What students imagine when they think about Greek life can be as varied as the different chapters themselves. Some may think of camaraderie, lasting friendships, networking opportunities. Others may think of a lifestyle of heavy drinking and partying in the popular 1978 comedy “Animal House.”
“Many students think Greek life is going to be like what they see in the movies, and they set their expectations accordingly. Other students are only exposed to what they see in the headlines of media. None of these things represent fraternity life as a whole,” says Alexandra Robbins, author of “Fraternity: An Inside Look at a Year of College Boys Becoming Men.”
“Only a small number of fraternities follow the pattern of what people see in the movies,” Robbins adds. “There aren’t as many chapters in ‘Animal House’ as you think.”
A simple answer to the question “What is Greek life?” » is that it is a community of students divided into fraternities for men and sororities for women. These social organizations have national charters and are overseen by a Greek Life office on each campus.
Greek organizations typically focus on developing leadership, philanthropy and community service as well as strong connections among like-minded students.
Before a student joins a fraternity or sorority, he or she should think about what he or she wants the experience to be like.
Understand what you want from Greek life
“I think potential members of these organizations, students who are even starting to think about joining, have to fundamentally ask themselves why? Why are they considering joining? What do they want from this experience? ” says Damon Sims, vice president of student affairs at Pennsylvania State University – University Park.
For some students, the party life can be an attraction. Others are attracted by the possibility of leadership positions, philanthropic opportunities and strong alumni support.
Party-loving students may be surprised to find that statistics show that Greek Life Members tend to graduate at a higher than average rate. Likewise, the standards for grade point average often means that some Greek chapters have a higher GPA than the entire campus.
“For freshmen, fraternities provide friendship, a sense of community, and higher levels of academic and social involvement. On many campuses, the average male fraternity GPA (Interfraternity Council) is higher than the average for all men, supported by “The fraternity requirements of members maintaining a specified average or above,” Todd Shelton, communications director for the North American Interfraternity Conference, wrote in an email.
Benefits aside, when things go wrong in Greek life, it can have extreme consequences. An analysis of national news on fraternities reveals fatal incidents that have claimed the lives of students, often as a result of hazing and serious alcohol abuse.
Be aware of the risks and choose your chapter wisely
Students should ask themselves, “What are the dangers and risks associated with membership?” says Steve Veldkamp, executive director of the Timothy J. Piazza Center for Fraternity and Sorority Research and Reform at Penn State. The Piazza Center takes its name from a PSU student who died in 2017 while supporting a now-banned fraternity, a death that led to arrests and prosecutions.
Veldkamp encourages students to seek out information about Greek life at universities that interest them.
Another step is to contact the campus office that oversees Greek life. Students should ask about the Greek average in relation to the entire campus and hours of service.
The type of organization can also be a factor. Veldkamp notes that student surveys indicate that multicultural sections drink less than their peers.
Students should be especially wary of fraternities or sororities not affiliated with the university, experts note.
“If a fraternity has not agreed to campus rules, it risks not being recognized by the school, meaning it is either underground or an unrecognized, unauthorized chapter,” Robbins says.
“If a chapter is underground or unsanctioned, it may have done something to lose recognition from the university, and that in itself is a red flag. If it is not recognized by the “University, then he’s not beholden to its rules and oversight, which can also be troubling because they’re not necessarily held accountable for their behavior.”
Robbins also warns students to be aware of the ranking system of fraternity and sorority chapters on college campuses, which she describes as “one of the most dangerous aspects of Greek life.” These rankings, she says, are often determined by appearance, how hard a chapter parties, and social status.
Although a high rank in itself is not a red flag, the pursuit of this status can lead to dangerous behavior.
Other suggestions offered by experts for assessing the security of individual chapters:
- Listen to the language fraternity brothers use to talk about women.
- Beware of chapters that brag about how much they party.
- Check campus disciplinary records for fraternities and sororities.
- Look for news stories about Greek life at the college you’re interested in.
- If a fraternity or sorority has a house, pay attention to its condition.
Know the costs and commitment of joining a fraternity or sorority
Paying for college is difficult for many families, and becoming Greek can add to these expenses.
There may be application fees as well as contributions that can range from a few hundred dollars per year to more than $2,000, depending on various factors. Typically, dues follow a monthly schedule and cover social events, insurance, national or international chapter dues and operational costs such as recruitment and maintenance of community spaces. Scholarships are often available and some chapters have payment plans.
If a student lives in Greek housing, add room and board to the cost of being in a fraternity or sorority.
Sims urges parents to think about liability issues. He notes that national chapters often offer insurance, but this can be canceled in the event of an incident resulting in a violation of the rules. Such a case could leave families saddled with damages.
Sims urges parents to ask themselves, “What would be my responsibility, or my child’s, if something went wrong?”
View on-campus Greek life participation rates
Sims says students often feel like their college experience will be inadequate without joining a fraternity or sorority. But many students still have valuable college experience without going Greek. At Penn State, for example, only about 17 percent of students are Greek, Sims says.
Although participation in Greek life varies among universities, it is much higher at some schools than others. Here are the schools with the highest number of undergraduates in fraternities and sororities in fall 2018, according to data collected for the 2020 Best Colleges rankings.
Joining a fraternity or sorority can provide an instant infusion of friends, but it’s helpful to take the time to find the right chapter.
“I understand that when you rush into the beginning of your first year, you will automatically have a group of people to help you navigate that first semester. But I think it’s best to adjust on your own and kind of find your place on campus before you choose your chapter,” says Robbins.
This story is an updated excerpt from US News »Best Colleges 2016” guide, which features in-depth articles, rankings and data.