It’s been 25 years since my family packed up the roadster and dropped me off at college. Now that I’m looking back on that landmark event in my life, I can truly tell you it probably formed who I was more than any other event in my life. Here’s why: I joined a sorority. Before you joke about it, listen up. It formed who I am…and that’s a brave, fearless, confident, hard-working, compassionate, smartass. I absorbed all that from my sisters and the “frat guys” I was immersed with during those four years. Yes, I’ve heard all the stereotypes and misconceptions. Before you make a snap judgement about your kid joining a sorority (or fraternity) think about this:
1. Sororities/Fraternities provide family life of a new kind in college. I remember the summer between high school and college battling with my dad about joining a House, he thought it was foolish. A long-time family friend with a daughter in a sorority made this point: “Would you rather have your daughter living in a 12×12 room with a roommate who may or may not know/care where your kid is? Or do you want her living in a home where there’s an entire family keeping an eye out for each other?” Needless to say, my dad was the one who helped me move into the House.
2. There are benefits to living with a large “family” and being exposed to different personalities. As a young adult, it immerses you in all the different ways to live. I went to college in the Midwest and lived with farm girls and Chicago country club kids alike. I saw examples of classy young ladies, carefree women and student perfectionists. I learned who was a good listener, who always had a witty comeback, who was sweet and who was fiercely brave. Any given year, there were about 70 girls living under one roof and was immersed in other personalities who grew up differently than me. Each of them gave me a piece of how I wanted to live and who I wanted to become after college.
3. Rush week helped me find “my people.” Who can you imagine brushing your teeth with for the next four years? – That’s the best advice I got during recruitment, aka Rush Week. Rush forces you to put on your big girl panties and own up to all parts of your personality. Do you want to be in a house where it’s OK to go to class…or even dinner…in a hoodie and a baseball cap? There’s a House for you. Are you more formal, always look put-together and wouldn’t dream of going on the main floor before a shower and make-up? There’s a House for you, too. Personally, my House was a bunch of smartasses who were also kind, sweet, beautiful and smart.
4. Keeping up your grades is required for membership. Did you know that sororities and fraternities have a higher GPA requirement than most universities. Let me tell you a story…I went to the world’s easiest high school. Never cracked a book, just listened in class and was in honors math/science/literature. So going to college was a bit of a shock for me. I had a macro-economics class that kicked my butt. Literally. Never, in my life had I gotten below a B. My parents were furious and winter break was hell at our house. They wanted to pull me out of college, thought I wasn’t applying myself and blamed the House. I can be honest that 25 years later…wanting to stay in the House is what got me to focus, learn to study and push to succeed. I was embarrassed that I was put on my sorority’s academic probation and I busted my butt to never let that happen again. Another benefit? You can always find someone who’s had the same class or professor and will be able to tutor you in any subject you’ve ever had.
5. Becoming a leader on campus is easier. At my university, the Greeks were only 20% of the undergrad students. However, they were the leaders of 80% of the activities…i.e. Homecoming or the Student Alumni Association. It’s not that we held a monopoly on these offices, it simply meant that we were better at funneling information on ways to get involved vs. the dorms. I had the opportunity to help with festivals, mentor junior-high students on higher education and meet prospective scholarship students. No matter what, those leadership skills translate into your career. Looking back on those friends who were leaders – they are now directors of hospital departments, small business owners and community volunteers. One caveat: this varies by campus. My husband went to a smaller private school and the Greek system wasn’t as strong. As always, do your homework.
6. Myth: Joining a Sorority/Fraternity cost too much money. Do you homework. Most colleges require that the room and board are competitive to the dormitory system. My university required that room and board for all Greek Houses be within $100 of campus living. And I was able to live in a MUCH nicer house vs. the cinder block “cell” of my dorm. Family style meals and better food were another bonus.
7. Myth: There are so many other hidden costs. As far as the “extras” like dances, etc. that is up to you if want to attend and pay for. Most of the dances/parties I attended were only an additional cost of $40 which I was able to pay for with my part-time campus job…only if I had a guy I really wanted to invite. Otherwise I stayed back and watched movies with the rest of the girls. Either way, I had a great time.
8. Myth: The Greeks love to party. Seriously? If your kid is destined to be the beer pong champion, there’s no stopping that no matter where they live. If anything, there’s a huge benefit of having a Greek family. It means they keep an eye on you and if you do something stupid, they get you home safe. Yes, they have parties and loud music. ALL COLLEGE KIDS DO. If you think otherwise you need to pull your head out of the sand.
9. These girls are still family. Yes, of course we were all roommates during first jobs, hung out in our 20s together and were in each other’s weddings. But they are my support network. The minute one of us loses a parent, has a child in the hospital, or is moving to a place we know nothing about…we’re there. My husband and I moved three times, across three time zones with three little boys in less than a decade. Each time I had huge support and instant friends through my college connections. It was such a blessing. Another beautiful time for my sorority was when one of our girls passed away from her second battle with breast cancer. It was a couple months before she turned 40. It was devastating. However, Jess wasn’t going out sad. We had a FUNeral for her a few months before she passed. Talk about an amazing way to celebrate life and friendship. There were 500+ people all wearing pink and pulling together for her and her husband…who was in a fraternity on our campus. The party was filled with their friends of 20 years supporting them. In my observation, that level of long-term connections and support are rare from college friends…especially in that magnitude.
10. Fraternity guys are womanizers. Oh please! I lived in the dorm for a semester before moving into the House. As mentioned above, nobody noticed if I was coming or going. I felt nervous walking after dark to my dorm building. Once I moved over to “Greek Land” I never walked alone. The norm was to always walk a girl home after dark, it didn’t matter if the study group ended at 6pm or 2 am. It was so chivalrous that it surprised me the first time. And speaking of chivalry…there were a few fraternities that had a rule for the men to stand up every time a woman entered a room and remain standing until she sat. How sweet is that? I hope my sons get the chance to learn this. As stated before, the exposure of being around other personalities brings out the best of everyone. And as far as hormones are concerned? Everyone is some level of horny in college…young men and women alike. Not everyone is disrespectful or a man-whore. Like #8 stated: get your head out of the sand.
11. It’s the best decision you’ll ever encourage your kid to make. I am certain that my parents today still would agree it was a much better environment for me to begin adulthood in. The life skills I learned living there made me successful in my career of marketing, fundraising for non-profits and becoming an entrepreneur. I directly equate the two more than anything else. Not the classes I took, but the lessons I learned from these amazing women and the men who lived in the stately houses around us. If you have the chance, encourage your new college kid to pursue joining the Greek system. They won’t regret it! PS – I graduated with amazing grades and great friends…and I still hate these pref night dresses: