Aside from getting good grades, college is a time to build relationships and establish lifelong friendships. Maintaining a social life can help you find balance between living and learning.
Greek life is one of the easiest ways to create a social network in college. Depending on where you go to school, joining Greek life may also be one of the most significant decisions you make as an undergrad too.
You might be wondering if you should go Greek? Before you rush in, these are some things you’ll want to consider first.
What is Greek Life?
Greek life is a popular social system on college campuses. It consists of fraternities and sororities that use the Greek alphabet to distinguish one organization from another. Students who are members of Greek life often wear the Greek letters of the organization they are part of.
Greek life is most well-known for its rigorous recruitment process, partying, and hazing. But that isn’t all it has to offer. It also consists of academic, professional, and service-oriented organizations that provide community for its members. This includes Phi Beta Kappa, the oldest — and possibly the most prestigious — Greek organization in the United States.
Each college campus approaches Greek life differently. Some organizations maintain exclusive houses where members live. Others operate more informally. Greek houses host regular meetings as well as social events.
The individual chapters on college campuses are part of larger national organizations. There are also governing bodies that manage Greek life across the country. This includes the National Panhellenic Council and the North American Interfraternity Conference.
Regardless of which organization a student is part of, the goal of Greek life is usually the same. It helps undergrads develop leadership skills, provides social activities, and holds them accountable for academic achievement.
Reasons to Go Greek
Going Greek is one of the easiest ways to have a social life during your college career. On some campuses, it's the only way. Aside from that, it can help you build skills you won’t learn inside a classroom while providing a support system too.
Develop Leadership Skills
Greek life gives you access to leadership opportunities you might not find at other social organizations on campus. Most chapters hold elections for roles like president or social chair. Depending on the role, you may liaise with other houses to plan joint events. Governing bodies like the National Panhellenic Council recruit from Greek life organizations and can help you establish yourself as a leader on campus while building your resume too.
Hone Your Soft Skills
Soft skills are becoming increasingly important in the workplace. According to a 2019 survey by LinkedIn, 91% of recruiters and HR professionals identified soft skills as a trend transforming the future of work.
Soft skills include things like creative problem-solving, communication, and being able to work as a team. Your college classes may not provide an opportunity to develop these critical skills, but Greek life will. This can pay off big in the future if you pursue a career that values soft skills and social connections.
Build Lasting Relationships
Greek life is most well known for the social value it provides. Your brothers or sisters often become lifelong friends and many Greek organizations maintain robust alumni networks that you can join after you graduate.
While getting good grades in college is important, building relationships is important too. Believe it or not, as many as 85% of jobs are filled through networking. Fraternities and sororities don’t just provide friends to hang out with on the weekends, they establish relationships that can pay dividends later in your career.
Opportunity to Give Back
Greek life makes volunteering fun. Events might include partnering with another organization giving you the chance to socialize with other Greeks in a more informal setting. Philanthropic activities can range from all-night dance-a-thons to eating contests.
Reasons to Not Go Greek
While there are some good reasons to go Greek, it isn’t for everyone. These are some drawbacks to consider before joining.
Joining a Fraternity or Sorority is Expensive
Be prepared to pay up if you go Greek. You’ll be expected to pay membership dues and many organizations have a housing obligation. Depending on where you go to school, this can be more expensive than living off campus.
The costs of going Greek may vary by campus and culture. In the south, where Greek life is more important, joining a fraternity or sorority can add tens of thousands of dollars to your college bill. In other regions where it’s less important, you may end up only paying a thousand bucks a semester.
There are other incidental expenses to consider too. You’ll have to pay for Greek gear to rep your house, gifts for new recruits, social events, and spotting your sister on your next trip to Starbucks. These costs might not seem like a lot, but over the course of your college career, they’ll add up.
Greeks are Known for Partying
Unless you join a strictly academic organization like Phi Beta Kappa, Greek life has a stigma for its party culture. This is especially true for fraternities. While partying is part of the college experience, Greek life can take it to extremes.
Hazing is a Serious Problem
Aside from throwing wild parties, Greeks are also known for hazing. After rushing a sorority or fraternity, new recruits go through a multi-week initiation process. Hazing is usually incorporated into that process, where pledges have to complete a series of tasks before being formally initiated.
These tasks can be innocent — like completing a scavenger hunt — but for some Greek organizations, they can involve dangerous levels of drinking. A hazing ritual led to the death of a freshman pledge at Cornell University in 2019, resulting in the fraternity getting kicked off campus.
While hazing is an open secret on most college campuses, Greeks are tight-lipped about the actual rituals. Once you become a pledge, you might be peer pressured into completing a ritual even if you think it’s humiliating or dangerous. This can compromise your values and make it hard to show up as your authentic self.
There’s a Time Commitment
To be a member of a Greek organization in good standing, be prepared to sacrifice a lot of your free time to meetings and events. Once you’re initiated, you’ll have to participate in weekly chapter meetings, social events, and fundraisers throughout the year.
If you are in a rigorous academic program or work a part-time job, this can be difficult to balance. Greek life puts pressure on your limited time, which could impact your grades. Plus, to enforce participation, some Greek organizations even charge financial penalties if you miss chapter meetings or skip certain events.
Is Greek Life Worth It?
Depending on your goals, Greek life might be worth it. The social aspect of Greek life is a big draw. It provides you with a solid network of friends when you are going through one of the biggest transitions in your life. These friends can turn into valuable relationships that may help land your dream job in the future.
On campuses where Greek life is the primary social network, not joining could make you feel left out. While grades are important, you don’t want to spend your entire undergrad career holed up in the library. Greek life provides a balance between academics and having fun.
But Greek life isn’t for everyone. The cost is a huge barrier to entry. On some campuses, Greek life is a tiered system. If you join a less desirable house, it might not build the social capital to make it worth the investment.
The expectation to party and participate in risky behavior is also a major drawback. Compromising your values just to have friends can impact your grades or worse, lead you down a path towards addiction and substance abuse.
Before you join, consider whether or not the costs are worth the benefits. Depending on your career goals or your desire to have a robust social network, Greek life may be worth the costs in the long run.
Deciding whether or not to join Greek life is an important — and expensive — decision you’ll have to make just as you’re beginning your college career. It isn’t for everyone and that is OK.
Greek life is part of college, but it isn’t the whole college experience. Schools offer a variety of clubs and social groups that come with many of the same benefits as Greek life, like building friendships and pursuing leadership opportunities. Joining these groups can be a low-cost alternative to Greek life and you may find that they align more with your lifestyle too.
Amanda Claypool is a writer, entrepreneur, and strategy consultant. She’s lived in the Middle East, Washington, DC, and a 2014 Subaru Outback but now calls Asheville home. Amanda writes about money, crypto, emerging tech, and the future of the economy on Medium.