Now that college has started, the question for many is should they, or shouldn’t they, rush a fraternity or sorority? The decision can define many students’ collegiate experience – and the rest of their life.
About 16% of college students sign up for Greek life, which translates to roughly 700,000 undergraduates across 800 campuses in the U.S. and Canada. At some schools, over 50% of students join fraternities or sororities. Colleges with particularly high Greek participation include the University of Texas, Washington & Lee, Sewanee, Wake Forest, Vanderbilt, UNC, and Dartmouth College.
Fraternities in particular have recently received such intense, and unwelcome, negative press for sexual assaults, hazing, and excessive alcohol consumption that the Fraternal Government Relations Coalition (FRATPac) is actively lobbying for legislation from Congress to prohibit colleges from penalizing accused campus offenders or a campus’ full Greek system after a single instance of sexual assault, hazing, or other potentially dangerous behavior.
However, despite the very real negative media coverage of incidents at UVA and other schools, fraternity bad boys constitute a minority of members and chapters. There are many lifelong benefits inherent to fraternities and sororities that parents and kids should know about before kids head to college. In fact, research shows that on average, Greek students have higher GPAs, higher graduation rates, a higher percentage of community service, and greater engagement with their colleges.
Wanting to join an on-campus network like a fraternity or sorority meets a basic human need to belong to a home away from home. Members instantly get a built-in social life and a place to live. Fraternities or sororities are, essentially, a large team or a club. And when schools don’t offer the Greek system, very often students invent pseudo-fraternities, by developing strong social and identity connections with their sports team, an eating club, a particular activities club, or other students who share their academic major.
Post college, the benefits continue. Eighty-five percent of sorority and fraternity members later work for Fortune 500 companies. In the 113th US Congress, 39% of Senators and 24% of Congressman were Greek. Fifty percent of the Top 10 Fortune 500 CEOs are fraternity men; 15% of Fortune 100 CEOs are Greek. Forty-four percent of U.S. presidents were fraternity members.
Even when data is controlled for key demographic characteristics such as gender, ethnicity, and socioeconomic status, people who were members of a fraternity or sorority in college are better off financially and physically, and in terms of social connection with their community and employment status, later in life. There are more entrepreneurs among fraternity and sorority members, fewer student loans, and a higher sense of purpose in life.
The cons to sororities and fraternities are equally clear.
First, and easiest to measure, is the cost. Paying dues, house fees, social activities fees, and springing for extra wardrobe items for mandatory events can equal several thousand dollars per year.
Second, it’s harder to make friends outside your fraternity or sorority; the question becomes, especially after your first year or two at college, do you want to limit your world to one group? By joining a fraternity or sorority, you are openly stereotyping yourself – I’m this type of person – and exposing yourself to judgments and limits from others at different fraternities or non-Greek members. Sure, it’s possible to branch out beyond your Greek circle, but many students report that due to time constraints and inertia, it’s surprisingly hard.
Lastly, inherent to joining such a large, dominant organization is the fact that you are volunteering for a huge dose of peer pressure and conformity. Especially with some fraternities being reported for high rates of binge drinking and sexual assault, this question becomes important for kids and parents to examine.
There are many clear and compelling reasons to join a sorority or fraternity, and a few very strong reasons why they’re not for everyone.
A word to the wise: pick carefully. Even before you decide what college to attend, research what percentage of students join fraternities or sororities. At some schools such as The University of Texas Edinburg, the percentage can run close to 100%. Find out whether the local chapters host open parties that students who aren’t members can attend; maybe you don’t need to join a fraternity or sorority to enjoy many of the benefits. Research your top choices carefully – each one has a unique reputation, including academic commitment, charitable activities, and partying. Finally, if you do join the Greek system, keep a few outside activities, don’t check your ethics at the front door, and put on your thick skin even in the midst of living with 70+ people who share your affiliation.
Obviously, there’s no requirement to give up your individuality when you pledge.