Weekly College Column

Is there more to a happy college social life than Greek life?

Students frequently either have a strong aversion to or a major attraction to Greek life. The funny thing is that high school students only know what they’ve seen or heard about fraternities and sororities; they haven’t experienced it first-hand. It’s the movies they’ve seen, think Animal House to  Sorority Wars. Or it’s what they’ve heard from their parents (“Greek life was the most significant piece of my college experience” or “it’s exclusive and avoid it.”  But the dominance or absence of Greek Life on college campuses can be a push/pull factor.

Pros to participating in Greek life:

  • They provide a network of friends, where friends become “family.”
  • Your “sisters” and “brothers” are acquaintances with similar interests.
  • Fraternities and sororities can become a major part of a student’s social life, providing a built-in set of activities and a social circle.
  • This network is long-lasting. Many parents are still great friends with their “sisters” and “brothers”
  • The network can also serve as a conduit for internships, jobs, and reconnecting with alumni and is especially helpful when settling in a new city.
  • Many of these organizations are very involved in community service
  • There are great opportunities for leadership that can make a difference when applying to grad school and for jobs.

Cons to participating in Greek Life:

  • Money. Participating in Greek Life can be very expensive. Some require students to live in their Greek houses and pay for room and board. The expenses can add up quickly with social dues and attending all the social functions, events, and contributions.
  • Cliqueeness. Students have been known to label “good” and “loser” fraternities and sororities and students can be labeled as such.
  • Many of these organizations have been known to engage in excessive drinking and hazing rituals which are illegal in many states and can be physically risky.

Data on the percentage of students in Greek Life is available on a variety of sites including www.collegedata.com and www.princetonreview.com, but beware that it is a little more nuanced than you might think. As an example. Princeton lists 0% in fraternities and sororities. That’s because they are not supported by the university and there are no Greek houses on campus. However, Eating Clubs operate in a similar fashion and are very popular at Princeton. Many of these clubs are “bicker” clubs that require students to go through a very stressful application process to be accepted.

Campuses feel dominated by Greek Life when the participation levels are greater than 25%. When fewer than 20% participate in Greek Life, it’s part of the social fabric but doesn’t dominate. At colleges located in more rural areas, there often isn’t much else to do and participation in Greek Life is, therefore, more appealing.

While the old stereotype of drunken frat boys still exists, it definitely doesn’t define all the options out there. Tour guides are asked these kinds of questions all the time and are trained to respond putting the college/university in the most positive light. The best way to really decipher if the school offers the best-fit social environment for you is to spend the night with a current student and get the low-down directly.

Bierer is an independent college adviser based in Charlotte. Send questions to: lee@bierercollegeconsulting.com; www.bierercollegeconsulting.com

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