When you think about universities in the U.S., you surely know of the large presence of fraternities and sororities – popular organisations built to promote comradery (brotherhood and sisterhood, respectively) among students, and to help introduce them to a lively social environment.
Almost every movie about the U.S. college life shows all of the crazy parties, drinking games, hazing rituals, competitions, and social gatherings - all of the elements built into the (so-called) Greek Life.
What are fraternities and sororities and how did they come to be?
To start off with: why do they call fraternities and sororities ‘Greek Life’? Well, the first college fraternity in U.S. history started at the College of William & Mary in 1775, and began as a secret society known as Phi Beta Kappa.
This secret society was involved in secret dining clubs and elite literary societies, and, eventually, expanded to other colleges around the U.S.
In the decades that followed, other fraternities (and, after a while, sororities) formed that were not as secretive, creating tight-knit groups of students participating in several kinds of outreach programmes, networking opportunities, and team exercises. Keeping with tradition with Phi Betta Kappa, fraternities and sororities around the U.S. continued to name themselves after letters in the Greek alphabet; today, these are nationally-known organisations called Greek Letter Organisations (GLO).
For most international students, when they’re looking into studying at an American college, fraternities and sororities are the first things that come to mind; most students, indeed, have the impression that these organisations are an integral part of American college life.
You don’t have to join a fraternity or sorority if you go to the U.S. But, if you do, it is important to know what they are and how they function. For instance:
1. Greek Life isn’t cheap
Nearly everything in American universities comes with a price tag. Fraternities and sororities are no exception (which is why people often denigrate these organisations as ways to ‘buy friends’).
Because Greek Letter Organisations often provide member housing, organise events (‘formals’), make t-shirts and pins, and give each other gifts, the cost of being in a fraternity or sorority can be quite a lot. Believe it or not, the students will often spend upwards of 1 000 USD per semester during their time in one of these groups – on top of their already hefty tuition price.
These expenses are not without benefit. When you’re a part of a Greek Letter Organisation, you get to enjoy legendary parties, high-scale living quarters, interesting activities, and an exciting social life.
When you’re applying for universities, you can search through the many official student organisations on their website. Some universities with a GLO are:
- University of South Florida, in Tampa, Florida
- Southern New Hampshire University, in Manchester, New Hampshire
- California State University Northridge, in Los Angeles, California
2. Opportunities for networking and collaboration
Membership to a Greek Letter Organisation has many advantages.
In fact, depending on the organisation, membership can be considered quite valuable and prestigious on your CV or résumé. After graduating from college, many fraternities or sorority alumni keep close contact with their alma mater and fellow organisations members (brothers and sisters).
Current members, therefore, keep and maintain a wide network of contacts – especially those from the organisations who have gone on to great careers and opportunities.
When you join a Greek Letter Organisation, you can easily make and keep contact with former members and alumni. Once you join, you will be able to network your way to a successful career based on your association with other successful members.
Moreover, many fraternities and sororities are treated with a high level of prestige and social value. The first ever fraternity that we mentioned, Phi Beta Kappa, is considered to be today the most prestigious honour society in the U.S.
3. Enjoy legendary parties and hone your social skills
‘Toga! Toga! Toga!’, goes the legendary moment in National Lampoon’s Animal House; and from that moment forward, a tradition was born that led everyone to expect wild toga parties, beer pong, and excessive drinking when they join a fraternity or sorority.
With their massive houses and large communities, Greek Letter Organisations are known for hosting the greatest parties and events at their universities.
While these events function merely for the sake of fun and excitement, they also help students develop social skills and their own social identity.
Students who join fraternities and sororities, without question, feel a sense of belonging and a strong bond with their brothers/sisters, so anyone who feels shy, timid, or nervous about meeting new people would benefit strongly from joining a Greek Letter Organisation.
For international students, this is a perfect opportunity to develop a close association with like-minded, ambitious students, who are also looking to make new friends.
4. Beware of the hazing rituals
There is a long tradition in Greek Letter Organisations of what are called ‘hazing rituals’.
These are, essentially, initiation practices, meant to humiliate fraternity or sorority ‘pledges’, to prove their loyalty to their organisation. ‘How far are you willing to go for brotherhood/sisterhood?’ is what they are trying to find out; and to join their pledge, you will have to prove that there are no limits to where you will go or what you will do.
However, as this tradition became more popular over the past century, hazing rituals intensified in how extreme and humiliating they can be. Today, it has come to a point where we see weekly news reports on abusive hazing tactics that have resulted in harassment and injury among students.
Many campuses around the U.S., therefore, have banned hazing rituals of any kind, knowing that they are liable to the students’ safety. Subjecting others to such extreme risk of injury, harassment, abuse, and humiliation can be grounds for a lawsuit and dismissal from the university.
Students entering into the U.S. should be aware of these rituals and know whether the fraternity or sorority they are joining requires them to participate.
5. Staying in a fraternity or sorority
One thing that adds to the social prestige of fraternities and sororities is that they usually have strict rules about a student’s academic progress and success. A GPA that is too low, or any grades that are not up to par can restrict your ability to join and stay in the student society.
So, if you’re the kind of student who requires some extra motivation or incentive to do well in his or her courses, having a supportive group of friends who surround you and are committed to your success could be perfect for getting you through your classes and keeping high grades.
And these organisations don’t just put together parties and gatherings!
They are also involved in philanthropy and social outreach. To keep your membership to these groups, you will likely have to help some of the many community service initiatives they are involved in.
Final advice, before you go
While this is a great opportunity, it can also be time-consuming. So, do be aware of how much of your discretionary time is taken up by joining a Greek Letter Organisation, and whether you will still be able to manage your student life.