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The gorgeous, snowy sorority houses of Washington and Lee University. Image from Washington and Lee.

When you’re in the process of narrowing down your list of college applications, a great way to measure “fit” beyond school size, location, and overall vibe, is to take a close look at the personality of its Greek life. Contrary to what television, film, and the nightly news might tell you about sorority life, it’s much more nuanced than you might think–after all, the same sorority may have a very different type of sisterhood from campus to campus, and different schools have very different approaches to Greek life as a whole.

A little disclaimer before we begin: you’ll notice this article is titled “Your Guide to Investigating Sorority Life,” not “Your Guide to Researching Sorority Life,” and it’s an important distinction. Before you go through recruitment, it’s best if you try your utmost to resist forming judgments about the individual chapters at different schools. If you’d describe yourself as “Type A,” then this is going to be a struggle for you–I know it was for me. The reason I (and anyone focused on “values-based” recruitment) strongly recommend this is because sorority recruitment inherently does not work like the college search. You shouldn’t concern yourself with researching the reputation of sororities before you visit them, because here’s the truth: reputations of Greek organizations are often little more than unsubstantiated rumor.

Researching specific sororities in-depth and trying to find out all their “dirty little secrets” won’t do you a bit of good, and it just might keep you from giving some really great chapters a chance to win your heart down the line. Every chapter has fantastic values, worthy philanthropic efforts, and a sparkling personality to express during recruitment, and you should do everything in your power to let them. What we’re trying to do here is look at colleges’ Greek scenes as a whole to figure out whether you mesh with them. I also think it’s worth noting that I’ll mainly be discussing the specifics of the National Panhellenic Conference, but a lot of the following advice also applies for those of you interested in National Pan-Hellenic Council or other multicultural sororities.

Peeph

At the University of Virginia, the sorority houses all look pretty different, giving each house a distinct vibe from the moment you walk in. Image from Pi Beta Phi.

Now, your best resources for this little investigation are going to be the homepages for Greek life at your colleges of interest, and then the individual websites for the chapters at those colleges. Chapters’ social media pages can also be a great resource, but serious precaution: all websites that “rank” chapters are nonsense. Truly. 

Chapters

Again, this is where you need to keep an open mind when you’re conducting your prefrosh investigation. There’s nothing more frustrating than falling in love with a chapter’s online presence and realizing when you go through recruitment that it doesn’t quite live up to its hype, and there’s nothing more painful than falling in love with a chapter’s online presence and then getting cut from that house after only a round or two of recruitment. No matter which colleges you’re investigating, take everything you hear about their individual sisterhoods with a grain of salt. Just take a little time to skim the chapters’ social media accounts and individual websites to see what impression you get of that college’s Greek scene as a whole.

Here is where you should try to figure out what kind of Greek experience you want. Greek life at a big, public school is probably very different from Greek life at a small, private school, and not just in the vibrancy of its party scene. If a smaller school only has three or four chapters, you may have a tougher time finding the chapter that fits you best, whereas with fifteen or sixteen chapters, you might be able to better narrow down the ideal match for you; however, some girls might find rush with sixteen chapters to be too overwhelming. Check to see if your colleges of choice have your mom’s, aunt’s, or grandmother’s sorority represented–which isn’t to say you must pledge there if you’re a legacy, but it just gives you the option to do so if it’s something that matters to you.

Recruitment

Whereas recruitment practices are pretty standard throughout the National Panhellenic Conference–no drinking during recruitment, no skipping mandatory recruitment events, no bid promising, etc.–different schools handle recruitment differently. The most common example of this is the practice of “delayed recruitment,” where a school delays recruitment from before/during freshman orientation at the beginning of the fall semester to the beginning of the spring semester. Delayed recruitment is meant to allow freshmen to adjust to a semester of college life before making the commitment to a sisterhood, which some students might appreciate, whereas others might thrive in their first semester knowing they have a built-in social circle from the get-go. It’s all about personal preference.

Other practices vary as well. For example, the University of Virginia has so many Panhellenic Conference chapters that our first two rounds of recruitment last for two days each, instead of one. At the University of Alabama, it’s common knowledge that letters of recommendation are an absolute must for a successful recruitment, whereas at other less competitive schools, they’re entirely optional.

william

At the College of William & Mary, sorority houses look alike for the most part, and are all located near one another, giving them a real sense of community. Image from The Flat Hat.

Which brings me to an important point: the level of competition within sorority recruitment varies widely from school to school. At some colleges, you’re more or less guaranteed a bid from a sorority as long as you’re friendly and approachable during rounds, whereas at other schools, there’s a solid chance you might not get a bid from anyone–even with multiple glowing letters of recommendation, sky-high heels, and a perfect blowout during every single round. Just check out the level of competition inherent in the recruitment practices of your colleges of interest, and decide whether you can handle that level of pressure.

Dues

This is, again, a factor of Greek life determined on a chapter-by-chapter basis; however, schools with a large Greek presence tend to have much more expensive dues than schools where Greek life is more low-key. It’s better to know before you start your college career whether Greek life is a reasonable option for you than to find out in the weeks leading up to recruitment that you just can’t swing it.

Housing

Housing is another area where schools differ in respect to their Greek scene. Some colleges, like the College of William & Mary, have a “Sorority Court,” in which all the sororities occupy the same street or cul-de-sac. Other colleges, like the University of Virginia, don’t. All of our sorority houses occupy the same large neighborhood, but are mixed in with fraternities and other organizational housing. One of our sororities even occupies the first floor of an apartment complex–so there’s plenty of variety in our housing scene. Other colleges even house their Greeks in certain wings of their dormitories or do not have Greek housing at all. So if your dream is to live in an Elle Woods CULA-style mansion with your sorority sisters, just take a peek at your colleges’ Greek life homepages to check out your future housing situation.

Now, it’s important that you don’t let sorority life define your college search, but once you have a solid list of schools that you’re into, feel free to use their Greek life to narrow down your choices. Because after all, if you see sorority life really defining your college experience in the future, you don’t want to end up somewhere where you don’t mesh with the Greek scene.



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the author

Elizabeth Watson (just call her Beth) is a senior at an itty-bitty private Catholic high school in Virginia. In addition to writing for The Prospect, she writes and performs sketch comedy with her improv troupe, rehearses like mad for school theatre productions, suits up for forensics competitions, and writes poetry for her school’s literary magazine. A brief rundown of Beth’s favorite people and things ever to exist in no particular order: hole-in-the-wall bookshops, sweaters, Jane Eyre, peppermint tea (in a Troy and Abed mug, of course), Broadway musicals, British period dramas, Neil Patrick Harris, and Hugh Jackman. Beth’s long-term goal in life to is to become Julie Andrews, but for now she’s focusing on surviving the final stretch of high school and getting into college–hopefully as an English major

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