the logo

Studying in the US: fraternities and sororities explained

You’ve seen them in movies, but do you know what Greek organisations at US universities are like in real life? Also known as fraternities and sororities, they are student organisations that are most commonly found at American universities.

    Grace McCabe's avatar

    Grace McCabe

    Content Writer, THE Student
    June 16 2022
    Sorority parade at a US university


    What are fraternities and sororities? 

    Fraternities and sororities are student clubs, mostly found at US universities. Each organisation is formed around goals or aspirations that the members share. They are often referred to as the Greek system because of the Greek letters used to represent each of the different branches or clubs. There are often multiple fraternities and sororities at each university.

    Doug Campbell from Penn State University is a member of Alpha Tau Omega and was recently elected president of the Interfraternity Council. When asked to describe fraternities and sororities he replied, “fraternities are a group of people who form together based on similar interests and goals and use that to create lifelong friendships and support”.  

    Shorelight logo
    Get free support to study in the United States

    Members of a fraternity or sorority are expected to work together to form friendships, share knowledge, make the organisation stronger and help their community. It often provides students with a community for life. Students have the ability to join the organisation they feel is the right fit for them. 

    What are Greek organisations like today? 

    The first Greek organisation was founded in 1776 at Appalachian State University in North Carolina, as a place to discuss events, university issues and their studies outside the strict academic environment. Today there are more than 1,500 Greek organisations across various universities in the US. 

    Ben Porter is a member of the Interfraternity Council Advisory team. He shared his own experience as part of the fraternity Alpha Tau Omega. “My time in this fraternity has helped me grow as a man, to grow as a leader, to grow spiritually, and to be better prepared in my academics. My fraternity has taught me the characteristics and skills to lead and work towards the betterment of Auburn University, as well as prepare me to work for the betterment of whatever community I settle in following my time in college. I cannot stress how much my fraternity means to me, and how strongly I advise any prospective student to join one,” he says.  

    Scholarships available in the US for international students
    Everything you need to know about studying in the US
    The cost of studying at a university in the United States

    How do you join a Greek organisation? 

    Step 1: recruitment 

    There are two forms of recruitment in the year: formal and informal. Fraternities and sororities can admit new members at various times throughout the year but formal recruitment usually begins in the first semester of the academic year.  

    Formal recruitment lasts about a week and can be a fun and interesting experience for students, especially first-years who are new to university. All the organisations students can join, including the different fraternities and sororities, hold a number of events for students to learn more about them. Informal recruitment is usually shorter and requires less commitment from students who are considering membership.

    At the end of the recruitment stage, organisations give out bids to invite students to become a pledge and begin the process of initiation. Some students can request a letter of recommendation from an alum in the hope it will help them receive a bid. If they are related to an alum of the society they are known as a legacy.

    Step 2: orientation 

    New member orientation is when a pledge has the opportunity to learn the history of their chosen fraternity or sorority. Pledges take part in more exclusive events with the other pledges to become more acquainted with the goals and traditions of their future society. 

    Active members provide educational workshops and explain how academic achievement will be supported. This is an exciting time to meet other pledges and make friends.

    In the past the orientation process has often included “hazing”, where pledges are asked to carry out a dangerous or illegal activity to prove their dedication to joining a fraternity or sorority. Due to severe injury and in some unfortunate incidents, death, hazing is now illegal in most states and many universities enforce strict rules against hazing. 

    Remember that these organisations are not compulsory to join. It is your decision whether you wish to be part of a fraternity or sorority and you don’t have to do anything you believe to be wrong, harmful or dangerous. Hazing Prevention provides information on how to stop hazing or what to do if you see it happening. 

    Step 3: initiation 

    Each fraternity and sorority has its own traditions and rituals that members take part in during their initiation. Pledges may be asked to recite facts or the traditional sayings they have learned during the process of initiation into the society. 

    When this final stage is complete, pledges are welcomed into the group through the sharing of secret information about the organisation. This can include secret handshakes, mottos values, and stories that only other members know.  

    How do you choose your fraternity or sorority? 

    Each Greek organisation is founded on certain beliefs and values. It is down to personal preference which is the right fit for you.  

    Matt Halverson, a student at the University of Oklahoma, is another member of the Interfraternity Council and a member of Alpha Tau Omega. He shared his experience choosing the right fraternity for him. “When looking for an organisation, I wanted to find a group of men with leaders that were passionate about myself and my peers’ continuous development in all stages of college life as well as after graduation... My organisation has truly given me lifelong friendships that I attribute to shaping the man that I am today,” he said. 

    Some questions to ask before joining may include: 

    • As a member of a fraternity or sorority, what am I expected to do?
    • How will joining a fraternity or sorority affect my studies?
    • What leadership opportunities are available? 
    • What community service do you take part in? 
    • Are members required to live in the chapter house? 
    • What are the membership expenses? What does that fee cover? 
    • What are your members like? 
    • What are your values? 
    • Are you officially recognised by the university? 
    • What is involved in orientation? 
    • What are the benefits of joining? 
    • Why did you join? 
    • Why is your organisation different to others? 
    • What is alumni involvement like? 
    • How can you help me once I graduate? 

    Students do not have to join immediately in their first year of university. Many organisations are happy to accept new members from any year group.

    What are the benefits of joining a Greek organisation at university? 

    Starting university can be daunting and some students take time to adjust to college life. By joining a sports group, society or organisation, students will meet people with similar interests. Joining a Greek organisation is just another way to make new friends and feel part of a community.  

    Fraternities and sororities have a heavy focus on academic excellence and assist members with their studies from day one. Members come from every year group, which allows students to share their experience and provide each other with support. 

    Greek life can help the campus feel smaller and less intimidating as students make connections through social events. Community projects allow members to become active on campus and beyond and begin to develop leadership skills. 

    Students also have access to a network of alumni who may be able to help them secure opportunities during and after university. 

    Rui Ferreria, an adviser at the IFC, shared how he felt as an international student joining a Greek organisation. “Coming to the US as an international student, the only expectation of college I had was what I had seen on the TV about fraternities... I have never been more wrong in my life. Fraternities are about community, service, growth and, most importantly, human connection.”

    You may also like

    Harvard University

    Best universities in the United States 2024

    Find the best universities in the United States 2024 through Times Higher Education’s World University Rankings data

    September 27 2023
    sticky sign up

    Register free and enjoy extra benefits