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What Is A Sorority? Your Guide To Going Greek

Many college students looking for a relatively easy way to make friends consider joining a sorority. But when you’re new to the college scene or don’t attend a school that places an emphasis on Greek life, you may not know what the point of a sorority is, how to join or “rush,” or what it’s truly like to be a sorority girl. If you’re curious about what a sorority is or if they’re as bad as the movies make them out to be, read on to learn more about how these campus organizations really work.

A sorority is a group of female college students with the purpose of coming together to share experiences, foster friendships, and create what’s supposed to be a safe space for everyone in the group. Each sorority chapter sets their own standards, rules, and expectations for every sister to follow and respect. 

Some sororities share a house on campus, hold formal and semi-formal dances, or even have big/littles to encourage a big sister/little sister environment. Joining one can provide a bigger network for career advancement, help you get involved in service or philanthropy projects, and introduce you to new people if you’re having trouble making friends in college. But just like fraternities, sororities can also be linked to toxic bullying behaviors, a lack of diversity and inclusion, and even hazing. So if you’re weighing the pros and cons of signing up, here’s what you need to know.

Joining a sorority, aka rushing, can be a lengthy process.

Okay girlies, get your notepad and pen ready. It’s time to break down some vocabulary words.

In order to be enrolled as a sister, you have to prove yourself worthy of participation through a sometimes lengthy recruitment process called rushing. The larger the school, the more steps to become a sister. A female student applying to become a sister is called a rushee, or a potential new member (PNM).

PNMs meet with the current sorority sisters to see if their personalities match with the vibe of the specific sorority. Depending on the rules and regulations of the chapter you’re rushing, you could be required to go to parties, talk about your individual achievements and how they could reflect on the organization, or even showcase individual talents in a talent show. After the sorority’s specific requirements are through, the current sorority board will get together and decide which of the applicants is allowed to move on to the next level of recruitment, which is called placing a bid.

The next step of initiation is pledging. If an applicant receives a bid from the sorority, they will now be considered a pledge. Through the act of pledging, the sorority will allow the applicant to understand more of the history, requirements, and goals of the organization itself. Once this important information is shared with the pledges, they are most likely required to take an entrance exam. If you pass this new member exam, you may either be initiated or, in some chapters, move on to a further step of the pledging process.

Beware of hazing and dangerous traditions during recruitment.

Unfortunately, you should also be aware of the more dangerous practices in the history of Greek life, because it may still exist in certain chapters at your school. Hazing is when a pledge is forced to partake in degrading or humiliating activities in order to be considered a part of the sorority or fraternity. Hazing is more popular in fraternities, male Greek life, but some sororities still uphold certain forms of hazing. To put this in perspective, 2020 was the first year in 60 years with no hazing-related deaths.

Hazing can be any form of manipulation from mental deceit, name-calling, or social isolation of new member to physical violence, forced drinking or drugs, branding, kidnaps, and even sexual assault. 44 states have made hazing illegal, and 10 of those have made it a felony. If you do experience a form of hazing during the initiation process, most colleges have an anonymous report to fill out in order to make sure your experiences are heard and addressed. 

Before you participate in events with a certain chapter, research whether their initiations or events are intense or even dangerous. Today, more sororities are coming up with alternatives for hazing, such as having pledges work together to plan a social event, encouraging participation in other campus activities, or even developing a peer mentor program between new sisters and alumni.

membership pros can include the social stimulation, house, and support network.

There are both pros and cons to Greek Life, as it can deeply impact your social as well as academic life. If you find the right chapter — one that doesn’t haze — and decide to pledge, you may find that you’re more academically motivated, socially fulfilled, and/or involved on campus.

Most sororities have a specific GPA requirement for all sisters, which can encourage you to maintain higher grades. Another pro is that sororities are required to have some sort of philanthropic mission, like supporting underprivileged children in their college’s city or holding a charity walk/run. Each sister must partake in these philanthropic activities, whether that means you’re handing out flyers advertising the event or even planning the event yourself.

Greek life can also allow you to feel a sense of belonging through creating a community of sisterhood. Sorority sisters are expected to respect and support each other. In order to reinforce the connection between sorority sisters, many chapters have a big/little system: One older sorority sister will act as the big, and a newer sister will be the little. This connection will allow the “big” to offer the “little” advice, support and encouragement not only in the sorority, but in other aspects of life as a college student. Being a sister may also give you access to a house on campus, depending on your school and chapter, which may give you better housing options or simply a more secluded place to hang out and study.

Beyond campus life, your membership can open doors to professional connections and opportunities. Your sisters can act as a support network to help you expand your horizons and explore post-grad connections. You can also connect with successful alumnae in your chosen field. Not to mention, having those Greek letters on your resume can indicate to employers that you’re a devoted, hardworking, motivated student who will bring those qualities into your professional life.

You might run into cons like high dues, a jam-packed schedule, and proximity to alcohol and drugs.

With all these pros, however, come some pretty significant cons. Being in a sorority consumes a lot of time, time that you might need for homework, classes, and self-care. Social and recreational events might take up four to eight hours each week. So if you’re already maxed out on class credits for this semester, take that into consideration before accepting a bid.

If you’re a broke college student worrying about bills, sorority life may not be for you as the costs will pile up quickly. First, there’s usually an initiation fee. Then you’ll need to buy membership apparel like hats and shirts, as well as following your chapter’s dress code for special events. Attending formal events may also cost money, sometimes $50+ for each activity. You may not be able to justify paying over $1,000 for a year of sorority membership.

Applicants should also be aware of the possible drug and alcohol abuse that Greek life might promote. A 2018 study found an association between Greek life membership and binge drinking and marijuana use later in life. Pledges might be expected to familiarize themselves with these substances in environments like mixers, formals, and other social events. If that’s something you’re uncomfortable with, you’ll probably want to make sure you’re sticking to a chapter that doesn’t emphasize partying, or rethink your Greek life participation.

At the end of the day, research is going to be your best friend. Each chapter at each school has its own vibe and culture, so look into Greek life specifically on campus rather than basing your opinion off of the movies or what you see on Instagram. Your college experience should only be dedicated to what you need and want out of it. If you find a community you feel comfortable in, more power to you! If you decide to pass, no harm, no foul.

Meguire Hennes is a Her Campus Editorial Intern and a senior at Montclair State University. She is majoring in Fashion Studies. Meguire is excited to share her knowledge of pop culture, music, today's fashion and beauty trends, self love/mental health, astrology, and musical theatre. When not writing or in class, Meguire can be found living her best Carrie Bradshaw life in NYC, singing 70s/80s classic rock a little too loud in the shower, or watching her favorite rom-coms over and over again. Coming from a small town in Wisconsin, she's excited to see what adventures await her in the big city!
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