Greek Life: Social VS Academic VS Cultural

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By now, you’ve probably heard plenty about fraternities (frats) and sororities – through movies, media, friends, and more – but trying to understand what exactly Greek Life is can be very confusing. This article breaks down what fraternities and sororities are all about, and the advantages and disadvantages of joining one.  

What Exactly is Greek Life?

“Greek life” refers to the idea of being part of a fraternity or sorority, developing relations with fellow members, and participating in its many events. Many fraternities and sororities are national organizations, with college campuses having their own chapters, while others may be campus-specific. Most Greek groups are part of national boards such as the National Pan-Hellenic Council. These boards are a means of regulating Greek life and connecting different fraternities and sororities together.  


There are several types of fraternities/sororities:  

  • Social 
    • Most Greek organizations are social groups – emphasis is placed on building connections and social circles, developing character, and participating in social and community events  
    • Aspects of other types of Greek societies may still be seen in social frats/sororities, such as community service 
    • Usually separated by gender 
  • Academic/Professional
    • Professional groups focus on bringing students of similar majors or career paths together, and connections and events revolve around discussing courses, jobs, and networking
  • Service 
    • Some frats and sororities are devoted to community service, where participation involves working toward a cause
    • Usually co-ed 
  • Religious 
    • Religious fraternities and sororities, as the name implies, create communities of people of the same faith, and involve events and participation catered to the religion and its practices  
    • Not very common, and if present, may actually be open to all faiths  
  • Ethnic/Cultural 
    • Fraternities and sororities aimed at creating awareness for and celebrating a particular culture or ethnic group 

Common Terminology and Rushing

When students discuss Greek life, a lot of confusing jargon is thrown around. Below is a list clarifying some common terms you should know if you’re interested in Greek life:  

Badge: Pins that newly initiated members receive  

Bid: An invitation from a fraternity/sorority to join the group – “Bid Day” is the last day of rush week(s) when bids are released 

Bigs/Littles: New members of frats/sororities are given “mentors” to help guide them through Greek Life during the initial period – the mentors are called “Bigs” and mentees are “Littles” 

Brothers/Sisters: Fraternity and sorority members in the same chapter refer to each other as brothers and sisters  

Executive Board: A board made up of the leadership of a fraternity or sorority’s campus chapter  

Fraternity Sweetheart: A girl (often a sorority member) elected by a fraternity’s brothers for her contributions to the frat – she’s the female representative for the frat  

Good Standing: A status to label a member as being in a good position with the frat/sorority – factors can include grades, dues, participation, and behavior 

House: A building dedicated to a fraternity or sorority – sometimes the members live in the house, and other times it’s only used for participation  

Infraction: When a chapter member breaks a recruitment rule 

Initiation: A formal ceremony to welcome new members 

Legacy: A student whose family member is/was part of a certain fraternity/sorority  

New Member/Pledge: Members who have been accepted into a fraternity/sorority but have not yet completed the initiation process (the new member period is usually 8-10 weeks long) 

Paddle: Gifts that bigs and littles may give to each other  

Rituals and Hazing: Special gestures/ceremonies that are part of the initiation process – hazing is a particularly dangerous and/or humiliating entry process for some fraternities and sororities  

Rush (formal rush): Usually a week or two week long process, rush involves potentially interested candidates learning about and connecting with different frat/sorority members, entering bids, and otherwise building connections before bids are released and new members are welcomed 

The process of exploring the fraternities and sororities at your school, meeting potential and existing members, and deciding which groups to pursue is known as rushing.  

Formal vs Informal Rush 

  • Formal rush involves formal dressing and large, grand events for students to meet members from different chapters
  • Informal rush may just be more conversational and based on informal events 
  • Rushing usually consists of multiple rounds of different activities such as performances, and at the end of each round, potential members and existing members would list preferences of sororities and new recruits
  • Rushees may have to meet all frats/sororities at some schools, while they may have the choice to only check out a few groups at other schools
  • Legacies and recommendations may help some members get into a frat/sorority of their choice
  • “Dirty rushing” is the act of trying to sway a chapter member or potential member’s decisions before or during a rush – the idea is that every rush process must be done formally
  • “Continuous Open Bidding” is when sororities continue to evaluate and accept new members after the formal rush period
  • Frats/sororities will vote on new members towards the end of the rush period – they may discuss (openly or privately) why a student would or would not be a good potential member for the chapter
  • Once a student accepts a bid, they are considered a pledge, and begin to learn more about their fraternity or sorority before the formal initiation ceremony

Advantages and Disadvantages of Joining Greek Life


  • Greek life usually offers students life-long friendships and relationships and helps them adjust to school better since they have an automatic friend group
  • Great for networking both during college and after – being part of a frat/sorority could be beneficial during informal interviews or for building relationships if the person you’re talking to is or was part of the same organization 
  • Helps build character since members have to stay in good standing, participate in various events and community service, learn time management skills, and more
  • Helps expose students to different worlds and experiences 


  • Greek life can be expensive! Semester costs for dues and other bills can range from $500 to $2000 dollars, depending on the organization
  • Unfavorable events/practices/hazing – not all frats/sororities participate in dangerous hazing rituals or events, but the threat is still a real concern, and many fraternity/sorority events involve parties, drinking, and more
  • Time commitment – Greek life can be extremely demanding, especially if you have a full schedule and are involved in other activities, since you’ll have to attend several events and meetups, and fulfill other requirements 

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