NEW!  Build your college list in 5 minutes with our free college list generator!

When you hear the words “Greek life,” do you picture guys dressed in preppy clothes playing party games? Perhaps you imagine a group of eerily similar-looking girls chanting in unison behind the doors of a million-dollar sorority house, as depicted in so many viral videos. Instead, the phrase might bring campus-wide fundraising events, a tight-knit friend group, or other, more positive connotations to mind.

Whether you’re asking yourself:

What is Greek Life?

How will Greek Life affect my college experience?

What do fraternities and sororities actually do?

How do the recruitment and pledging processes work?

Will being in Greek Life affect my GPA?

Will being in Greek Life affect my career?

What are the major pros and cons of Greek Life?

You’ve come to the right place!

What is Greek Life?

When Greek life is discussed, it’s important to note that “Greek” refers to the names of the organizations themselves rather than any affiliation to modern Greek culture or ethnicity. Greek life refers to organizations known as fraternities and sororities, typically single-sex social clubs.

These organizations are often recognized by the university at which they are housed, meaning that they have agreed to follow the Greek life standards set forth by the school’s administration, may host events on campus with the university’s permission, and often receive advisement from the university.

However, these organizations can also be unrecognized because the school sees no benefit to this relationship (such as in the case of schools like Harvard and the University of Chicago). Each fraternity and sorority is a nationwide organization, and the specific group of students associated with this organization on any given campus is known as a “chapter.”

A fraternity or sorority will typically be named through a combination of two or three letters of the Greek alphabet, such as “Sigma Chi” or “Kappa Alpha Theta.” These organizations are usually composed of any number of males or females, and serve primarily as a social network in the same way a sports team or club might.

Recruitment is known as “rush” and can happen at various times throughout the year, and members pay “dues” to fund activities. Ultimately, these groups are first and foremost a way to make friends and expand one’s social opportunities.

How Will Greek Life Affect My College Experience?

Whether or not you choose to join a fraternity or sorority, Greek life can absolutely play a factor in the social scene at a university. The rules and presence of Greek life varies widely by campus, so when considering how Greek life will impact a college experience, it’s important to have a list of colleges that you’re already considering before you start to research the Greek social scene in particular. Once you have this list, here are a few important questions to ask and stats to look into:

What percentage of students are involved in Greek life at this college?

This is a great baseline for determining how dominant a hold Greek life has on a specific college’s social scene. One important factor to take into consideration is what percentage of eligible students are involved in Greek life, as many students cannot join a Greek organization until their sophomore year. While no single statistic illuminates how important Greek life is on campus, here are some handy unofficial metrics to consider as a starting point:

  • Greater than 40% enrollment is “Greek Dominated”
  • Between 30-40% is “Greek Heavy”
  • Between 15-30% is “Greek Standard”
  • Less than 15% is “Greek Light”

These metrics do not tell the entire story, but they are good numbers to keep in mind when considering how much of a role Greek life will play in the average student’s life. College newspapers and U.S. News and World Report are both great places to find this information!

How many fraternities and sororities are there on campus?

This is the other key piece to determining how important a role Greek life plays on campus. You can tell right away that at a school with 50% enrollment in Greek life, social events will frequently be held by these organizations, but it’s also important to look at the number of fraternities and sororities on campus.

The University of Alabama, famed for its heavily Greek life-oriented social scene, has a relatively high enrollment of about 35%, but that metric is further contextualized by the whopping 68 Greek organizations on campus (at the time this article was published).

For schools of similar sizes, the number of total fraternities and sororities is an important metric for determining how dominant Greek life is on campus. Each organization will likely hold events and try to carve out their own niche — resulting in more overall exposure to Greek Life for the average student. Larger schools will tend to be home to more organizations in general, so remember to compare schools with similar undergraduate populations to get the full picture.

When does rush take place and in what format?

Fraternity and sorority recruitment is often referred to as “rush” and can look very different at each college. Some colleges, like Dartmouth, will not allow students to rush until the beginning of their sophomore year. In contrast, many state schools will often allow students to rush before freshman year even begins, since so many incoming students will be from the local area and already have connections to Greek life on campus.

Rush can also be formal or informal. Formal rush typically means that all of the Greek life organizations have come together to create a formal system by which recruitment happens. If this is the case at a school you’re interested in, then the Interfraternity Council (fraternities) or Panhellenic Council (sororities) at that school will typically have information regarding rush available on the school’s website. Informal rush is far more common with fraternities, and tends to happen at the discretion of each Greek life organization, which will host events as a means of meeting potential new members.

Does the college officially recognize Greek life?

A college or university’s recognition of Greek life can certainly play a factor in which events fraternities and sororities can participate in or host. Some colleges refuse to officially recognize Greek life, while others buy in wholeheartedly. If a college officially recognizes its fraternities and sororities, the organizations tend to be able to hold events on campus, establish more formal recruitment processes, and follow the guidelines put forward by the school.

Do students live with their Greek organization?

Another important detail to consider in your research about Greek life is whether or not students live at their Greek organization. Even at colleges that do not recognize Greek life, members often live in their sorority or fraternity house for at least a year. Living in a fraternity or sorority house can be a very social experience that allows constant access to friends and opportunities, much in the same way a dorm functions, but it’s important to keep in mind that if you’re extra hygienic or easily distracted — these living arrangements can be a negative.

What social alternatives to Greek life exist on campus?

Perhaps the single most relevant piece of information in determining if Greek life will be a part of your college experience is researching what other social alternatives exist. Whether through sports, clubs, academic teams, housing, or other outlets, you should be aware of how students experience their social life outside of Greek life. The best possible way to find this information is to speak to a current student. If you do not know any current students, looking into tours, virtual events, and student outreach is an excellent step you can take.

What do Fraternities and Sororities Actually Do?

The day-to-day activities of being in a Greek life organization are varied, but they tend to fall under four broad categories:

Mixers and Parties

These events are what most people tend to think of when they imagine what being in a fraternity or sorority is like. A fraternity will often host an individual sorority for a “mixer,” which is either a themed (think costumes, eras, etc) party open only to members of the two organizations, or an event, like attending a sports game together, pumpkin carving for Halloween, or any number of other activities. Fraternities in particular also tend to throw parties where individual members invite their friends — depending on the college, these parties are sometimes “open” and will allow people without a direct invite in for a small fee.

Chapter Events and Activities

Chapter activities are all about bonding with one’s Greek organization. Schools with recognized Greek life often have intramural sports leagues dedicated to Greek organizations and major events, such as Interfraternity Sing, that are organized by the school. Most events, however, are paid for using the “dues” that each member contributes. Chapter events include “Formals” (chapter-sponsored date nights/weekend getaways with guests) to watch parties for major events, game nights, chapter meals, or other activities that bring members closer together.

Formal Responsibilities and Leadership

Almost every single Greek organization has a weekly meeting called “Chapter.” This meeting covers major updates, gives members a chance to voice their opinion about the direction of the organization, and provides a space for officers (leadership) to be elected and give their reports. There are many officer positions that are similar to those in student government. Leadership ranges from major roles like the President or the Head of Alumni Relations, to something more minor like Chapter Photographer or Intramural Sports Chair. These positions give members the chance to take ownership in their organization, both to bring in more fun events and ensure that the chapter upholds the morals and guidelines they hold themselves to.

Volunteering and Fundraisers

While Greek organizations exist mainly as social clubs, these groups often take on volunteering opportunities and major fundraising initiatives. This volunteering can take place on campus, such as helping to tutor students or volunteer as designated drivers, or it could take place off campus, at animal shelters and food pantries. Fraternities and sororities often each have their own unique fundraiser in addition to standard volunteering, and they’ll host fundraising parties, compete in public contests, or put on fun events to raise money for great causes like childhood literacy, cancer research, and food programs.

How do the Recruitment and Pledging Processes Work?

While recruitment (rush) can take on many forms depending on the college and organization chapter, the first step to deciding whether you want to join a fraternity or sorority is meeting its members. Whether a current member is in one of your classes/clubs or you’ve simply kept an eye out for official rush events, you’ll want to become well acquainted with the individuals that make up a Greek organization, as they’re the ones who set its current culture. If you find yourself failing to connect with the values, ideas, and personalities of the members you speak to, it’s a good sign that the organization is likely not for you.

If you do really like the members and culture of a fraternity or sorority, you’ll continue through the rush process, which can last anywhere from a week to a few months. At the end of the rush period, members of the fraternity or sorority will gather together to vote on which potential new members they would like to invite to join their organization. These invites are called “bids” and you can choose to accept or reject them.

Once you’ve accepted a bid, you become a “pledge” of the organization you’re trying to join. The pledgeship process tends to last a few months, and during this time you bond with other members of your pledge class who also received bids, participate in chapter events, and will likely be responsible for cleaning up after events and parties. Pledgeship is a very time-consuming period, so you should be sure that you fully understand the expected commitment and process before you accept a bid.

After a few months of pledgeship, you’ll go through an “initiation,” typically rooted in Greek or Roman tradition. Once you’ve been initiated, you’re considered a full member of that fraternity or sorority and will start attending regular events.

Will being in Greek Life affect my GPA?

Looking at all the events that members of Greek organizations are involved in, it can be easy to think that joining a fraternity or sorority is a one-way ticket to a lower GPA. Conducting research on the internet will often lead to inconclusive results claiming Greek-affiliated students earn more post-grad, that their GPA is lower on average, or even that Greek-affiliated students have higher GPAs due to many organizations having “GPA minimums” required to remain a member. With no clear answer, should you just assume the worst about the GPAs of students in Greek life?

 Like most answers in life, the truth is a little more nuanced than “fraternity and sorority members have higher/lower GPAs than the average student.” The effect that Greek life has on your GPA is often a factor of what kind of student you are, what the culture of a particular chapter is like, and how well you can take advantage of networking opportunities. Here are opposing possibilities to keep in mind when weighing what will happen to your GPA and career path if you “Go Greek.”

Potential for an improved GPA due to support system and connections

If you’re not the kind of student who can stay on top of their work no matter what kind of environment you’re in, the most important consideration to make is what the culture of the fraternity or sorority you’re joining is like. Especially at schools that are academically rigorous, joining a Greek organization can provide instant access to friends who will take the same classes as you, upperclassmen who have already taken the course and can provide additional insight, and structured events like mandatory study hours.

Potential for an improved GPA due to support system and connections

If you’re not the kind of student who can stay on top of their work no matter what kind of environment you’re in, the most important consideration to make is what the culture of the fraternity or sorority you’re joining is like. Especially at schools that are academically rigorous, joining a Greek organization can provide instant access to friends who will take the same classes as you, upperclassmen who have already taken the course and can provide additional insight, and structured events like mandatory study hours.

Will Being in Greek Life Affect My Career?

If you join a fraternity or sorority whose members are significantly more focused on having a good time than on advancing themselves professionally, it can be difficult to shut out constant social distractions to focus on networking events, career fairs, and other helpful opportunities.

However, just as having upperclassmen who have taken classes before you can be valuable towards understanding the intricacies and demands of a class, having many upperclassmen who have already succeeded in landing prestigious internships and are currently interviewing for full-time positions can be immensely helpful towards your own career opportunities.

Career opportunities flourish due to networking and experience

Oftentimes, fraternities and sororities will form groups within their chapter based on helping each other through the various processes for graduate school admissions or getting jobs in finance, technology, engineering, and more. Since fraternity members are not picked by academic or career interest, you’ll also have the chance to befriend people you might not meet outside of classes who can help you explore different career paths, work with you on a startup venture, or add an interesting element to a joint research project. Not to mention, alumni of these organizations are often willing to put in a good word at their companies for current members and ties to the same Greek life organizations across campuses can spark easy connections.

Career opportunities diminish due to insular friend group

While the extra connections and additional friendships can expand your social horizons, they can also make you passive in your pursuit of more perspectives, friends, and experiences. Some members of Greek life organizations do not bother to make many friends outside of others affiliated with Greek life. Students who explore other options before joining a Greek organization often find themselves better connected across campus. If you’re a student who tends to easily find yourself satisfied with the status quo, consider the full range of opportunities your college offers before joining Greek life.

So, what are the Major Pros and Cons of Greek Life?

Pros

N

Fantastic social outlet

N

Networking and academic support

N

Experience and impact as a group

N

Tight-knit community

Cons

M

Time commitment

M

Influence and distraction

M

Payment/Dues

Overall, the culture of Greek life on a particular college campus should not make or break your final college decision. Joining Greek life is a decision that should be made with significant forethought, and you should absolutely consider the culture and members of any chapter you’re planning to join.