To join or not to join a Fraternity and Sorority: The Pros and Cons of Greek Life The idea of joining a fraternity or sorority attracts many college students because it appears to be a way into a fun and eventful college career with ready-made friends and future job connections. Certainly, real gains exist for those joining frats and sororities, but as we all know there are some costs. Given my experience as a fraternity president, I wanted to share some insights about the pros and cons of Greek life so that others may make more informed decisions about joining fraternities or sororities.
Readers also like our interview with Jean Mrasek, Chair of the National Panhellenic Conference (NPC).
The Most Popular Pros and Cons of Joining a Fraternity or Sorority:
Con: The Price $$$$
Greek life attracts college students throughout the country. At some universities, going Greek seems a necessity for one’s social life, with 50-80% of students involved in fraternities or sororities. However, the price of membership can be one of the largest expenses in a college budget. At an average public institution, dues for a single semester can cost as much as $1000., At the same university, students may pay around $4000 per semester, for tuition. Thus, going Greek increases college expenses by as much as 25%. And this includes only dues (both to the local chapter and to the national organizations) and insurance; there are many more incidental fees associated with being Greek, such as:
- T-shirts: $20 per shirt—and someone is always designing a new shirt for some occasion.
- Membership Pin: $200-$500—because sometimes you need real diamonds on your lapel pin you’ll wear three times in your life.
- Gifts for little/big: $100
- Formal: $200 per person—you were going to bring a date, right?
These costs can add up quickly! You can often find the cost of membership while researching the fraternity or sorority you wish to join. However, you may want to look at the cost breakdown. The main cause for the price differences between Greek organizations, especially those on the same campus, is the amount of dues that go toward the National organization insurance bill. Organizations that have banned alcohol leave members with a much lower annual bill. Organizations that have a history of alcohol or hazing related deaths pay astronomical amounts for insurance. It is important to be a smart consumer. Look around the organization before making a decision.
Pro: Networking $$$$
Social networking is an integral part of college life. Social media sites connect people and allow them to make tangible networks they can utilize in a variety of ways. However, social media will never take the place of creating a network of friends and acquaintances that you know on a personal level. Greek life provides student with a network of peers who will know them by name. Greek organizations help build networks for students that prove beneficial when looking for internships, employment, recommendations or employees. The connections gained by being Greek are often the best gains of Greek life.
The chapter house I belonged to in college had pictures of fellow members from the last 15 years. Over the course of 4 years, I saw the names and faces of these 600+ men, countless times. Five years later, while visiting friends in another state, I attended a dinner and noticed a very familiar looking face. I introduced myself and within a minute, we realized our connection and had a wonderful conversation that led to a job opportunity. It wasn’t anything major, in my case, but events like these do happen!
Con: Hazing $$
Imagine showing up for your first day on a new job, donning your nicest shirt and tie combo, or you sharpest power suit. However, upon entering you office you are led to the basement of the building, where you are told to recite the mission statement of the company repeatedly until lunchtime. Oh, did I mention that there is heavy metal music blaring at a near deafening volume? You’d leave, right?. Now, what if this happened as part of your orientation to a new group of “friends”? Many new fraternity and sorority members, or “pledges,” submit to physical, emotional and psychological manipulation of this sort, regularly, in the name of joining Greek organizations.
Hazing plagues many college campuses. Over the last 38 years, there has been at least one death per year as a result of hazing in the US. This is the main contributor to the high cost of insurance dicussed earlier. However, not all new member activities are hazing; in fact, most are not. More commonly, pledges are asked to do trivial, pointless tasks, that may be demeaning. It is not uncommon for pledges to be asked to prove worth and “learn their roles” in the fraternities or sororities. The real test is whether the activity is harmful to you in any way as a person. There are two questions to keep in mind: Is this making me a better person/brother/sister? Secondly, would I allow someone I care about to do the same thing?
The More Important Pros and Cons of
Joining a Fraternity or Sorority:
Pro: Philanthropy $$$$
Though perhaps the best-hidden aspect of Greek life, Greek organizations often instill a culture of service and philanthropy. However, involvement varies from organization to organization and chapter to chapter. Still, most chapters find involvement in some sort of community service project or philanthropic endeavor, and many chapters have leadership positions dedicated to this aspect of Greek life. The member in charge logs service hours completed by each member as well as coordinates service events and fundraisers. Every organization has an award, which recognizes its most outstanding chapter. Without exception, the chapters that win these awards are always aggressively involved in philanthropy and community service. Some chapters raise tens of thousands of dollars every year for their charity of choice. Instilling the value of philanthropy and community service in young men and women helps to create a base of young people who are community minded and nourishes strong convictions to give back to their communities.
Con: Alcohol and Drug Abuse $$$
Alcohol and illegal drugs cause many people look down on Greek organizations. 82% of the hazing-related deaths result from binge drinking. New members of Greek organizations usually get into trouble with alcohol in one of two ways. Some chapters and organizations make practice of forcing new members to drink as much as possible as part of hazing rituals. Pledges are often asked to take a certain number of shots or have a given task turned into a drinking game. New members also find themselves willingly trying to impress older members with their drinking prowess.
The risks are not limited to new members, nor do they stop once pledging is over. Fraternities and sororities are social organizations and all social circles have cultures and sub-cultures. Far too often Greek life harbors a culture of alcohol and drug abuse. This culture of abuse makes it easy for young, inexperienced drinkers to get into trouble in the name of fitting in. A mantra I myself touted was, “It’s not alcoholism until you graduate!” Well, actually, it is and it’s not a laughing matter. The drinking habits learned during my undergraduate years bled into my professional life, at which point I had to deal with a serious problem. I’m not claiming that everyone will meet similar challenges, but the threat is real.
Pro: Social Identity and Skills $$$$
What do 85% of the executives of Fortune 500 companies and 80% of United States Presidents since 1900 have in common? They were all members of Greek organizations during college. Fraternity and sorority membership cultivates young leaders by affording young men and women a social identity and context in which they develop valuable social skills. At 18 years old the young men and women that arrive on college campuses have a lot of potential and energy to devote to whatever they choose. They may be the brightest students in the country, but still have a lot to learn. These students have social potential and need nurturing and opportunities that will allow them to become leaders.
Participation in a social structures like those of Greek organizations provides students with useful knowledge that will affect their social life after college. Greek brothers and sisters learn how to prove themselves in social structure, and how to cut their own path. As they grow and continue in membership, they find their strengths and contribute to the organization by serving in leadership roles. Obviously, such lessons will be valuable for young workers when they enter the workforce. Fraternities and sororities offer not only the context to develop these skills, as importantly, they can back up one’s claim of having specific skills and experience. Anyone can be a leader among friends, saying “I’ve always been a leader…my friends look up to me” will not carry as much weight in a job interview as saying, “I was the Community Involvement Coordinator from my fraternity/sorority.” Employers like seeing documented leadership experience: Greek life can provide that.
Con: Time Commitment $$$
Greek commitments can severely cut into a student’s time. Students should not expect to have any free time during the pledging process. Nearly all hours outside of class are spent in meetings, completing tasks, or simply just being present in the chapter house. These time commitments can have a huge impact on a student’s study and sleep schedule. Because most Greek students choose to join during their freshman year, they do not have good time management skills. As a result, their grades often drop during the first semester. The time commitment does not end once pledging is over. Members are required to attend meetings throughout the year. In fact, some organizations fine members who do not attend meetings. Additionally, there are conventions, parties and service dates at which attendance is expected regardless of what else a student may have to do. Being Greek can add the equivalent of an extra class or two depending on how demanding a chapter is.
Pro: Embrace Diversity $$
Greek organizations are not the homogenous organizations they were not so many years ago. In the past, one needed only spend a few days on campus to have the lay of the land. That house is the soccer players’ house, that one the football players’, there is the rich girls’ house, and so on. However, many organizations are making a conscious effort to diversify their membership base. As a former member of a Greek organization, I took part in discussions of race, sexuality, and socio-economic backgrounds during chapter meetings. These discussions were healthy because they occurred within a group of young people who I considered my peers, with whom I felt I could speak freely.
The ability to participate in discourse is a useful skill that is vanishing in our society. In a time of cable news personalities who allow you to choose the slant of your news, it is increasingly important to be able to discuss important issues, create arguments and understand the points of view of others in a respectful and open manor. With diversity being pushed on college campuses now more than ever before, Greek organizations are playing large roles both in chapter awareness, and in coordinating campus-wide events. The fraternity and sorority stereotypes are rapidly changing, evident in campuses across the country.
Overall Cost, or Gain?
Would I do it again? I don’t know. I certainly learned a lot from my experiences, and the costs (aside from the actual monetary costs) have in the long run made me stronger in many ways. But, I don’t want to sound as though I’m saying that even the costs became gains. At the time, the costs were real costs and put me in very unpleasant positions. Perhaps I would have been a better student, gotten involved with even nobler organizations, or gotten to know more unique individuals. On the other hand, I might have ended up with a small circle of friends, had a few good times and made memories, but graduated with a relatively uneventful college career.
My advice: BE CAREFUL! Research the available Greek organizations, as well as other campus organizations. Look for organizations that really fit your interests, passions, etc., whether or not they are Greek organizations. Many join the first fraternity or sorority that expresses interest in them. I would advise against that. When you begin college, it’s safe to say that you don’t yet know yourself very well. You will grow in college, no matter what your formal extracurricular activities are. That said, you have to start where you are, meaning go with that which exhibits your interests, even if you think your interests might change. But, just throwing your name in a hat and waiting to be picked up by just anyone, that’s dangerous on the playground, and on the college campus.
Remember this: You are the consumer looking to buy/invest in something. Be wise about it!