American movies always makes college life seem so exciting, especially the Greek clubs! But do we really understand what fraternities and sororities are? Don’t worry, we’ve broken it down for you.

What is a Greek organisation?

Greek organisations are exclusive social clubs, or even secret societies, that have existed on American university campuses since the late 1700s. They are called Greek clubs because all the associations write their names with two or three Greek letters. Some of the most famous ones include Sigma Chi, Alpha Phi Alpha and Delta Delta Delta, all of which have chapters in tens of universities around the USA, such as Transylvania University. There are also smaller local Greek organisations that only operate within their particular university.

Why should I join a sorority or fraternity?

About 3 percent of North America, 9 million people in total, are currently part of, or are alumni members of Greek organisations. This means that going Greek will offer great networking opportunities both while in school and when you are ready to step into the professional world. Greek organisations are also said to create leaders - 85 percent of Fortune 500 executives are alumni of Greek organisations, including the CEOs of five of the top ten companies. Of all American presidents that have held office since 1877, 18 have been fraternity members (69 percent).

What’s the difference between a fraternity and a sorority?

Membership in a Greek-letter organisation was originally reserved only for men, and the clubs were called fraternities. Sororities, first called women’s fraternities, came about after 1851. Still to this day most Greek clubs are segregated by gender, though there are a few clubs that are co-ed, such as Alpha Phi Omega and Epsilon Sigma Alpha.

How will going Greek impact my university experience?

Joining a Greek club means that you will have an instant social circle and a second family to help you navigate through your university years. As a new member you will be assigned an older sorority sister or fraternity brother to be your special mentor. These relationships between Bigs and Littles often turn into lifelong friendships. Members of Greek clubs also live together in large student houses, or a distinct part of the university’s dormitories. Some universities have what’s called a Greek Row - a street or a neighbourhood that is populated by gender-segregated sorority and fraternity chapter houses.

What about all the Greek parties I’ve seen in movies?

Besides offering some serious lifetime networking opportunities for their members, it’s true that Greek organisations are big about having fun. Fraternities in particular often host themed parties that transform their respective houses and gardens into another world altogether (think toga parties, 80s festivities, beach and tiki bar fun, waterfall fiestas). During spring break many sorority sisters and fraternity brothers travel together to sunny party locations, such as Cancun or Acapulco in Mexico, Florida’s Panama City or the Bahamas! If you are looking for the classic American college experience with all the requisite parties, joining a Greek organisation will definitely be worth your while.

What do Greek organisations do on campus?

Greek organisations are very visible on their campuses and are great in organising extra-curricular activities! As all fraternities and sororities support charity projects, and members devote a lot of time to community service, you will often see fundraising events on campus. Greek clubs may also do campus advertising for off-campus charity events, formal dances, dinners and lectures, many of which are open to non-members. However, the year’s biggest Greek on-campus event is usually the Greek Week. This is when all the different Greek letter organisations come together to show their dedication to academics, leadership, community service and brother- and sisterhood. And of course, there is Homecoming. During this time alumni members come back to visit their old college and their Greek organisations, and to support the school’s sports teams. At this time you will see many campus activities organised by fraternities and sororities.

How can I join a Greek organisation?

Most Greek organisations limit their membership to about 35-45 students per college, some chapters are even smaller, with less than 20 members, while others go up to 100. New members are usually only accepted in the beginning of the autumn semester. Those who are interested in joining must go through a two-part application process, consisting of rushing and pledging. These are also called recruitment and a new member period (NMP). The former refers to the process of vetting new members via interviews and social events, and the latter to a student being accepted into the club for a trial period during Bid Day.

What happens after I get in?

Once a new member successfully finishes the trial weeks, he or she will be officially initiated into the organisation in a formal ritual. After this, the pressure is off: you are now a member for life. Some people move into the shared house at this point, some people later, or never. You will get to know your Greek chapter’s secret motto and its purpose, their special handshake and identification signs. Being privy to this inside information will help your forge a special bond with other members and create professional and personal connections that will last a lifetime.

Check out our 6 Exciting College Traditions in the US blog, to discover what other gems US campus life has in store for you!

About the Author: Mirva Lempiäinen is a US-educated freelance journalist from Finland. After calling New York City home for about a decade, she now resides on the French-Caribbean island of Guadeloupe.