There are advantages and disadvantages to being in a fraternity or sorority. The decision is an intensely personal one, and one that depends your personality, your goals, and the particular college you are attending (and its social construct).

Whatever your thoughts on the subject, there are a few universal truths to get out of the way right off the bat.

Some Background

First, fraternity (and sorority) life is no longer characterized by the excess for which it was known in the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s. Influenced by a flurry of lawsuits and by the passage, clarification, and intensification of state laws governing these organizations, nearly every college and university in America has cracked down on its fraternity and sorority system and the pervasive environment of underage binge drinking and abusive hazing activities that used to characterize them (as culturally memorialized in fabled films like Animal House). So the world of fraternities and sororities today is just as often characterized by disputes with school administrations and national headquarters, threats of being thrown off campus and having their charters revoked, and conflicts with campus or town police as it is for wild revelry.

Second, the selection process for gaining membership to a fraternity or sorority is often hasty, brief, and arbitrary. You may well make terrific friendships and bond closely with your frat brothers or sorority sisters, but that is more the product of participating in the overall experience than it is the selection process itself. People are selected for membership in fraternities and sororities for a host of different reasons—and whether you get a bid from every house you rushed or from none, you should not view it as any objective measure of your self-worth. The rush process simply does not lend itself to a careful evaluation of a person's attributes.

Finally, most fraternities and sororities are, first and foremost, social networks organized to bring like-minded people together for the purpose of partying and meeting each other. Any commitment to community service and the like, though usually present and certainly admirable, will always be a secondary motive of most such organizations. If your primary purpose for rushing a fraternity or sorority is to make a commitment to community service, you are probably better off joining one of myriad campus organizations devoted solely to community service. If your motivation for rushing is a combination of wanting to meet new people, develop a network of friends on campus, have a turnkey social life, have a lot of fun, and do some occasional community service work - then you're fine going the Greek route.

How It Works

The fraternity and sorority "admissions" process (for lack of a better term) comprises three stages: rush period, pledge period, and bid period. During the rush period, the various fraternity and sorority houses throw parties to which everyone is invited to attend and to meet the members of those houses. "Rush," as it is known, used to happen first thing in the freshman fall, but an ever increasing number of colleges and universities are pushing rush off to second semester or even limiting the fraternity and sorority rush to sophomores and up in an effort to better police the process.

Rush is also notably different for fraternities and sororities.

Sorority Rush and Pledge

The sorority rush period is typically brief and concentrated, usually spanning less than a month. Many schools, particularly those in the South, have a formal rush process in which participating women are required to visit every sorority house. Not all schools employ this requirement, however, allowing women to choose which houses they want to rush.

During the sorority rush, the first rush "events" (that is, parties) are brief, simply providing opportunities for women to meet, mix, and mingle with the sorority sisters in a casual environment. As the rush period wears on, the parties become longer and more directed, with sorority sisters spending more individualized time with individual candidates.

Eventually, you will likely be asked to have a brief ten- to fifteen-minute substantive interview with one or more of the sisters in the sorority. During this interview, the sisters will typically ask you questions about yourself, your general academic and nonacademic interests, and your views on certain subjects.

"Ask a lot of questions and get to know a lot of people in the house during rush," Lyndsee advised. "If you are serious about joining, make sure at least a couple of people know who you are and know something about you so they can speak up for you when the organization is deciding whom to offer bids to."

"I always had a close group of girlfriends in high school and I was looking for the same thing in college," Tiffany explained. "I found the city atmosphere harder to meet this group of close-knit friends with whom I could hang out regularly. I went to all the different sororities to meet each organization. Take the time to speak to several girls from each one. Although you may have established a bond with one particular person, it is best to get a feel for the organization as a whole by getting to know several members."

When this process is complete, rush period ends, and "bids" will be offered to a certain numbers of candidates inviting them to "pledge" the house. You can only pledge one house at a time (hence the word), so if you receive more than one bid, you will have to choose from among them.

With respect to sorority rush, the most important advice we can give, whether you are required to rush every house or not, is to be yourself. There will always be a temptation to try to be "cooler" or more "hip" than you actually are in real life, by dressing, talking, or acting differently in an effort to curry favor with those who would judge you.

Fraternity Rush and Pledge

The fraternity rush period is typically more casual and spread out than sorority rush, often consuming a couple of months or more. There is no standard rush process, and unlike with the sorority rush, there are no widespread requirements for students to rush all the houses.

Fraternity rush events are usually casual house parties, sometimes with themes and almost always with free beer, offering opportunities for guys to hang out and casually meet the brothers. Unlike in the sorority rush, few fraternities have any formalized process for selecting pledges. Formal rush parties and interviews are rare.

When the fraternity rush period has concluded, bids will be offered to a certain numbers of people inviting them to pledge the house. As with sorority pledging, you can pledge only one house at a time (hence the word), so if you receive more than one bid, you will have to choose from among them. Pledging is usually a formality, meaning that unless you act like a complete ass or hit on a brother's girlfriend, if you're offered a bid, you're in. At many schools, there is both a fall and a winter pledge class, offering you more flexibility in deciding whether and when to rush.

Generally speaking, forced drinking and borderline (or over the line) hazing is more prevalent in fraternities, where many of the pledging rituals are kept secret from the administration. As always, common sense dictates the proper response to any situation. If you are asked (or forced) to do anything that makes you truly uncomfortable (compare, for example, being forced to refer to your fraternity brothers as "sir," to clean the frat house basement on hands and knees, or to streak through the sorority house on the next block [all typical], to being forced to drink, vandalize property, or answer questions while a venomous snake is draped over your neck [obviously not okay]), recognize that your participation in the process is optional. Be a good sport about some rites of initiation, but don't be afraid to draw the line. And if the brothers don't respect your boundaries after you draw the line and in­sist on it, then you probably don't want those cats as brothers anyway.

"Try to spend at least part of the time you are rushing sober so you can evaluate what is going on with a clear head and nonintoxicated perspective," Jim warned. "Consider what you will give up in terms of other opportunities before you decide to pledge. And seriously consider waiting until your sophomore year to make that decision. Pledging can be academically destructive.

When You're "Made"

When you are offered brotherhood or sisterhood in a house, that offer comes with some obligations you need to know about. First off, most houses charge a one-time initiation fee, which can range anywhere from a few hundred to several thousand dollars depending on what school you attend and what house you are joining. Once you pay the initiation fee, you will also be subjected to semester dues, which help underwrite the cost of the house and its activities. It is wise to check on these obligations before you pledge a house so that you won't be surprised after the fact.

Further, not all members actually live in their fraternity or sorority houses. Although every house is different, residency in the house is rarely an obligation of your membership. In fact, many houses don't have sufficient space to board all their members"resulting in uncomfortable accommodations on sleeping porches (think summer camp, with bunks, shared space, and no privacy) or residency by seniority, lottery, or ability to pay.

Additional Resources

www.nicindy.org/index.html (Web site of the North American Inter-Fraternity Conference; links to all national fraternity offices)

www.npcwomen.org (Web site of the National Panhellenic Conference; links to all national sorority offices)

 

Campus Confidential Mentors and Uber-Mentors:

Campus Confidential contains the collective advice of a a diverse group of people who have traveled the road to college. Some are recent college graduates who can counsel you on the college experience as it is today. Other are a few years removed from their college days and can provide a longer view of the decisions you will need to make before, during, and after college. Here is a little bit about the mentors and uber-mentors in these articles.

Dan Bissell – Campus Confidential Uber-Mentor

Portland, Oregon

B.A. Middlebury College cum laude, 1993. Major: Geology

M. D. University of Colorado School of Medicine, Adler Scholar, 2002

 

Tom Teh Chiu – Campus Confidential Uber-Mentor

Brooklyn, New York

B. A. Yale University, 1993. Major: double major in Chemistry and Music

M. M. Juilliard School, 1995

M Juilliard School, 2001

Jim Bright – Campus Confidential Uber-Mentor

Winston-Salem, North Carolina

B. A. Duke University, magna cum laude, Phi Beta Kappa, 1997. Major: History

 

Amanda Cramer – Campus Confidential Uber-Mentor

Paso Robles, California

B.A. Cornell University Phi Beta Kappa, 1993. Major: Mathematics

Graduate study in food science – Enology, University of California at Davis 1997-2000

 

Zoe Robbins – Campus Confidential Uber-Mentor

Gouldsboro, Maine

B.A. (1) Wellesley College magna cum laude, Phi Beta Kappa, 1997. Major: Economics

B.A. (2) University of Pennsylvania, 2001. Major: Nursing

 

Carolyn Koegler – Campus Confidential Uber-Mentor

Hopkinton, New Hampshire

B. A. Tufts University, cum laude, 1993. Double major: History and Spanish

 

Erik Norton – Campus Confidential Uber-Mentor

Boston, Massachusetts

B. A. Massachusetts Institute of Technology, 1993. Major: Mathematics

 

Lyndsee Dickson – Campus Confidential Mentor

Concord, New Hampshire

B.A. New York University, cum laude, 2004. Major: East Asian studies

 

Kevin Donovan – Campus Confidential Mentor

Somerville, Massachusetts

B.A. Boston College, honors in the major, 1993. Major: English, Minor: Creative Writing

 

Tiffany Chan – Campus Confidential Mentor

Concord, New Hampshire

B.S. New York University, 2005. Major: Communication Science

 

Erica Eubanks – Campus Confidential Mentor

Memphis, Tennessee

B.A. Tennessee State University, National Deans List, 2003. Major: Criminal Justice

 

Dave Irwin – Campus Confidential Mentor

Carlisle, Massachusetts

B.A. Middlebury College departmental honors, 2004. Major: American Civilization, Minor: Education

 

Chase Johnson – Campus Confidential Mentor

London, England

B. A. Duke University, with Phi Alpha Theta distinction in history, 2005. Major: History

 

Aaron Paskalis – Campus Confidential Mentor

Magnolia, Massachusetts

West Point Military Academy, then transferred to UMass Amherst

B. A. University of Massachusetts at Amherst, 2005. Major: Legal studies