Fraternity and Sorority Life: A Guide for College Students, Parents

Joining a fraternity or sorority can be a rewarding experience for college students, helping them to develop lifelong friendships, leadership skills, career connections, and a pathway to maturation and personal growth. 

For some students, it can be one of the most influential experiences in their college career. However, parents and students need to go into this with open eyes and as much knowledge as possible about both the benefits and potential drawbacks of Greek Life.

sorority bid day
Students interested in exploring Greek life on campus must consider the pros and cons.

Benefits to Membership

One of the primary benefits of joining a fraternity or sorority is forming close friendships with other members. Many people find that the friends they make in their organization are among their most foundational and long-lasting friendships. Additionally, having a group of friends united around a set of values such as academic achievement, brotherhood/sisterhood, a dedication to the community, and dedication to the college, can help form powerful bonds.

Joining a fraternity or sorority can also provide access to social, philanthropic, service, leadership, and professional development opportunities that might not be available to non-members. In general, Greek students report higher satisfaction with their college experience (Pike, 2020) and are often more involved in other areas of campus life. 

Drawbacks to Membership

There are also potential drawbacks to consider before joining a fraternity or sorority. Anyone who watches the news can see some of the risks associated with membership. These include hazing and alcohol/substance use and abuse.

While these risky behaviors are not limited to fraternity and sorority life and can happen on sports teams, clubs, and musical organizations, they can be an issue on some campuses and in some fraternity and sorority chapters. Before joining, parents and students need to research the culture and values of any organization, both national and local.

Another concern is the membership cost, which can be significant and may include dues, fees for events and activities, housing costs, and the cost of purchasing fraternity or sorority clothing. In addition, the time commitment required for fraternity or sorority membership can be demanding, with regular meetings and events that may conflict with other commitments such as academics, work, or other non-greek extracurricular activities.

Family / Parent Involvement

Becoming a member of a Greek chapter can be an essential decision for a college student. It can impact a student’s social life, housing decisions, financial decisions, and extracurricular involvement. With all of that in mind, it is a decision that should include parents. Here are some tips for parents wanting to be involved in this decision.

Conversations to have with your student

You should speak to your student openly and honestly about Greek Life before they decide to join. If they are interested in affiliating, talk to them about which chapters they are interested in and why.

Some questions to ask your student include:

  1. What do you like about this group in particular?
  2. What are the men/women in this group like?
  3. How did you meet the brothers/sisters in this group?
  4. What kind of reputation does this organization have on your campus?

Online Resources

The internet is an excellent resource for families to help students make decisions about Greek Life in general and on a particular campus. 

Many campuses require organizations to participate in a yearly review process to highlight the positives that the organization has made and to ensure compliance with institutional policy. These programs can be called ‘accreditation’ or ‘yearly reviews’, and the results are often easily accessible on campus websites.

In addition to these reports, campus Greek Life offices may also publish academic/grade reports and positive pieces about the campus, including chapters recognized with awards. 

Some campuses also publish details about organizational disciplinary actions for issues such as alcohol violations and hazing. These can sometimes be found on the website for the offices that manage Greek Life but can also be found on the websites for offices that handle student discipline and conduct. 

Some states, like Pennsylvania, require campuses to post annual or semi-annual hazing reports. These can be found on various websites related to the campus and may require some digging. For example, Saint Vincent College in Latrobe, Pennsylvania, has its report on its Public Safety site, Lehigh University has its report on its Hazing Prevention website, and Penn State has theirs listed on its Student Aid website.

National Headquarters websites will often include information about the values and beliefs of the organization, leadership and professional development opportunities, and educational foundations that can provide financial support for members and chapters.  

Personal Resources

Because deciding to join a fraternity or sorority is significant, reaching out personally to people “in the know” may be valuable. Greek Life administrators on college campuses are professional staff members who provide programming and guidance to fraternity and sorority communities.

Do not hesitate to contact these professionals and ask them your questions. They are student affairs professionals who assist your student in building a solid college experience.

You can also reach out to the National Headquarters staff of the fraternity or sorority. Most will be willing to talk to parents about what kind of experiences a student affiliating with their group can expect to have. 

Suppose you have access to Chapter members (undergraduate or alumni). In that case, these individuals can be a valuable resource for information about dues, new member education processes, housing, and other topics more specific to an organization. 

Final pieces of advice

An article of this length can’t begin to cover all of the facets that are relevant to this topic. Students and parents should take the time to look at other areas so that they are informed.

A few areas for further research on your part could include recruitment (especially sorority recruitment which can be a complex process), how culturally based organizations are similar and different from historically white organizations, housing expectations and requirements, and recognized vs. unrecognized groups on a particular campus. (Unrecognized groups are not officially affiliated with a particular campus but still have student members. Often this lack of recognition is based on a history of disciplinary actions against the group).

Greek Life can be a fun and rewarding experience for many students, but it is not for everyone. If your student is interested in exploring this aspect of collegiate life, you should be involved as you would be with any major decision. 

Resources:

National Panhellenic Conference

National Pan-Hellenic Council

North American Interfraternity Conference

More Great Reading:

Helping Your Daughter if Sorority Recruitment Doesn’t Work Out for Her

About Chris Mulvihill

Chris Mulvihil is the Associate Dean of Students at Lehigh University where he currently supervises The Office of Student Conduct & Community Expectations and the Office of Fraternity and Sorority Affairs. He has been involved in Greek Life since he joined Alpha Chi Rho Fraternity in the spring of 1991 as an undergraduate at Millersville University.  As a student affairs professional, he has dedicated his career to helping students grow into informed and dedicated citizens and to learn from the challenges that they face. He owns CJM Consulting which provides policy, practice, and procedure services to college campuses in the areas of student conduct and Greek Life.

Read more posts by Chris

Don't miss out!
Want more like this? Get updates straight to your inbox.