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Sororities and fraternities are an integral part of non-academic life on many university campuses. Since the founding of Phi Beta Kappa, the first fraternity, at William & Mary College in 1776, these student clubs or social communities have been named after letters of the Greek alphabet-and the system of fraternities and sororities as a whole has been dubbed, simply, Greek life.
Going off to college means so many new experiences-and one of those is the introduction to Greek life.
As a parent, you hear about the houses, rush, hazing, and parties, and many potential concerns about fraternities and sororities. But there's a lot to Greek life. Here's the lowdown on the benefits and advantages of fraternity or sorority life, including a few you've probably never thought about-and one you'll hope you never need:
- Housing: Depending on the college, Greek life can be not only an enormous part of campus social life but a primary housing source too. Freshman housing is not guaranteed at every university, so at the University of Washington in Seattle, for example, rush begins before classes even start. Many freshmen move directly into their Greek houses, not the dorms. (That said, not every Greek system is residential-some by choice, others because of city zoning regulations. Some sororities and fraternities maintain a house for social purposes, but all or nearly all their members "live out," i.e., in the dorms or off-campus.)
- A ready-made social life: College can be a daunting proposition for a shy freshman, but Greek life provides an entire cadre of new friends and a full social calendar. It's not all toga parties either. There are philanthropic events, small-scale mixers and academic dinners with members' favorite professors.
- Lifelong friends: A dormitory's population changes dramatically every fall. Students are usually grouped by class - in a freshman dorm or on a freshman wing - and their R.A. may be the only upperclassman within reach. Greek members, by contrast, live with nearly the same people for all four years, with a slight ebb and flow as seniors graduate and new pledges enter. They're mentored and led through the thickets of university bureaucracies by their older sorority sisters or fraternity brothers, and those close friendships tend to last a lifetime. Moreover, once they're out of college, they maintain close ties with their Greek houses - and sister organizations across the country - via social networks.
- Study buddies: There's no work involved in forming a congenial study group. A Greek house brims with instant study buddies and exam cram support. That said, your child's experience will vary depending on his academic priorities and his and his friends' willingness to go to the library or another quiet location if the frat gets too boisterous.
- Academic boosts: Despite what you see on the silver screen, many sororities and fraternities take their members' academic rankings very seriously. They may hold their own academic awards dinners, host professors at special dinners, and even post A-graded papers and exams on a "We're so proud" bulletin board. Some have rules about minimum GPAs as well. Again, your child's experience may vary. (See above.)
- Leadership: Greek houses are run by student councils, which offer members many opportunities to develop leadership skills. These councils usually consist of a president, a house manager or treasurer, and leadership roles in public outreach, philanthropy, social event planning, and member discipline.
- Business connections: Those lifelong friendships and their extended alumni social network become an incredibly helpful business network for members. Kappa Alpha Theta, for example, uses an online message board, dubbed the BettiesList, where members post news about job openings or internships at their companies, apartment rentals and offers of help in every major city across the United States.
- Philanthropic interests: Virtually every Greek house has a designated charity, for which they host fundraisers and awareness events. For many students, philanthropic work provides an important balance in a life filled with academic stress-or too much socializing. It can also be the start of a lifelong interest in a specific cause, court-appointed special advocates for abused and neglected children, for example, or the Children's Miracle Network of children's hospitals.
- Social skills: Despite the late 20th century's mocking of certain social niceties, social skills are a critically important factor in the business world. Many Greek houses actually run etiquette classes for their members, and it's not just folklore either. It includes lessons on setting guests at ease and building connections through small talk, whether it's with nervous prospective members during rush or industry recruiters and CEOs at frat-hosted business dinners. The idea, of course, is that small talk leads to big talk-and small talk, which is all about establishing common ground, is an art form. Members also learn to host and organize a variety of events, such as mixers, awards ceremonies, and massive charity golf tournaments. The events range in size, with anywhere from 20 to 2,000 people. And they teach them how to dress, not only for toga parties but for business interviews.
- A limitless wardrobe: If your daughter doesn't have the perfect gown for the formal, a buddy does. There are, after all, 50 or more closets under a single sorority roof and everyone's prom and homecoming dresses find new life in a sorority. (So do their Halloween costumes.)
- Food and housing costs: Depending on the campus, Greek life can be less expensive than the dorm alternative, even when you factor in social dues. And the food is nearly always better. It's prepared, after all, by a chef who faces his or her diners every single day-not a central kitchen catering to tens of thousands.
- Aid in desperate need: Here's one you won't want to think about, but when everything comes crashing down at home-there's a death in the family or a grievous injury-it's the sorority house that's going to get your child safely home with everything she needs. It's her 50 sorority sisters who will deal with the paramedics on the phone, book the plane ticket, pack the necessary luggage including, if necessary, mourning clothes from their own closets, and provide steady emotional support. They'll tuck wads of emergency cash in her pockets, and drive her to the airport or all the way home. And they'll be there to pick up the pieces afterward too. It's a perk you hope you'll never need, but it's good to know that an incredible support network is there.