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Go Greek - Your guide to Greek life in the USA

Katie Dundas
Katie Dundas
Published on: Jan 31, 20225 min read
Go Greek - Your guide to Greek life in the USA

You may have heard the term ‘Go Greek’ or 'Going Greek' when talking about American college life, but what does going Greek mean basically?

Hollywood films depict fraternity and sorority life as a non-stop toga party of debauchery and alcohol; you may have an idea about going Greek in US colleges.

However, that couldn’t be further from reality. 

Greek generally refers to the people of Greece or of that land’s descent. Greek is the official language of the country too.
The Greeks are generally known to emphasise taking any kind of relationship lifelong. They believe in maintaining socially-knitted relationships with like-minded people. 

‘Going Greek’ refers to the process of joining a fraternity or sorority while studying at a US or Canadian university.

The terms fraternity and sorority translate to brotherhood and sisterhood, respectively, and refer to social and academic groups with similar ideologies committed to shared goals and values. 

Today, going Greek life plays a significant role on many college campuses, providing an opportunity for students to form lifelong friendships, network, partake in philanthropy, and keep the traditions of their organisation alive. 

History of Greek life

Greek life has been present in the US college system for hundreds of years, returning to 1776 when the first fraternity, Phi Beta Kappa, was founded.

Fraternities, which came first, began as secret societies within colleges, acting as debate clubs for academic and literary works.

College curricula used to be more critical to free thought than it is now, so students had to go underground to speak openly, free from university oversight. 

Sororities, known initially as women’s fraternities, came later, with the first sorority founded in 1874. 

Fraternities and sororities use Greek letters to represent their names to nod to their literary origins.

Over time, the Greek letters have remained, but Greek life has expanded into social, academic, and philanthropic activities and all these sums up into the phrase of going greek.

The Greek life in American universities

A University is a hub of rich culture and diversity. It gives you the podium to meet and communicate with people from various places and cultures. So, the phrase “going Greek” inculcates the thought and idea of connecting and establishing a healthy bond. 

The American universities, especially in the southern states, run various fraternities and sororities that project the importance of having an organised social life with its benefits. The brownie points of joining a sorority range from getting an idea and exposure to the university’s culture and lifestyle and sustaining a name post-graduation to kickstart a successful career and a life!

Today, most fraternities and sororities are national, meaning they have outposts, or chapters, at many different colleges across the US.

A national governing body oversees their activities. However, other chapters may be local, meaning they are only of their kind.

How do I join a fraternity or sorority?

If you’re thinking of going Greek, you make a fantastic choice!

Many members consider their brothers and sisters lifelong friends, and it can add enrichment and value to your college experience.

At the start of each semester, the school’s Panhellenic Council (the governing body of Greek life) will organise a rush week.

Potential students sign up to rush, and over the week, they visit each fraternity or sorority to learn more about its values and morals, get to know current members, and tour the house or facilities.

So, this helps each chapter get to know the interested parties, and the rushees can decide which Greek house would be the best fit for them.

After the week, rushees list their preferences of which houses they’d like to join. The places then decide who they’d like to bid to a formal invitation to join.

After the students accept a bid, they form a pledge class.

Pledging can be very competitive, especially in universities in the south, where Greek life is prevalent.

Although you may not be offered a bid to your first choice, most rushees do find a house that’s a good fit for them. 

Each semester, students of the pledge class meet and greet. They participate in Greek life activities and traditions and get to know the history of their organisation.

Each pledge is assigned a big brother or big sister, an older member of the organisation who will mentor and support through the pledge process.

At the end of the pledging process, which usually takes most of the semester, the pledges are formally initiated into the organisation as full-fledged members. They are then given their ‘letters’, usually an item of clothing containing the chapter’s Greek letters, which members wear with pride. 

When thinking about joining Greek life in the USA, many people immediately think of hazing.

Although this was very common in the past, especially regarding alcohol use, universities now have stringent anti-hazing rules, with offending chapters punished or banned from campus if they don’t comply. 

Note: The above is about social Greek life organisations, but many campuses also have academic organisations that use Greek letters. They are more like academic or honour societies, usually with a minimum GPA required to join. 

What are the benefits of joining and going Greek?

Many people join Greek life as a way to make friends—if you’re a freshman on a campus of tens of thousands, joining a chapter can make campus feel much smaller, and you’re likely to make friends for life. The friendship also extends well past graduation, thanks to the networking advantage it brings. 

Many Greek organisations have a solid and active alumni network, making it one of the best ways to find job openings. 

The Greek lifestyle in the USA also offers leadership opportunities, which look fantastic on a resume. Most chapters also have involvement with charities and regularly host philanthropic and fundraising events, an excellent way to give back to the community.

Other advantages include social events and gatherings, the fun of living in your chapter’s house with fellow members, and the pride of helping your organisation’s traditions live. 

However, that’s not to say there aren’t some considerations before joining. Members must pay membership dues, which can be hundreds of dollars each semester. Other costs may come up, such as tickets to social events, t-shirts, and merchandise each semester. 

There can also be a negative stigma around Greek life, especially when it comes to parties and alcohol. Although this is less so now than in the past, you still may get some raised eyebrows when you mention to friends or family that you’re thinking about joining. 

What commitments are required for Greek life?

Greek life can be a big-time commitment, especially during the semester when you pledge. Expect weekly chapter meetings, study sessions, social events, and charitable days. 

Over time, most students find a comfortable balance between Greek and academic life, but if you find it’s impacting your grades, it may be time to take a step back—academics should always come first, even if the party is more fun. 

Are you ready to go Greek?

If you think Greek life in the USA might be for you, check out the Panhellenic Council of your university.

They should be able to tell you which chapters are on campus, when and how you can sign up for a rush week, and what to know before getting started.

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Written By
Katie Dundas

Katie Dundas is an American freelance writer now based in Sydney, Australia. She is an alumna of Iota Gamma Upsilon sorority.

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