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Articles / Campus Life / Sneak Peek at Greek Life

Sneak Peek at Greek Life

Dave Berry
Written by Dave Berry | June 29, 2017

If you just graduated from high school and you're heading to college, you will no doubt encounter the world of fraternities and sororities when you land on campus later this summer. In light of that, here are some questions you may wish to ponder:

– Have you thought about whether or not you are Greek material?

– Have you made a decision about whether or not you will aspire to “go Greek"?

– Do you know about the Greek influence on your college's social life?

– Do you care about Greek life?

I attended two colleges whose social life was (an still is) dominated by Greek organizations. My freshman year, I was at a small liberal arts college. Then, after a timeout for military service, I transferred to a large state university. Loyal readers of my blog will know the names of those two institutions, so I won't repeat them here, since these days Greek organizations aren't being viewed in the best light.

You may be aware of the negative national press that Penn State University is getting as a result of the death of one fraternity pledge earlier this year. The details aren't pretty:

The parents of a Penn State University student who fatally fell down stairs during an alcohol-fueled event described their son's death as “torture" and said the fraternity brothers involved “treated our son as road kill."

Timothy Piazza was a sophomore at the university when he died after tumbling down a flight of stairsat an initiation event for new pledges at the Beta Theta Pi frat house in February, according to investigators.

“It was horrific. This — this wasn't boys being boys," the teen's dad, Jim Piazza, said on TODAY. “This was men who intended to force feed lethal amounts of alcohol into other young men."

Police said the 19-year-old had been drinking heavily throughout the night, and suffered multiple brain injuries from the fall.

But as he lay injured, about 20 fraternity brothers failed to dial 911 or get Piazza help from campus authorities and waited nearly 12 hours before one of them finally called emergency responders. He would die almost two days later. …

Of course Death by Fraternity is an extremely rare happening, but the Penn State-Piazza case serves as a reminder that bad things can happen when a group of high-testosterone teens and Young-Twenties live alone together.

Obviously, campus Greek organizations do good things for their school and surrounding community. This article can testify to that:

… According to the most recent National Panhellenic Council 2013-2014 annual report, sorority women from across the nation raised over $5.7 million for philanthropies and reported nearly 1 million hours of community service in the last academic year alone.

Even more impressive is that, in the same time frame, fraternity men in The North American Interfraternity Conference raised $20.7 million for philanthropies and completed 3.8 million hours of community service.

These figures, though enormous, don't even take into account alternative Greek service organizations or multi-cultural Greek councils like the United Greek Council or National Pan-Hellenic Council, Inc.

And in no way do these numbers even come close to quantifying the unmeasurable amount of personal benefits that going Greek provides: higher academic standards, self-development, community building and irreplaceable friendships. …

That's very impressive and when one compares the good with the bad we hear about Greek life, the reality appears to be that the good more than outweighs the bad, but, as we all should know, bad news always outsells good news.

So, back to the initial issue here: How should you — an incoming first-year college student — think about Greek life on campus and how should you deal with a decision about joining (or not)?

To give you a heads-up on that situation, I found an excellent article on Petersons.com that deals with it. Here are some highlights:

Stereotypes about Greek life

First of all, most stereotypes are only partially true. Yes, Greek houses (and fraternities in particular) are often a place for big-time partying on campuses that have at least moderately sized systems. That's where a lot of the drinking takes place, where bands play, and where pre- and post-game parties happen.

However, most Greek organizations also contribute to college life in other ways . . .

Greek influence on college life

There are a few factors that determine the relevance and influence of Greeks on any campus. One is the overall percentage of students that join. Twenty to thirty percent of the student body represents a moderate level of Greek involvement. Fifty percent is a much more dominant and significant proportion.

Another issue is the size of the college's student body overall. In a small college of 2,000 students, a 40-percent Greek population makes for a very strong impact on student life and campus culture. There will likely be very few other social outlets on campus beyond Greek life. At a university of 20,000 students, 40-percent Greek participation still leaves 12,000 individuals who are not affiliated with a fraternity or sorority . . .

Greek life and rush

The timing of fraternity and sorority rush (when students campaign to join a house) can strongly affect the influence of the system on residential and social life. We are still amazed by the many colleges and universities that allow rush during freshman fall, or even before classes start.

Greek houses are exclusive by nature, even though some colleges have houses that maintain open enrollment or guarantee that all students who rush will be offered at least one bid . . .

Campus housing and Greek life

For those of you leaning toward joining, you should note that some colleges have only non-residential Greek organizations. Either the college banned residential houses, or the houses developed at a later stage and did not play a strong role historically in providing campus housing. In any case, non-residential houses tend to have less of a social impact on student life because members continue to live in college housing, especially during their first two years of college . . .

You make the decision about your college life

Ultimately, only you can decide if a fraternity or sorority is right for you. The best opinion, however, is an informed opinion. Before you begin to lean in one direction or the other, look into what the Greek system is like at the schools you are considering. From there, you can figure out if you want to rush …

But, what if you want to rush … away from the frat system?What alternatives do you have?

Here are some opinions from the College Confidential discussion forum about that, as it applies to a University of Pennsylvania student. The question and suggested solutions, however, are universal and could apply to many schools.

Question: I'm a sophomore at Penn. Due to some bad luck and some poor decisions Greek life didn't really work out for me, despite how much it appealed to me and how much I wanted to get involved. Now that I'm about halfway through college, it looks like I might have to find something else to serve the purpose of being in a fraternity. My question is this: what kinds of clubs or activities at Penn offer the same benefits of Greek life, namely a sense of belonging/community and a consistent social outlet (with access to parties)? Keep in mind that I'm not a minority, so I can't take advantage of those types of clubs.


– You seem to have a desire for an exclusive social connection. Why not just participate in intramural sports or some clubs without any exclusionary criteria? I guess I don't understand what you are really asking.

– Seek some guidance on campus. I know there are like 300 clubs and organizations on campus. Your challenge is not a lack of opportunity to be part of a group. It's something else. A need for affiliation, connection and good times that you aren't getting now. It may just be a matter of clarifying what you want or it may mean looking inside yourself to figure out why none of these organizations meets your needs. It's tough To feel left out in a school with 10,000 students. I suggest you speak to an advisor about your situation. Maybe another set of eyes may help give you some perspective on your predicament. Those eyes need to be closer to the situation than here in a forum though.

– Frats and performing arts groups are different bc they are together ALL THE TIME. Frat members basically hang out together all the time; when the weather gets nice, the ones on Locust Walk pull couches outside and basically hang out there from the moment they are done classes until they go to sleep; and they organize their own activities like pick up football games or whatever. Performance arts groups — same thing — you are going to bond with people if you are with them for 3 hr rehearsals 5x/week. …

– With the number of students that are on campus, there is a social group of like minded students for everyone … the guidance office may be the best place to talk about your interests and try to identify groups you are most likely to connect strongly with. It can't hurt to try.

– People also sometimes made friends through jobs. I worked checking i.d.'s at one of my dorms, and this kind of post was particularly social, because students tended to congregate and chat at the checkpoint. Same for the library i.d./bag checkers. Also people see you there all the time and eventually get to recognize and know you. People I knew who worked in restaurants near campus seemed to become friends with their coworkers, usually also students. …

– Working a job is a good idea. I was in engineering the first year (transferring now), so I didn't think I'd have the time to work during the year, but now I might. I've thought about trying to work at a restaurant or bar on campus in order to meet people. Study groups are another good idea, although this semester I'm not really in any classes which are possible to group study for (a lot of individual assignments). I'll definitely try that in the future. The dining halls aren't really an option since most people get off of the meal plan after freshman year.

Okay, then. That should be enough quality information to get you started thinking about how to manage your campus social life, once you get to college. I know that I have used the movie Animal House to represent a typical college fraternity and all its “hilarious" activities (see the above picture). But, if you think the goings on at Delta House are extreme, think again. Do a Web search for college fraternity behaviors and see what comes back.

Greek life can be a plus or a minus. Think ahead, do the math, and see if it adds up for you.


Be sure to check out all my articles at College Confidential.


Greek Life

Written by

Dave Berry

Dave Berry

Dave is co-founder of College Confidential and College Karma Consulting, co-author of America's Elite Colleges: The Smart Buyer's Guide to the Ivy League and Other Top Schools, and has over 30 years of experience helping high schoolers gain admission to Ivy League and other ultra-selective schools. He is an expert in the areas application strategies, stats evaluation, college matching, student profile marketing, essays, personality and temperament assessments and web-based admissions counseling. Dave is a graduate of The Pennsylvania State University and has won national awards for his writing on higher education issues, marketing campaigns and communications programs. He brings this expertise to the discipline of college admissions and his role as a student advocate. His College Quest newspaper page won the Newspaper Association of America's Program Excellence Award, the Pennsylvania Newspaper Publisher's Association Newspapers in Education Award, the Thomson Newspapers President's Award for Marketing Excellence and the Inland Press Association-University of Kentucky School of Journalism and Mass Communications Inland Innovation Award for the Best New Page. His pioneering journalism program for teenagers, PRO-TEENS, also received national media attention. In addition, Dave won the Newspaper Association of America's Program Excellence Award for Celebrate Diversity!, a program teaching junior high school students about issues of tolerance. His College Knowledge question-and-answer columns have been published in newspapers throughout the United States. Dave loves Corvettes, classical music, computers, and miniature dachshunds. He and his wife Sharon have a daughter, son and four grandchildren.

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