Sororities--Everything You Need to Know: Part 2
Part 2—Why /why not join a sorority?
Going off to college felt like jumping off a cliff for me. I was both excited and apprehensive about life as a college student and the overwhelming choices and decisions I would be making. One thing that I was very certain about, though, was joining a sorority. I was a legacy (i.e. my mother was a sorority member) and it was The Thing To Do among the girls from my high school and in my dorm. In addition, my mother had served as the alumnae Panhellenic coordinator in our hometown and knew all the ins and outs of information forums, reference forms, and letters of recommendation. And besides all that, I was shy and didn’t make friends easily—the idea of navigating my huge university alone was a frightening prospect. I could hardly wait to visit the houses, meet the girls, and choose the place where I belonged. While the house I joined was not at all the place I thought I’d end up, I have never regretted my decision—sorority membership has been one of the most valuable and rewarding experiences of my life.
But why? What is it about the sorority experience that benefits its members to such a degree? What about the perennial negative stories in the press about drunken parties, hazing, and embarrassingly bad behavior? Why would anyone want to be associated with that?
Sororities aren’t for everyone, obviously. Membership does require some financial commitment, time commitments, and academic standards that not everyone is able or willing to meet. Some young women eschew the social labeling that still accompanies a sorority membership, and others must deal with a lack of parental support or approval for what may seem to some to be a frivolous waste of time and money. As with any decision, there are pros and cons to sorority membership that any potential new member should discuss with her parents.
Of course, scholarship should be every student’s primary concern in college—but it’s so easy to let studying slide when there are so many new people to meet and places to explore. Without parents around to oversee homework, studying, and even class attendance, even the best students can find themselves struggling to balance schoolwork and social activities. You might think that joining a sorority would exacerbate this dilemma by encouraging partying and socializing over academics, but statistics prove otherwise.
Every NPC sorority places top priority on scholarship and GPA, and most individual chapters have specific GPA requirements for both new and initiated members. It’s very hard to find a college or university campus whose aggregate Greek GPA average isn’t consistently higher than the school’s overall average. Sororities accomplish this by challenging each member to achieve her highest academic potential, while creating an environment which fosters success in the classroom. New members are often required to attend several hours of study hall a week, supervised by active members providing tutoring and mentoring to sisters needing help or enrolled in the same degree plan. Sorority members recognize outstanding scholastic achievement within the chapter, and national sorority organizations and local alumnae groups provide financial scholarship opportunities for both undergraduate and graduate students.
If a sorority member fails to meet the GPA requirements of her chapter, she is usually placed on probationary status pending improvement of her grades. She may be required to attend additional study hours under chapter supervision and seek tutoring, either from a chapter member or an outside source. She may also be barred from attending certain social functions until her grades meet the sorority’s minimum requirement for membership. Every member has a stake in the sorority GPA—most collegiate Panhellenic organizations have a minimum GPA requirement for each sorority as well, and if the chapter does not meet either its own organization’s standards or its Panhellenic standards, it can face probation, suspension, or removal from campus.
In short, sororities place high priority on scholastic excellence and achievement, and have several programs in place to assist their members in reaching their academic goals and receiving support and recognition from peers.
Charitable and Philanthropic Involvement
Whether it’s a specific organization or a general cause, every NPC sorority has a particular charity or philanthropy that it supports through fundraising and volunteerism. Sometimes a chapter even has a local offshoot of its group’s charity that it supports in addition to the national organization. Campus fundraisers for these groups are usually very successful at both fundraising and gathering the Greek community and the campus at large in a positive, fun activity. Street parties, fun runs, pancake breakfasts, and similar events fill the coffers of many worthy organizations, and give sorority members valuable experience in citizenship and giving back to their communities.
At many schools, sorority recruitment begins with Philanthropy Day, during which potential new members visit each sorority house and learn about that group’s chosen charity. Often, there’s an activity or program designed to raise awareness and knowledge of the sorority’s cause, and many potential new members consider a group’s charity when making their final decisions to join. As new members, girls are often required to put in hours of hands-on volunteering on behalf of their charity, sparking a commitment to volunteerism that lasts a lifetime. It’s also a tremendous bonding opportunity for members to work together for a common good and become closer to each other in the process. Everyone wins in the end.
Leadership and Organizational Training
Last year, I had the opportunity to hear Pamela Willeford, former U.S. Ambassador to Switzerland and Liechtenstein, speak at a luncheon. Pam said that, as ambassador, she was sometimes asked about her previous experience and qualifications for the position. People always wanted to know where she had “learned” to serve in such a prestigious office. She said she attributed her abilities to her days as a sorority member at the University of Texas. There, she had had multiple opportunities to organize, supervise, and execute parties, fundraisers, executive board meetings, and Panhellenic gatherings in a safe, supportive atmosphere. As she put it, “When things went well, I learned a lot—and when things didn’t go well, I learned more, most importantly that whatever had gone wrong didn’t really matter much in the grand scheme of life.” Sorority leadership to her was a little like training wheels—an easy and fun way to learn skills without getting seriously knocked around.
Sororities provide an abundance of leadership and organizational opportunities for their members. From planning a simple pledge meeting to spearheading a campus-wide fundraising event, young women are learning valuable skill sets that will serve them well in their careers and communities. The National Panhellenic Conference (NPC) website features a long and impressive list of outstanding women in business, education, arts and entertainment, science, and government—all of whom were sorority members. There is a wide variety of leadership roles within a chapter and as a Panhellenic member—almost anyone can find a comfortable role in which she can learn and grow.
We have a Facebook page for the alumnae of our sorority chapter that is a true testament to the power of networking. Amid the reminiscences and reunion planning are posts asking for help finding a job, inquiring about neighborhood schools in a new town, and looking for advice in particular areas of expertise. It’s a smaller version of the networking website that our national organization sponsors, which provides all our members with connections across the globe.
The networking starts earlier, though, during recruitment. Girls will visit houses and find that they have friends in common, the same interests, or the same hometown as some of the members there. It continues as friends join different sororities and work together with them on charitable or social activities and events. As members graduate and go out into the world, their alumnae can provide crucial recommendations and introductions to potential employers and community leaders. All of this is possible without joining a sorority—but probably much more difficult to build alone. Sisters helping sisters is a unique and special way to navigate life after college.
In Part 3 of this series, we’ll continue to examine the decision-making process behind joining a sorority—stay tuned!
- Sororities--Everything You Need to Know: Part 1
Joining a sorority is a uniquely American experience. Learn what sororities are all about in this six-part series.
- Sororities--Everything You Need to Know: Part 3
Part 3 of a six-part series continues the discussion of points to consider when thinking about sorority recruitment
- Sororities--Everything You Need to Know: Part 4
Part 4 in a series outlines the steps to take when preparing for sorority recruitment registration
- Sororities--Everything You Need to Know: Part 5
In Part 5 of a series, we look at ways to organize and prepare for sorority recruitment week
- Sororities--Everything You Need to Know: Part 6
Part 6 of a series on sorority recruitment and membership, focusing on what to expect during Recruitment Week
- The Sorority Recruitment Cheat Sheet--Top Tips for Sorority Success
Here’s a cheat sheet to take you all the way through the process of joining a sorority.