Most universities in the United States have student societies called sororities (for women) and fraternities (for men) named after Greek letters, forming Greek life. Here's what you need to know.
What is Greek life?
Greek organizations range in what they are dedicated to, such as social Greek organizations, philanthropy, medicine, law, business, and so forth. Co-ed fraternities also exist, especially for specific purposes such as a business fraternity. Sororities and fraternities may be dedicated to a specific religion, such as Sigma Delta Tau, a Jewish sorority.
Where is Greek life found?
Fraternities and sororities are present on more than 650 campuses across the US and Canada. According to Niche.com, the top 5 best colleges for Greek life - based on reviews from students and alumni - are Washington and Lee University, University of Alabama, Lehigh University, Southern Methodist University, and University of Arkansas.
Universities that do not have a large Greek organization presence include Rice University, most Jesuit schools such as Fordham University and Georgetown (which have a few new Greek organizations but presence on campus is minimal - Greek life was previously felt to be incompatible with Jesuit ideals, and also inappropriate for their small campuses), Loyola University Chicago and Bates College.
Greek life at liberal arts colleges is especially small, since the colleges themselves are usually only around 5,000 students or fewer.
Well known Greek organizations
Alpha Kappa Psi, founded in 1904 at New York University, is the oldest and largest co-ed business fraternity in the United States. Their mission is to develop business leaders through professional, social and community service activities. Alpha Kappa Psi has 268 active chapters across the United States wand has had over 278,000 members throughout its lifetime.
Other large and well-known business frats include Delta Sigma Pi - known for preparing students to be ethical business leaders - and Phi Gamma Nu - which values ‘entrepreneurship, passion, and diversity’.
The largest fraternity is Sigma Alpha Epsilon, with 304,000 members across the nation. Sigma Chi was founded in 1855 and is the second largest fraternity with 300,000 members.
Greek organizations have a range of distinguished alumni, such as Martin Luther King Jr. who was a member of Alpha Phi Alpha.
Basic Greek life terms
When a student wishes to join Greek life, they first have to ensure that the university they will be attending has sororities and fraternities.
Then they must ‘rush’; rushing is the process in which students choose which Greek organizations they would like to join and then they spend time at organized recruitment events and interviews. During the rushing process, Greek recruitment leaders will pick who ‘suits’ their organization and will offer them a ‘bid’. A bid is basically an invitation to join their sorority or fraternity. A Greek organization may offer a bid based on mutual values, interests, hobbies, perhaps even religion. During the rushing process, recruitment members take notes on their impression of the people rushing and determine whether they would work well with their Greek organization.
Once the student has accepted the bid, they are a ‘pledge’ member of that Greek organization until the following recruitment period. A pledge receives a ‘big’, someone that has been in the organization for one or more years than them, who will act as a mentor to the pledge, introducing them to people and showing them around the Greek organization. Bigs often pass down decorations, memorabilia and Greek letter clothing to their littles (the pledge they are looking after) as a way to continue spreading the word about their organization.
A ‘chapter’ is the larger organization under which Greek organizations exist; for example many different universities may have a chapter of Alpha Delta Pi, but they all form part of the larger Alpha Delta Pi chapter. The Panhellenic council is the governing body of sororities and the Interfraternity Council (IFC) is the governing body of fraternities.
Why would someone want to ‘Go Greek’?
Some students claim that going Greek, or joining Greek life, is a great way to meet people. Once in a fraternity or sorority, students often become close with the people they rushed with, as well as with their big.
Many Greek organizations have their own on-campus or near-campus houses for members to live in, and for social events. Living with people that belong to the same Greek organization tends to form a bond that may even begin to resemble familial ties - fraternity members often refer to each other as ‘brothers’ and sorority members refer to each other as ‘sisters’. Many Greek devotees say that the friends you make in the house are strong, lifelong connections.
Other reasons to go Greek include a lower dropout rate than non-Greek students, leadership opportunities, additional social and moral support while 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 organization as a way to give back to their past Greek community.
Student testimony: why Ivan went Greek
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, states that: “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.”
Is there a catch?
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 organization.
In addition, while hazing - initiation rituals which (depending on the organisation) often involve alcohol and humiliation - are often banned by universities, many Greek organizations continue to haze pledges. Hazing rituals can sometimes accidentally prove fatal. 82% of hazing-related deaths involve binge drinking. Social fraternities and sororities that have their own houses have a track record of throwing parties featuring underage drinking, which may be a concern for parents sending their children to university abroad. Recently at the Pennsylvania State University, a 19 year old student died as a result of a hazing ritual. After being instructed to drink copious amounts of alcohol Tim Piazza fell down various times and the people at the party neglected to call 911, out of fear of the consequences. Read more about Piazza’s story here. This case brought light to the negative side of Greek life, and universities like Penn State have taken actions to eliminate hazing. Other concerns such as sexual assault have also been brought into the spotlight for Greek organizations to address.