by Abby Tozer
It is impossible to deny the growing (and merited) stigma against Greek life that has spread over the past decade. From wild parties to hazing, many chapters have cast a dark shadow over Greek life as a whole. For incoming freshmen, this begs the question: is Greek life still worth it?
As a Greek life alumnus who is currently benefiting from my sisterhood, I want to speak from my experience and shed a little light on the elusive Greek system.
What is Greek life?
“Greek life” refers to value-based organizations (fraternities for men, sororities for women) that are designed to provide academic support and help young college students develop social and leadership skills. Many chapters are over a hundred years old and were designed with this goal top of mind. Obviously, things have somewhat changed over the past several decades. But, let us examine why Greek life might still be beneficial, and in what circumstance it could just be the right move to “Go Greek.”
Some Quick Stats
A 2018 study from IFC (the Inter-Fraternal Council) showed a very interesting correlation between Greek life membership and university-retention.
“Findings support that membership has a dramatic, positive impact on retention and persistence to graduation. For example, first-to-second year retention rates among sorority members hit 93%, compared to 82% for non-members. Similar studies show fraternity members are 20% more likely to graduate, which is critical as men are attending college and graduating with less frequency than in the past.”
So, how is the Greek system encouraging students to academically excel?
I was a Greek life student at the University of California, Berkeley and studied Neuroscience – a heavily male-dominated field. My sorority was a god-send – I always had someone ( usually multiple women!) I knew in my STEM classes, and we could walk to class together, sit together and study in groups at the house. We had a 24/7 quiet library that was dedicated to study and when libraries on campus were crowded during study season, it was truly a luxury. In this regard, Greek life gave me a space to thrive – not to mention, I was guaranteed housing for my three years following the dorms. Cal does not guarantee housing, so this was a huge plus.
Structurally, Greek life rewards academic excellence. During quarterly meetings, our sorority would give Amazon gift cards to whichever woman achieved the highest GPA, as well as most improved from the previous semester. Of course, a school like Berkeley is highly academic anyway, but these structures are in place nationally and are a wonderful way to encourage academic excellence and support within a group of like-minded women.
There is also something I never realized the power of when I was in undergrad: the alumni network. It’s one thing to go to a tight-knit school (like USC) with a strong network, but it’s entirely another thing to join a sorority on top of that and have a network within a network.
Some fun fast facts on Greek alumni networks:
- Over 85% of the student leaders on some 730 campuses are involved in the Greek community
- 1st Female Senator was Greek
- 1st Female Astronaut was Greek
- Over $7 million is raised each year by Greeks nationally
- The Greek system is the largest network of volunteers in the US, with members donating over 10 million hours of volunteer service each year
- 85% of the Fortune 500 executives belong to Greek life
When I was in school, I got my first real medical job working under an alumni Oculoplastic surgeon in San Francisco. She exclusively picked girls from our chapter to give them experience before med school. I recently hired an intern, and the first place I looked was my sorority alumni network. Then, a current member reached out, and now she works for me! Never under-estimate the power of the Greek network.
Of course, the financial barrier to Greek life must be mentioned, as it is a deterrent for many aspiring freshmen. The cost of Greek life varies greatly, depending on school and level of involvement (living in the house vs. just paying membership dues). When I was at Cal, our sorority dues were around $600 per semester, but it was about $3500 to live in the house. Granted, that was for more than three months at a time, and on average, was cheaper than Berkeley rent (and included a meal plan with a live-in chef!).
In conclusion, the decision ~ to Greek or not to Greek ~ will be different for everyone. I found that in a large school (like Berkeley or other state schools) it can be a great option to find a smaller community and feel more at home. For me, it made a huge difference to find the friendships I built during my four years, all while still supporting my academic goals. As a counselor, I always recommend that students (if they have the financial means) go through the recruitment process and just see what comes of it. If you don’t like any of the houses, no harm done. But I find that, like anything, you gain from Greek life what you put into it, and you end up finding the right community for you.