What You Didn’t Know You Had to Pay for in a Sorority

With spring recruitment right around the corner, you think you’ve got everything handled: You know what to say (or what not to say), you know what to wear and you totally have your finances in order to pay for the whole thing.

Except then you start thinking about new member fees and sorority T-shirts and that cute dress you want to get for formal. You start to panic—how are you going to pay for all of this extra stuff? Relax, collegiette, because we chatted with sorority sisters all around the country to get the scoop on the hidden costs of sororities. Here are a few things you may not have realized you’d have to pay for.

1. Sorority T-shirts

Ever notice that sorority sisters have about a million different T-shirts with their Greek letters on them? That trend is no myth, according to Christine Pearson, a sophomore at the College of Charleston.

“It's a sorority-girl stereotype to have thousands of tees, and it's easy to go overboard and get too many,” she says.

While your sorority tees and other apparel are probably super cute, after a while you might notice your drawers getting a little too full and your wallet getting a little too empty.

“The trouble I had with the shirts was that when I first joined, I wanted to have just as many shirts as people who’d been in it for a few years,” says Melanie Jenkins, a junior at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. “It wasn’t like explicit peer pressure to get some, but I definitely felt a desire to have as many as everyone else.”

Don’t get caught in the same trap Melanie did: Remember that your sisters have had at least an extra year than you to have gotten all those sorority tees, so cool it! You’ll have time over your next few years in the sorority to build up your collection.

How to curb the cost:

To keep your T-shirt collection from getting too out of hand, Christine and Melanie both suggest only picking the ones you are absolutely in love with.

“Since my sorority, and probably most others, have you pay for each shirt individually, it’s easier to contain yourself,” Melanie says. “Since I had to keep track of my money on a regular basis with these, I was able to keep more control.”

You can also make your own letters, like Anna Jonas, a junior at Dalhousie University, does! “You can make your own letters with a cheap sweatshirt and some fabric from a fabric store and a sewing machine,” she says. You can also try this method with some fabric glue or iron-on letters if you’re not much of a seamstress:

  1. Print stencils of your Greek letters.
  2. Trace them onto fabric of your choosing.
  3. Align them as you desire on a T-shirt (or other clothing item of your choosing).
  4. Either sew letters into place, or adhere using fabric glue.

2. Unofficial social events

Being in a sorority isn’t necessarily like living Casey Cartwright’s life in Greek and going to different socials free of cost. You’re going to have to pay a pretty penny to go out as often as she and Cappie did!

“If the social chair and the executive team do a good job with budget planning, you should not be paying to go to your sorority-sponsored events,” says Elodie Jean-Phillipe, a junior at Duke University. “But, for unofficial, non-sorority sponsored events, you might have to pay because technically sorority funds can't be used for non-sorority events. This includes informal pregames before going to a fraternity house or a bar/club, or a sister throwing a party for herself.”

If you’re not careful, these unofficial events could hit your wallet pretty hard.

“It’s not every weekend that you have a planned, sorority-sponsored event,” Melanie says. “You’re still probably going to go out with your sorority, especially because your sorority is such a strong part of your social life. And I definitely think there is some pressure to go out unofficially with your sorority, which is why I definitely would budget in non-sorority events every year.”

How to curb the cost:

There isn’t much of an easy way to get around this one—if you want to save money going, you’ll have to do less of it.

According to Melanie, though, skipping out gets easier the longer you’ve been in the sorority. “Once the honeymoon phase of being in the sorority wore off, I started staying in more to relax or get my homework done,” she says. “The cost started to go way down after that.”

Another way to guarantee you have some extra cash for these outings is to make sure you’re not losing money unnecessarily at other events. For many sororities, like the one Iris Goldsztajn, a junior at the University of California, Los Angeles, is in, all sorority-sponsored events are included in your dues, but they still have ways of making money off your attendance (or lack thereof) to these events.

“If we miss a mandatory event without a valid excuse, we get fined to cover the cost of the event,” Iris says. “This includes dinner before chapter meeting every week, retreats and Founders' Day.”

Not every sorority mixer will be required, but the big events like Iris named, along with formal, are usually required. Avoid losing some of your hard-earned cash by keeping track of all of these events in a planner or on a desk calendar.

Remember that for many events, specifically formal or rush week, you’re going to want to be dressed your best, and we all know that can come at a cost, too. Avoid running up a huge bill by trading formal dresses with other sisters or using flash-sale websites like HauteLook.

3. Your membership pin

You’re going to have to pay for your sorority pin, and believe us, those things don’t come cheap. Sorority membership pins are small pins that have your sorority’s letters on it. They’re usually gold, and can be purchased with other ornaments on it, like diamonds or pearls, for an extra cost. Sorority pins are to be worn at many formal sorority events.

While membership pins may sometimes be referred to as “optional,” collegiettes should always consider them required.

“They might seem optional, but then there are ‘badge attire’ events where you need to wear the badge or else you can get kicked out or fined,” Elodie says.

If you hear or read somewhere that membership pins are optional, we suggest you disregard that; getting kicked out or fined by your sorority because you didn’t think you needed a pin definitely is not worth saving the money.

That being said, Iris was a little bummed to hear how much her sorority pin was going to cost.

“The cheapest one cost upwards of $100, which really hurts any college budget,” she says. “Besides, if I'd had the choice, I would have gone for a fancier, golden version, but obviously spending $300+ wasn't a realistic option.”

Remember, ladies: Things that are as beautiful and pretty and shiny as your membership pin will never be cheap.

How to curb the cost:

The cost of your membership pin is going to be sort of like the extra money for social events—you’re going to have to prioritize. Do you want a gold-and-diamond membership pin? Or do you want to go on that killer spring break trip you’ve been fantasizing about? Neither answer is necessarily the right answer, but eventually you’re going to have to decide.

There usually isn’t a payment plan for membership pins, so, knowing that they are required, be aware of the cost that’s coming up.

Kelly*, who is the president of her sorority, suggests asking your sorority president or other members of the sorority’s executive board about the price for the cheapest pin. If they can give you an estimate of the cost, start saving up a little bit of the cost every one or two weeks. That way, by the time you have to pay for it, you’ll know you have the money.

4. New-member fees

That’s right—on top of your regular dues, you’re going to have to pay for being a new member, too.

“There's also a lot of new-member fees to pay to nationals,” Christine says. “Sometimes the costs get overwhelming paying for it myself, but I just remind myself how worth it it is.”

Even though you do have to pay these new-member fees, they are only one-time fees; you’ll pay regular nationals dues for the rest of your years in your sorority.

For some sororities, these costs, while still big, are somewhat digestible—they run around $150. For other schools, usually large ones in the South where Greek life is massive, initiation or new member fees can be upwards of $1,000.

How to curb the cost:

If you’re worried about how to pay your new-member dues, talk to a member of the executive board in your sorority.

“My sorority does not have an official payment plan for new membership fees,” Kelly says. “That said, myself and other executive board members work with any girl who approaches us with financial issues to make sure they can make it all work. We’re also very explicit that we are open to that and encourage sisters to do so. This applies to every chapter of my sorority.”

Don’t be afraid to approach your sorority’s executive board for any accommodations you might need, because more sisters than you may think also need help paying their fees. Also, remember that while there may not be many official payment plans for new-member fees, there typically are for regular dues.

“We have all of the girls pay their dues monthly, regardless of situation,” Kelly says. “We also have different payment plans for people who would prefer to do otherwise, but the standard is the monthly.”

Of the collegiettes we talked to, most will do this. Other options include quarterly, biannually or in-full payments for dues.

5. Big-little week gifts

Ah, yes, the exciting big-little reveal! Big-little week is the week leading up to the reveal of the pledges’ big sisters. The week consists of some events that are covered by dues, but the week also involves the bigs surprising their littles with gifts and the littles getting their bigs gifts once the pairs are revealed.

We’ve all seen our friends’ Instagrams about the amazing gifts bigs and littles leave each other, and you’ll do this, too. Just remember that those gifts come with a price tag.

Most sororities don’t give you a minimum that you are required to spend on your big or little; in fact, most give you a maximum.

“Most chapters will put a cap on the maximum you can spend, but not a minimum, because you can still give a lot without splurging,” Elodie says.

Kelly’s sorority, on the other hand, does put a minimum on the spending. “That minimum, daily, is $5,” she says. “You can come up with a really cute little gift basket if you get creative in the dollar store or in the dollar section of Target, and most girls actually end up spending more, but that’s totally their choice.”

Use big-little week as a time to get creative and be thoughtful. You won’t necessarily impress your big or little by getting her the most absurdly expensive gift; you’ll impress her with the perfect gift, the one that took thought and showed her you really care.

How to curb the cost:

Just like with your T-shirts, big-little week is the time to get crafty. You don’t necessarily need to clear out every Greek-inspired Etsy shop to spoil your big or little; you can be the Etsy shop yourself!

“Buying giant packs of candy and crafting dollar-store frames, mugs and canvases looks super generous and is pretty cost-effective,” Iris says.

Anna agrees. “Picture frames and prints are thoughtful and cheap,” she says.

Add your own personal touch to your big-little gifts by handcrafting some awesome T-shirts, picture frames and paddles for your awesome big or little. Hand-making it all will show her just how much you really care and will help out your finances a little along the way!

If you’re still concerned about the cost, try doing what we suggested with the membership pin: Decide ahead of time how much you want to spend on your big or little, and set that cash aside a little bit at a time. That way, you won’t notice a $200-sized hole in your bank account at the end of one week!

Despite all of the costs, hidden or not, of being in a sorority, there’s one thing you can’t put a price tag on: the close-knit relationships you’ll develop with your sisters.

“Even though it’s cost me a boatload to be in my sorority, I wouldn’t change a thing,” Melanie says. “The bond that I have with my sisters makes every penny spent completely worth it.”

*Name has been changed.