Greek Life 101: A Full Introduction Into College Fraternities & Sororities

What is Greek life in college? What are fraternities and sororities? Learn about the significance of Greek life on campus in this post!

Are you wondering if Greek life is right for you? When you head to campus, you could find a new social circle through Greek houses and activities. As a bonus, you’ll gain a network of friends and professional contacts for life.

But do the positives of Greek life outweigh the negatives? The answer will depend on your personal preferences — and what you know.

Read on to gain an introduction to college fraternities and sororities!

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What is Greek Life?

Before you know whether Greek life is right for you or not, start by learning about its history. You’ll discover that the roots of fraternities and sororities focus on camaraderie — and that’s still a central focus today!

Know the History of Fraternities

The history of fraternities dates back to the 1700s. Founded in Virginia, Phi Beta Kappa is America’s oldest fraternity. It brought together students with inquisitive minds, and that remains its focus today. With over 290 chapters, it is an invitation-only society for high academic achievers.

In the 1800s, fraternities with a more social purpose began to emerge. Today, Greek letter fraternities like Chi Psi and Tau Kappa Epsilon can be found on college campuses across the country.

The Greek letters in the names tend to hold significance as a motto. And each campus chapter will be linked to a national organization.

Know the History of Sororities

Since most college campuses had a lot more male students in the 19th century, sororities started as a way to push back. With the founding of the Adelphean Society in 1851, women gained a chance to join forces around common interests. Whether singing or writing together, the Adelphean Society paved the way for Pi Beta Phi, which was the first national group for women in college.

Heading into the 20th century, sororities started popping up on campuses across America. Some focused on creating traditional sisterhood bonds, while others focused on cultural connections. Today, the National Panhellenic Conference oversees 26 Greek-letter sororities in North America.

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What Are Fraternities?

You know a little bit about the history of fraternities — but do you know what comes with joining one? Each fraternity will have a different culture, so it’s wise to learn about the traditions and mission before signing on. 

Be Clear on a Fraternity’s Purpose

A fraternity definition will vary from one to the next, but generally, there are some guiding values. Most will focus on providing service and educational opportunities. And they’ll want to offer a sense of brotherhood to those involved. 

You should investigate the cultures of the specific fraternities on your campus, too. Some may be known more for their active social life. Others, however, may prioritize academic excellence or service. 

Learn the Traditions

Traditions may include specific events, like annual formal dances. But you’ll also be privy to certain fashionable crests and badges connected to your house. Learn about the events, friendly rivalries, and volunteer practices that define fraternities.

When you’re researching traditions, find out more about changes to traditions, too. In recent decades, some fraternities have faced charges of misogynistic behavior. Be sure you’re joining one committed to treating everyone equally. 

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What Are Sororities?

Like fraternities, sororities come with different missions and cultures. You’ll want to do your research before rushing a sorority. And you’ll want to know what it means to rush a sorority!

Learn About a Sorority’s Mission

A sorority definition also will be different from one house to the next. Most promote strong friendships and generosity as key aspects of life in the sorority.

Be clear on the mission so you can avoid joining groups with histories of exclusionary practices. Some sororities have faced penalties for focusing more on appearances during recruitment. Stick with sororities that are welcoming to all!

Understand the Traditions

Does a sorority have a secret wave or gift it gives to new members? Learn more about the small or big practices that have been passed down from one generation to the next.

For example, you may learn a secret saying that your sisters use before an event begins. Or there may be a special meal that’s shared on an annual basis.

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Know the Types of Fraternities and Sororities

While many fraternities and sororities use Greek letters in their name and center on socializing, not all are that way. In fact, some societies focus on academic achievement or professional development. 

Social Greek Houses

The best-known fraternities and sororities are those centered on socializing. These are generally the Greek houses that are part of the National Panhellenic Council. They’re characterized by their names consisting of Greek letters.

With these Greek houses, plan on busy weeknights and weekends with your fellow brothers or sisters. You may need to keep your grades at a certain level, but otherwise, the requirements usually aren’t rigid.

Honors Societies

If you’re in an honors college at a larger university, you may be eligible to join an honors society. This type of organization will focus on promoting academic achievement and growth.

You could be grouped with other students of similar academic standing for the duration of your college career. This is different from Phi Beta Kappa, where you’ll be awarded entrance toward the end of your academic career.

Professional Groups

There are fraternities and sororities geared toward cultivating your professional future. If you’re aspiring to be an attorney, for instance, you might want to join a pre-law society. You’ll get help prepping for the LSAT, and you may even gain access to good legal internships. 

Sometimes societies with a professional focus may have a house on campus. But in many instances, you’ll meet fellow members in more structured settings. These could include study sessions or organized tours of graduate programs.

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The Process of Joining Greek Life at University

How do you become a member of Greek life? The initiation process can vary from one house to another. But you’ll encounter different expectations and traditions at each step in the journey.

Become a Rushee

Are you serious about joining a sorority or fraternity? If you move forward with the recruitment process, you’ll get the title of rushee. 

During this phase of the process, you’ll need to earn your spot. This can happen by completing a few tasks to the satisfaction of the current sorority sisters or fraternity brothers. 

You may end up singing, dancing, or giving a silly speech. Depending on the scale and intensity of the sorority, this process may be more structured or low-key. In either case, be prepared to perform so you can earn an invitation to the next task.

You may need to rush several sororities or fraternities if you’re hoping to land in one. And you’ll probably need to attend parties and mingle a lot. At the end of the process, if you seem like a good fit, you’ll get a bid.

Accepting a Bid and Becoming a Member

If you accept a bid, you’ll be called a pledge or new member. Expect to learn more about the sorority or fraternity, including its values and culture. You may be tested on this information to gain formal entrance — so take good notes!

At this point, you may need to go through an initiation process to prove your loyalty. In some cases, these are highly secretive rituals with long histories. But in other instances, you may just need to attend an event and formally join.

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Participate in the Life of a Sorority or Fraternity

When you’ve made it through rush and initiation, you’ll finally be a member of a sorority or fraternity. But what does membership entail in your first few months?

Get Mentorship from Your Sisters or Brothers

Once you’re in the club, you could be assigned a mentor to help you adjust to your new home. Sometimes these are referred to as big sisters or big brothers. Ultimately, you’ll want to get to know as many people as possible in your house.

And you should plan on participating a lot as a new member. You may be asked to take on some of the more menial tasks with events in your first year. But you’ll learn the ropes and earn the trust of your brothers or sisters. 

Know the Rules of the House

You also may need to maintain a certain grade point average. And if you don’t meet the minimum, you may lose some privileges until you can repair your academic standing.

Additionally, you’ll want to be aware of house rules if you move into a new space. For instance, you may not be allowed to host overnight guests in some houses. And you may need to contribute to cleaning protocol or reserve common areas well in advance.

Many fraternities and sororities have tried to crack down on alcohol in the past several decades, too. Know a house’s stance on alcohol before you mix a drink. You may not be allowed to at parties or even in the house.

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Good Reasons to Join a Frat or Sorority

Social gatherings, professional development, and philanthropic work all come with joining Greek life. And they represent excellent reasons to commit to a fraternity or sorority on your campus.

Gain an Instant Circle of Friends

Attending a new school comes with its share of social challenges. After all, you may not know anyone on campus when you arrive. A huge benefit of joining Greek houses is that you surround yourself with loyal friends. 

Some Greek houses are equipped with recreation areas boasting pool tables or dining rooms. But if you’re hoping to catch a movie or head to a local pub, you’ll always have a dependable selection of people to go with you.

Always Have a Full Calendar

You always will have social outlets and events to plan or attend as a member of Greek life. From planning a winter formal to attending a football game with your brothers or sisters, your calendar will be full.

Many sororities and fraternities are actively engaged in philanthropic work, too. Many national organizations will hand out honors to their most philanthropic chapters. So, there’s often a competitive reason to do the most good.

Develop Your Leadership Skills

For opportunities to take on leadership roles, join a fraternity or sorority. You may spearhead a volunteer activity or ascend the ranks in house leadership positions. You’ll develop stronger leadership skills that will help you during internships and jobs.

And you’ll learn how to live and collaborate with other people. These are all transferable skills to the world beyond your college campus. Potential employers looking over your application and resume will assume you have leadership qualities.

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Reasons Greek Life Might Not Be the Right Choice

Greek life isn’t the right option for everyone. If you’re not eager to have a booked schedule or you’re wary of frat house controversies, you may want to set your sights elsewhere.

Your Social Circle May Seem Too Limited

One disadvantage of the Greek system is that it can govern your social life too much. House or chapter activities can consume your weekend hours. And you might feel pressure to keep your friendships within the house.

Expect to Pay Membership Dues

Joining Greek life comes at a literal cost. Each semester, you’ll need to pay dues to your local chapter as well as the national governing body. On top of that, you’ll end up paying for lots of other things along the way to stay in good standing.

For instance, you may need to purchase a nice dress or suit for formal dances and events. With basic suits costing a few hundred dollars, this is a big investment to make. You also may need to buy other swag, like t-shirts or hats, to show your support. 

Be Aware of the Controversies 

If you’ve watched movies like Animal House, you know that fraternities and sororities sometimes get a bad rap. They may come across as cultish — or the focus may be on partying above all else. 

Some fraternities and sororities have faced sanctions for hazing rounds that have endangered the lives of participants — and worse. And there are scenarios where joining a Greek house at a large university may boil down to a popularity contest. Looks and legacy status can reign supreme.

Check the history of your campus’s Greek life system to learn more about sanctions and campus issues. You want to attach your name to a Greek house with a clean reputation. 

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Popular Fraternities and Sororities to Consider

While there’s no shortage of fraternities or sororities to choose from, some have a bigger reputation than others. Spend time reading the mission statements to find one that resonates with you. Here are three of the better-known societies.

Sigma Alpha Epsilon

Sigma Alpha Epsilon debuted in 1856 at the University of Alabama. With other 200 chapters today, it is one of the largest fraternities in existence. The fraternity emphasizes leadership through social and philanthropic experiences on and off-campus.

The fraternity strives to embody the idea of the True Gentleman. This is their creed, which focuses on living with a sense of humility and respect. Each member must know it by heart.

Chi Omega

Chi Omega is a sorority that has been around since 1895. The sorority’s goal is to help its members chart a path in life toward success. This set of principles can be found in the Chi Omega Symphony, its guiding document. 

With roots at the University of Arkansas, Chi Omega now has over 180 chapters — and it’s the biggest women’s organization. You can expect a hands-on experience with Chi Omega. Each year, a member of its national leadership team will visit the chapters.

Phi Beta Kappa

Phi Beta Kappa is an honor society typically open to undergraduates of high academic standing. You’ll need to sit at a 3.8 or better grade point average. And you’ll need a transcript that reflects a diverse assortment of classes and scholarly involvement.

Founded in 1776, Phi Beta Kappa remains the most prestigious honor society. You won’t be partying on the weekends in this society — and you probably won’t be living in a house with other members. But you will get a nationwide network of other high-achieving members.

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What You’ll Gain from Greek Life After College

While you may think of Greek life as synonymous with college, being a member can help you after college, too. You gain a brotherhood or sisterhood that can help you professionally and personally. 

Professional Networking

When you’re trying to land a job after college, listing your fraternity or sorority affiliation on your resume can have a positive impact. If the person interviewing is part of that Greek house, too, you’ll have an instant connection. Even if that’s not the case, membership demonstrates that you were involved and committed during your college years.

Additionally, you can turn to chapter associations across the country to get your foot in the door with jobs. For instance, if you’re moving to Austin, you could connect with the local chapter and attend mixers. You could even ask to talk with chapter members in your industry or do job shadowing.

Greek Life Chapters Stay Connected

From a personal standpoint, you’ll get opportunities to forge new social connections. When you join a local chapter, you can do anything from tailgating to volunteering. 

Are you looking for ways to give back to your community? Greek life chapters often will recruit alum members to participate in local charitable events. When you move to a new city, check the local college to find out if your sorority or fraternity has a chapter.

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How to Determine If Fraternities and Sororities Are Right for You

When you’re gearing up for college, you’ll need to figure out if rushing a sorority or fraternity is a good fit. Do your research ahead of time so you can come to campus with a good sense of what to expect.

Attend Informational Events and Ask Questions

It’s always good to keep an open mind. And informational events at the start of the academic year can help you learn a lot about sororities and fraternities. Grab a roommate or friend and attend some!

Many fraternities and sororities will host open houses. These are non-committal events where you can get a sense of what the house is like over cookies and punch.

Know Your Socializing Preferences

Do you prefer hanging out in groups and spending your weekends at events? Or do you prefer more quiet time? How you respond to those questions may determine if Greek life is right for you.

Living in a Greek house means constant accessibility. While many people will respect your privacy, you may not have the quiet hours you would get in a traditional dorm. And if you’re the type of person who’d rather hang out with one person or a small group, you may not like the social situation in a Greek house.

Determine the Housing Situation

Do you want to enjoy the traditional dorm life experience in college? Or do you want to live in off-campus housing?

Since some Greek houses offer living space, you may be able to score a room if you join. But that’s not necessarily a guarantee.

If the thought of living in a community with fraternity brothers or sorority sisters sounds too immersive, you might want more space. In that case, staying independent or joining a group without living requirements may make more sense. But if you want a steady group of friends and housemates, then fraternities and sororities may be the right choice.

Consider Joining a Sorority or Fraternity

Greek life is a terrific way to build a network of loyal friends to support you throughout your college career — and beyond. You’ll want to do your research on each Greek house’s mission and atmosphere. And you’ll want to be sure that you have the time to commit to the responsibilities that come with Greek life.

If you’re ready to forge connections in college and beyond, check with us for the latest opportunities!

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Goodwall Team
Written By Goodwall Team
This article was written by the Goodwall team or by a contributor for publication on Goodwall. Goodwall is dedicated to helping students, entrepreneurs, and young professionals reach their full potential. We'll share thought-provoking and supportive articles on career advice, self-improvement, navigating the college landscape, climate action, social impact, and more. On the business side, we'll talk about SMB subjects related to community, diversity, talent acquisition, case studies, and enterprise.

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