Many universities in the United States have student societies called sororities (for women) and fraternities (for men), social groups that are called a campus’s ‘Greek life.’ This guide will explain what Greek life is, why you might want to get involved, and how to join up.
What is Greek life?
Fraternities (also called ‘frats’) and sororities are student societies that can be dedicated to a range of things - sometimes they’re purely social groups, and sometimes they have another mission or shared interest, like philanthropy; a specific shared subject, like law or medicine; or even a religion, like Sigma Delta Tau, a Jewish sorority. There are also co-ed fraternities, but these are much rarer.
Members of a Greek society almost always live together, either in a residence that the organisation itself actually owns, or sometimes in a specific section of university-provided housing. They also often have secret traditions and rituals that only members of the organisation can learn about.
A Greek society might have ‘chapters’ at different universities - so you can be a member of Alpha Delta Pi (a famous sorority) at the University of Alabama, but also at the University of Arizona. Other groups are specific to a single university.
Where does Greek life exist?
Fraternities and sororities are present on more than 650 campuses across the US and Canada. They tend to be a bigger deal at larger universities, where they’re a great way to form a social circle on a campus that may have thousands of students.
Smaller universities and liberal arts colleges tend not to have Greek life, or it has a minimal role in campus social life.
If you’re curious about whether a university has Greek life, just check out the part of their website dedicated to student life or clubs, where any official fraternities and sororities will be listed.
How do you join?
Joining a fraternity or sorority is a little bit complicated. You have to ‘rush’ - that’s the name for what’s basically the application process for a fraternity or sorority. But you’re not filling out an online form: instead, you go to official recruitment events and attend interviews. Sometimes, there will be special activities particular to certain organisations.
If the current members think you’re a good fit, you’ll be offered a ‘bid’ - basically, an invitation to join. This will depend on the mission of the organisation - if everyone in the group shares the same major, for example, or are committed to a specific interest - but it can also be a lot more subjective. Honestly, this is how fraternities and sororities have gotten their reputation for being a bit exclusive.
Once you’ve accepted the bid, you become a ‘pledge’ - basically, a newbie. You’re assigned a mentor to introduce you to life in the fraternity or sorority. The nickname for this is a ‘big’ (the mentor) and the ‘little’ (you). They’ll teach you traditions and deck you out with all the flags, shirts, and room decor you need to show off your membership.
Why ‘Go Greek’?
Many people find that ‘going Greek’, or joining Greek life, is a great way to meet people. A fraternity or sorority can be a great way to make friends when you’re new to campus, and they can be close-knit groups that stay friends for life. They even call fellow members their ‘brothers’ or ‘sisters.’
Members of fraternities and sororities are actually less likely to drop out of university than other students, maybe because of this built-in community. The society can offer extra social and moral support while living away from home, community service opportunities, resumé builders, tutoring and academic support, intramural sports, networking opportunities, and parties.
85% of Fortune 500 executives took part in Greek life when they were in college; in fact, many recruiters will hire members from their Greek organisation as a way to give back to their past Greek community. That means being a member of a sorority or fraternity gives you potential professional and even social connections across the USA and Canada.
Student testimony: why Ivan went Greek
Here’s why Ivan Yen, a student at the Pennsylvania State University and vice president of the university’s chapter of Alpha Kappa Psi, a professional co-ed business fraternity, decided to go Greek:
“I decided to rush and pledge the fall of my sophomore year (year 2) because I noticed the success of the current brothers and alumni. I thought becoming a brother would give me an advantage in my internship search, and that was confirmed through pledging. I noticed that my professional skills - interviewing habits, business acumen and networking abilities - were enhanced. After officially becoming a brother, I experienced first-hand the strong sense of “brotherhood”. Pledging was extremely rigorous, so my pledge class of 23 became extremely close. The fraternity became my family away from home. Finally, reflecting over the past year, I realized the value of giving back. I was the philanthropic chair last semester and planned 12 events - from volunteering at animal and food shelters, to raising money for UNICEF. Moreover, the prospect of helping pledges with professional tips, the same way my older [fraternity] brothers did for me, was very fulfilling.”
What are the downsides?
It is important to know that Greek life often comes with a literal price - some students claim that they have spent thousands of dollars on annual dues, which are necessary for remaining in the organisation.
In addition, while hazing - initiation rituals which (depending on the organisation) often involve alcohol and humiliation - is usually banned by universities, many Greek organizations continue to haze pledges. Hazing can be extremely upsetting, and has actually led to student deaths, usually from forcing a pledge to drink excessive amounts of alcohol.
Because Greek societies often own their own housing off-campus, they are known for hosting parties that sometimes violate campus rules - or even laws, like hosting massive parties in cities under lockdown due to COVID-19. There are also many reports of sexual assaults and rapes at fraternity parties in particular: studies have found that members of fraternities are three times likelier to commit rape than other students.
Greek life can feel special because you’re part of a close-knit group - but it’s hard to be stuck on the outside of that. Getting turned down by a group you really wanted to join can be a tough way to start your university career. Not being invited to join a sorority or fraternity on a campus that’s full of them - on some campuses, up to 80% of the student body are members - can leave you feeling excluded from the heart of the campus’s social life.