My College:
Student Life

A parent's guide to Greek life today

Suzanne Shaffer

Many parents have a predetermined positive or negative opinion of Greek life based on their own experience. When my daughter began her college search, she wanted a campus with an active Greek presence. I had reservations, influenced by stories I heard and read about partying, drinking, hooking up and more. My daughter was barely 18 — my concerns were understandable!

After observing her sorority experience, I’ve developed a different and more nuanced outlook which I’m happy to share.

Let’s start with the pros.

  • Lifetime friendships. My daughter made wonderful friends in her sorority. Her “sisters” helped her navigate the ins and outs of college and supported her during difficult times. Her “big sister” became her best friend and that relationship is still strong today. Greeks are a family and this can be helpful for a college student, especially if their own family is far away (as we were).
  • Social skills and networking. Greek activities helped my daughter become more comfortable in social situations. Going Greek also affords tremendous networking opportunities, both during college and after graduation. Alumni contacts can help with job and internship searches and facilitate career opportunities throughout one’s life.
  • Leadership skills. My daughter served in numerous leadership capacities in her sorority and as part of the on-campus Greek council. She learned how to delegate, organize events and manage finances.
  • Charity work. All Greek organizations adopt a charity. Their members work hard to support that charity and participate in fund-raising events throughout the year. This teaches them to give back to others and promotes a mindset that they carry with them after graduation.
  • Better grades. Most fraternities and sororities require their members to maintain a certain GPA. On average, the GPA of Greeks tends to exceed the overall collegiate GPA. Your student will have the benefit of tutoring from upper class members of the chapter as well.

Now for the cons.

  • Drooping grades during the pledge period. Despite what I just said about better grades, during the two months that my daughter was pledging, her GPA took a dive. While the sorority required their members to study, those study sessions were late at night and unproductive. My daughter had to work hard to get her GPA back up. Your student should take extra precautions to protect their study time during pledging.
  • HazingAlthough colleges post rules and regulations against it, it happens. Students should know from the onset that if they feel humiliated or physically abused, they should report it. The desire to be part of a group can never justify this type of behavior.
  • Drinking. Drinking is woven into the social life on many campuses. In a majority of sororities and fraternities, drinking is encouraged, particularly during pledging. It doesn’t matter if your freshman is underage. Alcohol is freely distributed and peer pressure to drink is strong. In addition, drinking can lead to other forms of risky behavior.
  • The cost. The standard costs and fees are announced going in, but there will be much more. Greek life adds hundreds of dollars a semester to your college student’s expenses. They spend money on t-shirts, out of town trips, and additional event fees not included in the stated dues. If you have a daughter, she will need to purchase dresses for numerous semi-formal and formal events throughout the year.

Am I glad my daughter went Greek?

Yes. In the long run, it was a positive experience for her. During the short term, I was frustrated with some of the negative influences and attitudes I witnessed. If your student is considering Greek life in college, be prepared for some of the same mixed emotions.

Going Greek provides plenty of benefits. The parties still exist, so educate your student on enjoying responsibly. Hazing is illegal but be aware there will be some form of initiation tasks during pledge week.

Suzanne Shaffer counsels students and families through her blog, Parenting for College. Her advice has been featured in print and online on Huffington Post, Yahoo Finance, U.S. News College, TeenLife, Smart College Visit, Road2College and more.
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