Is paying an additional few thousand dollars a year to be an active member of a sorority or fraternity in college truly worth it in the long run?
With tuition costs soaring and college debt at its highest level in history, does shelling out the extra cash to be part of Greek life make sense, or are you ultimately just paying for costly party expenses?
For some students, being part of Greek life has not amounted to what was expected, primarily on an emotional level. Syracuse University senior Alex Purdy recently launched a powerful three minute video entitled #sororityrevamp after making the hard decision to walk away from Greek life due to some of the negative social experiences she witnessed and encountered.
While Purdy couldn’t address the financial burden, she told TheStreet if she could make changes to the Greek system she would hope for greater oversight on the recruitment process and activities by alumnae members. She also thought providing anonymous surveying to all members would allow members to give feedback without repercussions.
Purdy never bashed the Greek system and did not single out her former sorority, but instead called for change. Despite Purdy’s experience, plenty of students have found satisfaction and post-grad success through Greek life. Michigan State University Lambda Chi Alpha alumnus Peter Noto says his time in a fraternity was extremely positive and contributed to the success he has experienced as an entrepreneur.
“What kind of return did I receive on my investment from being in a fraternity?” Noto questions. “As a student, you don’t really consider what you are getting from investing in being in a fraternity or a sorority. When I was at Michigan State, my parents paid my tuition and house dues, but I worked to pay for everything else, so I was able to cover other expenses including charity and social events, housing and meals.”
Noto recalls his time as a Lambda Chi in the late 1980s broadened his awareness of social responsibility and tuned his acumen on how to get along with a vast number of individuals. “You learn what is acceptable behavior and how to get along with a variety of personalities, which ultimately carries you through to your professional life," he says. "The financial investment made in a fraternity provided me with opportunities to work with nonprofit organizations, learn how to launch and manage events and negotiate with vendors--skills that helped me with future business endeavors.”
What Does it Really Cost?
Fees at individual fraternities and sororities located within the various colleges and universities throughout the country can range from as little as $400 to over $4,000 a semester depending upon the student’s level of involvement.
For example, the University of Central Florida, one of the largest public universities in the country, posts Greek fees on its website. Active sorority members, who live in house can expect to pay anywhere from$1,035 to $3,900 per semester. Fraternity semester expenses were similar -- ranging from $600 to $3,887. Some houses did not list fees.
UCF also posts 2015 to 2016 fall/spring individual residential fees per semester, which can range from $2,470 to $4,440, depending upon the type of living arrangements the student chooses.
Christine DiGangi detailed her sorority expenses and feelings about paying for a sorority in an article for Credit.com.
“In 2008, the new member fee for my chapter was $656 (one of the lower-cost sororities that year),” she wrote. “In the fall of 2008, I moved into the chapter house, and a semester of that cost $4,120.50.”
DiGangi estimates she ultimately paid $14,395.24 for her time in a sorority, which amounted to required dues and fees. She adds that although Greeks are often confronted with optional fees, they didn’t feel optional at the time. These “options” included purchasing gifts for new pledges, T-shirts and fees for charity events, costumes for parties, as well as securing the right fashions and styles for everyday wear. She writes that the “options” padded that $14,397.24 price tag and believes she ended up paying more like $16,000 for the entire experience.
“Was it worth it?” she writes. “Some of it certainly was, but some of it definitely wasn’t — so if you figure I wouldn’t have had the good experiences at all if I hadn’t joined, I guess it was worth it. But $16,000 (plus interest, since some of that was student loan money) is hell of a lot of money for a social life and, um, sisterhood. Or something.”
Is There Life Beyond the Greek Bubble?
Not all colleges and universities have Greek life, which seems to suit them just fine. College Board cites thousands of schools without Greek life, such as Amherst College, Brandeis University, Middlebury College and New College of Florida, a public, liberal arts honors college in Sarasota, Fla.
Mark Johnson, interim dean at New College, says he isn’t sure whether or not integrating Greek life on campus was a conscious decision, because the school, referred to as “Brilliantly Unique. Uniquely Brilliant,” has a full-campus inclusive vibe.
“Greek organizations offer many positive experiences and opportunities for students,” Johnson says. “At New College, the entire campus is small enough for everyone to get involved and our social environment facilitates participation. We also have between 60 to 80 clubs, most that don’t require a fee, that speaks to just about every interest, so all students can be part of something they want to explore.”
New College has approximately 800 students and Johnson says students are offered the same post-graduate connections as someone from a fraternity or sorority. “The positive aspects associated with Greek life, such as community outreach and volunteerism can be found through the clubs and organization at New College,” Johnson adds. “Plus just about any New College graduate is a wonderful post-graduate connection.”
By moving beyond the crippling fees imposed by Greek life, undergrads can develop the social savvy and network by immersing themselves in other campus communities. Greek life may indeed deliver professionally through a wide-scale association with a community, but the dividends yielded are not appreciably more in earning power than those offered by other communities with free access.