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What Is Greek Life Like? Answers to Questions About College Greek Life

Thanks to Hollywood, you may think you know what college Greek life is all about. Perhaps you’re envisioning Bluto and D-Day guzzling beers in raging basement party in Animal House or ditzy sorority-girl-turned lawyer Elle Woods in Legally Blonde. But while the social element is a big part of the Greek experience, so is developing leadership skills, giving back to the community, and building life-long relationships with your future sisters and brothers.

What Is Greek Life Like?

With 123 sororities and fraternities and nine million members nationwide, going Greek is still a popular option for incoming freshman. As a parent, you can help your teenager see past the partying to ask questions about academics, time commitments, and what it’s like to live with 50 of your “closest” friends. Here’s what you need to know if your son or daughter decides to go Greek.

Living in a Chapter House

Driving up and down sorority or fraternity row at your teenager’s top college pick may make your eyes bug out of your head: Huge, antebellum homes with manicured gardens, while others look like they should be on the town’s tear down list. Throw in a few happy coeds, chatting on the front porch or guys shooting hoops on the basketball court in the parking lot and it looks pretty idyllic. Yes and no.

“Living in” a sorority or fraternity house is actually a lot of fun. But just like a dorm or an apartment, it takes some getting used to.

What are the upsides to ‘living in’?

  • Three square meals a day
  • Someone is always awake…and ready to talk
  • You can always bum a ride to class, the library, etc.
  • Your college mom (house director) is there to hem a dress or sew on a button

And the downsides……

  • Things can go missing from your room (ah, just like the dorms)
  • It’s noisy
  • Hallways, bathrooms…….can get messy

Your teenager should ask how rooms are assigned; details about the meal plan and how many meals are served; what furnishings he’ll need to provide; and, of course, when she can move into the house.

Academics

Many parents are pleased to learn that fraternities and sororities usually require their members to maintain a particular GPA, which is often higher than the university’s minimum GPA requirement. Research has shown that graduation rates and GPAs are higher among those students who choose the Greek life in college. Sororities and fraternities may also provide private tutoring (at no cost) or scholarships to members who knock their GPAs out of the ballpark. Your teenager should ask what the GPA requirement is to become a member and what GPA is required to remain a member. Many universities are adding GPA information, by chapter, to their websites.

Time management

One of the biggest challenges about Greek life in college is the time commitment for fraternity or sorority members who are expected to attend chapter meetings, social events, and help with community service projects. If your son or daughter is going to be tackling a tough major or playing on a sports team, asking questions about how much time is required is important.

Financial commitment

One question your son or daughter needs to ask is “how much is this going to cost?” Every chapter should give you a breakdown of costs, fees and other expenses. In addition to room and board, you’ll need to budget for social events, t-shirts, and other things which can run a member $850 to $1,200 a year. Remember, sororities and fraternities are run like businesses, with budgets to meet and staff to pay. Most chapters will also negotiate with members who have financial hardships or have trouble paying the bill.

Leadership opportunities

There are plenty of opportunities for leadership in Greek life in college. Chapters are essentially self governing. Members are elected to run the chapter, which includes enforcing both chapter and national laws and working with local alumni to keep the house in good condition. Chapter officers also have to answer to their respective national headquarters and do a good job of working with the university too.

A Parent’s Role In College Greek Life

So, how can parents support their teenagers when they decide to go Greek and contemplate joining a sorority or fraternity?

Let’s talk about sorority recruitment first. Most chapters hold a series of “parties” where potential new members can visit the house, meet the members, and learn about the chapter. After these events, the members of that chapter decide which women they believe fit their chapter the best. After three days (or so), chapters have a good idea of whom they’d like to invite to join. For some chapters, depending on the size of the school, this can mean meeting—and evaluating—up to 1,000 young women in the course of just a few days. Fraternities also have a ‘formal recruitment’ set of parties, usually in the summer, with smaller numbers.

Universities often set “quotas” (meaning how many pledges the chapters have to take) so the pressure is on.

Here are a few pointers to help your support your teenager during recruitment:

Be open-minded

If your teenager says “I already know what chapter I want to be in”… encourage him to be open minded about other possible outcomes. There are many chapters in which your teenager can be happy.

Help your teenager strategize

That can include what to wear, not to mention a few reminders about etiquette and even conversational techniques. For example, encourage your teenager to have stories ready to tell, like what they did in high school, interests, etc. Stories are great ways to help chapter members remember your teenager.

Be supportive

When the late night, teary phone call comes from your daughter who is exhausted from a day of teetering on high heels and touring chapters, just listen. Encourage her to have a perspective on what’s she’s learned and that the world is not coming to a flaming end if she doesn’t get in.

. . . And If your kid doesn’t get a bid or decides to quit the process, time to be the super supportive parent. Life isn’t over. Remind your son or daughter that part of the process is meeting new people. And not to take it personally (which is tough). Chapters don’t give bids for a number of reasons. It doesn’t mean that your son or daughter is any less talented, smart, or awesome.

Your role as a parent after recruitment

The fun stuff!

There are many ways to get involved at your teenager’s chapter. Parent’s weekend, football tailgates, Mom’s Day, Dad’s Day….all offer wonderful ways to share the college experience with your son or daughter.

Parents Club (or Mom’s or Dad’s Club).

These clubs encourage parents to get to know each other and support the chapter. Usually run by a chapter member’s mom or dad, clubs may meet a couple times a year to help out with decorating the chapter house for the holidays; raise money for a house improvement project (furniture, etc); or help with cleaning up after the chapter house is closed for the summer (yep, think big scale yard clean up). Don’t be surprised if there are minimal dues too, like $25, to cover a printed parent directory.

Staying in touch

If your teenager’s chapter house has a house director or house parent, there’s nothing wrong with asking that person for their phone number, particularly if there is a family emergency or you can’t get a hold of your teen. Great house directors can help track down your son or daughter in an emergency or give you a call if your kid is sick or needs help.

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Kristin Wing

Kristin Wing is the founder of GreekGab.com, where she blogs about issues relating to Greek Life.

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