“Friendship, leadership, academic excellence, service and citizenship; that is what attracts potential new members to the experience and what keeps them involved beyond the college years,” says Burkhard.
Is Greek life for you? Only you can answer that.