Fraternities and Sororities: How They Work
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.
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.