An important aspect of my college wardrobe is the sorority gear that quickly began to accumulate after I joined a sorority freshman year. And it isn't just me. Girls all over campus are always sporting Greek gear - from Bid Day t-shirts, to long-sleeve tees advertising upcoming events, to sporty pinnies supporting philanthropic causes, to comfy sweatshirts with appliqued Greek letters. It surprises me how often, when wearing one of these items, I am asked, "What do those letters mean?"
I'm from Texas - land of big college football games, week-long recruitment marathons, and sorority mansions. EVERYONE, it seems, understands Greek. In contrast, at a school like Columbia and in a city like New York, Greek Life organizations are so often overlooked, at best, and at worst, grossly misjudged. Panhellenic Recruitment is next weekend, and women across our campus are considering whether or not they want to join a sorority. It is likely that they too are wondering, "A sorority… what is that?"
A sorority is, by definition, an on-campus social organization. However, this definition is quite over-simplified. Through joining a sorority, one gains much more than a social network. Sure, the parties and people are a fun, special part of being Greek, but there are a lot of advantages that aren't immediately obvious. Being in a sorority encompasses so many parts of my life on campus - from providing academic support, to creating a professional network, to offering outlets for community service - and it will continue to be an influential part of my life even when I graduate this spring.
For those of you considering going through recruitment, here are just a few of the practical benefits of going Greek (regardless of which sorority you choose):
1. Opportunities for leadership within the sorority. You need leadership experience to get a job. Sororities are huge organizations with lots of officer positions. In these officer positions, you get to do fun things, like plan parties and publicize events, and more serious things, like maintain standards and rules.
In my sorority, I served as Social Chair, Vice President Membership and Vice President Public Relations. From these experiences alone, I've had an answer to almost any interview question I've ever been thrown. For example, discussing my role as Vice President Membership was one of the lengthiest and most engaging portions of my final round interview for the consulting job that I am taking next year. Who knows if it was what landed me the job, but having so many diverse experiences in such a large organization definitely helped in the long and intensive interview process.
2. Opportunities for leadership outside the sorority. Fact: sorority women are some of the most involved and active members of the University community, and when you join a sorority, you are automatically connected with women of every class, from freshmen to seniors. In a group of over 100 women, you're pretty much guaranteed to have at least one member who is involved in whatever organization you are interested in joining, and I could bet that she would be very excited to get you in the loop. Consider the organizations that you are passionate about - are you not super enthusiastic when a friend tells you that they want to join, too?
My freshman year, the president of Columbia Women's Business Society was in my sorority. To honor her hard work, a bunch of my sisters attended CWBS's annual leadership conference in February, right after I had joined the sorority. I thought the organization sounded interesting, so she helped me get to know the board and invited me to events. I was on the CWBS board for the following two years, thanks to her introducing me to her network.
3. Professional networking. As I mentioned above, one of the great things about joining a sorority is that you are connected with women from all class years. This is advantageous on campus, but also in the professional sphere. There will be seniors who already have jobs, as well as other older girls who have held multiple internships, who could help edit resumes and share advice and guidance about job searching. In addition, by meeting this many older girls, you are likely to find someone who has interned or worked in the field that interests you. She is now part of your network, and perhaps she will introduce you to hers.
For example, I was referred to my sophomore year internship at Merrill Lynch through two sisters who worked there. Because their boss enjoyed and appreciated their work, he asked them to connect him with other Columbia students who might be interested in working there. Soon after, I was interviewing for the job!
In addition, being Greek provides a special connection when interviewing and working with people. While some interviewers choose to ignore the fact that I am in a sorority, or do not bring it up in the interview, I have on multiple occasions had women mention that they were in a sorority in college, and were glad to see that women at Columbia are involved in Greek Life. At the very least, it has given me a more personal topic with which to connect with interviewers, and we all know it is the memorable conversations that stand out!
4. Academic support. I cannot emphasize enough how wonderful it is that sororities connect you with older students whom you probably would not have met otherwise. This once again comes in handy regarding academics. You have older women from whom you can seek advice about classes, professors, and majors.
Most sororities have mentoring programs, through which older girls take time to meet with younger members who share the same majors or concentrations. We also meet for optional study hours together, which make doing homework a bit more pleasant. Another advantage is, if you take a class with a sorority sister, whether she is a close friend or not, you automatically have a buddy with whom you share notes, review, and study.
5. Alumni support. This may not seem like something you are considering now, but as a senior who is contemplating a big move to a new city, it's priceless. By being in a sorority, you have an immediate alumni network; most sororities have alumni chapters in almost every major city in the US. The alumni chapters include women from the sororities at all different schools. This offers an amazing anchor no matter where you end up post-graduation.
6. A feeling of home. As the last but not least, and probably the hardest to describe in practical terms, the sense of community is likely at the top of every sorority sister's list of reasons for joining. If you’re at Columbia, chances are that you are an incredibly driven and independent person. However, five thousand like-minded undergrads on one very small campus on one very small island make it difficult to unearth a sense of belonging.
As a freshman, I spent the majority of my first semester feeling lost and ungrounded. I resented my John Jay single, I hated the way everyone gets moody when it’s cold outside, and I disliked seeing endless unfamiliar faces. After I joined a sorority, there were immediately 60 other girls (this was 2009… chapter sizes have almost doubled in the last two years!) who greeted me around campus, who texted me to see if I wanted to get lunch or coffee, and, to not underestimate the power of Facebook, who constantly wrote on my wall. Suddenly I felt like I had discovered that feeling of home, that feeling of having people who care for you and want you around.
Sororities aren't for everyone, but if you are at the least bit interested, I encourage you to register for recruitment and try it out! You can leave the process whenever you want, but odds are, if you stick around, you will find yourself surrounded by 100+ new sisters who will transform your experience at Columbia for the better.