Monday, September 4, 2017

The Definitive Guide to Going Greek Your Freshman Year of College

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Hello, beautiful! Most of you probably know this already (I rarely shut up about it), but I'm a proud sister of Kappa Alpha Theta, the first Greek-letter fraternity for women. Going Greek completely changed my life (and not in a corny way at all!), which is why I'm here to tell you all about why I decided to join a sorority my freshman year of college.

While my college, Boston University, holds formal recruitment (aka "rush," though we're technically not allowed to call it that) every spring, many colleges hold recruitment during the fall semester - or, if you go to a big Southern university, sometimes even before classes start (you can check out my ultimate guide to sorority recruitment by clicking here!).

So, since many freshman girls are likely thinking about the important decision that is going Greek, I wanted to weigh in and give my opinion on why going Greek might just be the best thing that ever happened to me - or one of them, at least :)

Me and a few of my sisters during our Bid Night celebration (note how I stick out like a sore thumb in my cardigan - don't judge me, it was cold!)

My Greek Life Story

Flashback to one year ago, and I was not the confident campus leader I am today. Back when I was in high school, I loved my extra-curricular activities, like Girl Scouts and the Young Democrats club - but when I first came to college, I didn't know what I wanted to do, or where I might fit in.

I joined the student newspaper because I originally thought I wanted to major in journalism (read all about my decision to change my major by clicking here) - and while I ultimately made friends there, they were just my "newspaper friends" to me. I never had what I wanted, which was a group of girls I could text at any given moment to hang out or just be there for me. 

Feeling as lonely as I did my first semester was a huge struggle, and I know it's one reason why a lot of girls I know decided to go Greek - including me! I loved Boston University when I was touring it as a freshman, but I just didn't feel the connection to the people at my school that I wanted to feel. I knew I shouldn't transfer - after all, I loved my classes and the School of Communications is ranked highly in the U.S. and worldwide - but I just didn't know where my home was on campus, and I struggled with making friends in a natural, organic way.

Me & my big, Riley (who is sadly abroad in Dublin right now!)

When the sororities' first open houses came around, I wasn't sure if I should go or not. I remember feeling torn as to whether or not signing up for recruitment was the right idea. After all, sororities have a bad reputation (more on that later), and I knew my parents, my friends at home and my boyfriend would worry I was going to change if I joined.

Later on, I actually ended up going to an open house with one of my best friends first semester (a friend-of-a-friend from the paper). I listened to the girls talk about why they joined and how they found their forever homes at [insert-chapter-name-here]. I was so captivated that that night, as soon as I got home, I paid my non-refundable fee to sign up for recruitment in the spring. From that moment on, I literally could not wait to find the chapter I would call home! 

Recruitment was a grueling, emotional process that left me with a lot of mixed emotions about joining a sorority - but on Bid Night, when I opened up the envelope that sent me running toward my sisters in Theta, I knew I had found an extra-special group of women to call my sisters. 

That night, I found out one of my best friends from the paper, and another older girl I knew there, were both in Theta. I met my big during our Bid Night celebration, when we were matched up so she could introduce me to all things Theta. And I shared pizza and long, intimate conversations with some of the girls I now call my best friends. 

Since then, I constantly tell people that my sisters in Theta are the best thing to happen to me at BU. For starters, there's Arielle (check out her blog by clicking here), who I met in our Facebook group and decided to room with on a whim - now, she's probably my best friend at school besides my big. There's Riley and Haley, who make up the other two-thirds of the lion fam - I still remember walking into our friend's apartment and yanking wrapping paper off of Riley the night of our reveal! (Read my post on big/little week here.) And then there's Hannah, Regan, Shannon, Claudia, Courtney, Courtney (yup, you read that right - we have lots of double names in Theta! For one thing, we have four Haleys), Anna and so many other girls who I now call my BFFs. In fact, I'm 100% certain I'm forgetting someone because there's just so many Thetas who are near-and-dear to my heart!  

I know it sounds cheesy, but becoming a Theta changed my life. (And this girl's. And this girl's. And this girl's. Oh, and this girl, too! Wonder who that could be in the front row... ;) ) So, my advice to any girl who's thinking about #GoingGreek is, just do it! You can decide after you join whether or not you want to continue, so why not just take a chance on the thought that you might just surprise yourself by loving it just as much as we do?

Me and my roommate Arielle, throwin' what we know at formal! 

Common Myths About Greek Life

Okay, so Greek life changed my life - but you might still ask "So, what?" After all, there's so many stereotypes out there about Greek life that joining a sorority could seem like either the best decision of your life, or the worst.

Ask any Greek woman you know, and there's pretty much only two types of answers: either she always knew she would be a part of Greek life - her mom's an alumna, her sister went Greek or she's just always wanted to be a [insert-chapter-name-here] - or she never, ever thought in a million years she would join a sorority. But if, like me, she's part of the latter group, chances are there's something that changed her mind - and it was probably hearing from a Greek girl about what going Greek is really like!

Contrary to what the movies would have you believe, going Greek isn't all shotgunning Keystones and streaking through the quad. And contrary to what the news would have you believe, most sororities won't make you do something crazy, dangerous or illegal to become a part of their chapter! 

In fact, to prove to you how wonderful and downright normal Greek life can be, here's a list of the top five most common myths about Greek life and why they're all false! 

  • Myth #1: Greek life is just one big frat party. Actually, no: Greek life can be a serious activity that adds to your resume and your life. Greek life is also a big commitment, especially financially - paying your sorority dues can get pricey! So, no - paying for Greek life isn't just paying for bottomless kegs of beer and one-night stands with frat boys. I won't lie and say there aren't any parties or boys involved ever, but there's also many more important things to be gained from it, like sisterhood and leadership experience! 
  • Myth #2: I can't be in Greek life if I don't drink. This myth is SO false! Many girls in Theta (myself included) don't drink alcohol for a variety of reasons. (For example, I can't drink on my anti-anxiety medication.) The same is true for a number of sororities. However, there's always a few for whom drinking is more important than others, so be sure to keep an ear out for any talk of dirty rushing during recruitment - and maybe move those sororities to the bottom of your list.
  • Myth #3: Being in a sorority means you bought your friends. I hate when people say this. Like any club on campus, a sorority has dues. Those dues just tend to be more expensive because you're paying for things like venues for date party and formal, your sorority badge (which can cost upwards of $100), any freebies you get from your chapter (like bid day t-shirts) and all those fun activities with your sisters. So, no - Greek life isn't free, but that doesn't make the bonds and friendships you form any less genuine! (And if you can manage to find a club on BU's campus that is free, hit me up.)
  • Myth #4: I have to be best friends with every girl in my chapter, or what's the point? Um, no. Sororities are like one big, happy family - and like any family, there's always drama (and that one weird relative that no one likes). Biological sisters fight, feud and sometimes don't even speak, but that doesn't mean they're not sisters at the end of the day! Don't feel pressured to hang out with negative people just because they're your sisters - and especially don't judge a sorority based on one girl you meet. True, most girls are let into a sorority because they have something the chapter likes, but it could also be the case that she has an old friend in the chapter, she's a legacy or she was super fake during recruitment. Whatever the case, try to keep an open mind and judge everyone you meet for who they are, not for who their sister is! 
  • Myth #5: I'm a legacy, so I'll automatically get into [insert-chapter-name-here] (or I'll only get into [insert-chapter-name-here]). If you say this to me during recruitment, you're darn right I'm judging you - but not because you're a legacy. First of all, it's completely rude to assume you'll get into any chapter (and chapter women are explicitly not allowed to tell you you will - that's called bid promising, and it's a big no-no in Greek life). Secondly, you are NOT your family member! Just because your mom or your sister or your aunt's cousin's friend was in ADPi or Phi Mu or whatever the heck sorority doesn't mean that's the right sorority for the unique person who YOU are. So, if you're worried you'll wind up a cookie cutter of your family member, don't worry: if you're not into a particular sorority, the girls will know that (and if they extend you a bid anyways just because you're a legacy, you can always say no and try again next year). Likewise, if you're a legacy, feel free to mention it once - in a very subtle way, of course - but don't push it! If you're excited about the chapter, that will shine through during recruitment - and chances are, we'll rank you highly for it! :) 

All of that being said, this wouldn't be an article about sororities if I didn't address everyone's number one question: hazing! The traditions of every sorority are top secret, and only entrusted to the members of that particular sorority, so I can only say with any real authority that Theta didn't make me do anything weird or wrong to get in. There was no alcohol involved in either rushing or pledging, and I wasn't made to turn around in front of frat boys in my underwear to get "rated." 

However, I will take a moment to acknowledge that those rare few sororities that dirty rush or otherwise haze PNMs are out there - there's probably at least one at every school - and if anyone ever makes you do anything that makes you feel uncomfortable, you should always, always, always take it up with your school's Panhellenic Council (aka Panhel)! Because Greek life should be a fun and safe experience for everyone, and nobody deserves to miss out on all the sisterhood and opportunities it has to offer just because of a few crazy girls :)

Good Reasons to Go Greek

As with anything in life, I believe there are two types of reasons to go Greek: Good Reasons and Bad Reasons. I know, I know - nothing in this world can be THAT black-and-white. Deciding whether you want to go Greek or not can be an extremely complicated, highly personal decision that shapes who you are for the rest of your life (or something that's NBD - Greek life is what you put into it, after all!). But there's at least a good number of common reasons for joining that are totally legit, and quite a few that make me cringe when I hear them. For example:

  • "My mom/sister/friend was a sister." So? Are you joining Greek life to make THEM happy, or joining it to make YOU happy? Answer this question, and then you'll know if you should really be signing up for recruitment. 
  • "I want to meet guys/go to parties." Trust me, there are way better ways to meet potential hookups than joining a sorority. (Frat guys suck.) Get an account on Tinder, make a friend who knows where the parties are at and join Greek life when you're doing it for YOU. 
  • "I want to go to Bid Day." Girl, I know Bid Day can be a big effin' deal, especially at big state and Southern schools - but if all you want to get out of Greek life is one big party, you're better off following suit with the hundreds of other non-Greeks who somehow show up to Bid Day each year. (JK. Please don't be that person!) Though if you do go Greek, you can get some pretty cool free merch from your sorority on Bid Day, since the chapter usually orders custom gear from sites like Greek U for the occasion!

On the other hand, there's many more Good Reasons than Bad Reasons that you can and should go Greek if the bug bites you! Greek life is an amazing community that doesn't exclude anybody from becoming a part of it (at least, if the system at your school is functioning the way it should be) - and as such, there are many benefits to joining it. If you're anything like me, you'd much rather focus on the positive parts of srat life - so here are some amazing signs that Greek life might be the home for you. If you find yourself thinking...

  • "I want to meet people who are like me, yet unique in their own ways." As a part of Kappa Alpha Theta, me and my sisters all have some common threads that link us. For example, the girls in our organization focus on the values of Faith, Hope and Love, as well as tenants like sisterhood and scholarship. Everyone you'll ever meet in Theta is guaranteed to be a #LeadingWoman - yet that doesn't mean we're all cookie cutters of one another! While my big Riley loves video games and anime, I'd much rather be reading a cheap romance novel or self-help book off the dollar shelf at B&N. While my friend Hannah is an amazing radio DJ and journalist, I quit my journalism major after I found out it wasn't right for me. Me and my sisters aren't clones, but we're cut from the same cloth - and whenever I meet a Theta out in the world, I know she's at least going to share a couple core values with me no matter how different we may seem on the outside.
  • "I'm looking for more leadership and service opportunities." I can't say it enough times people: sorority life is NOT all about the partying! Being a member of Greek life offers you opportunities other college students simply don't get, like being vice president of a 100+ member organization or raising over $1,000 for your sorority's philanthropy. Personally, I've already grown so much as a leader and as a volunteer since becoming a member of Theta - for example, I'm now Day Chair for our chapter's Pref Night (Formal Recruitment 2k18, I'm comin' for ya!) and our Team Captain for the Samaritans 5k for suicide prevention. So, if these sound like the kind of opportunities you're looking for (not to mention resume lines, am I right or amirite?), it's definitely worth considering becoming a part of Greek life. In fact, most of the chapter women I know who say they never imagined themselves as a "sorority girl" took the plunge for that very reason!
  • "I want to network with like-minded women across the globe." Girl, if you want to automatically become Facebook friends or LinkedIn connections with hundreds of incredible women, then Greek life is the place for you! Not only will you meet tons of amazing Greek girls in your own chapter, but you'll also have opportunities to connect with members of your organization across the country (and Canada, if your srat is anything like Theta!). Plus, there's always your sorority's alumni network for making new connections, which definitely comes in handy when you're hunting for jobs - and friends - later in life. 

...then Greek life might be the right fit for you! So, if Greek life sounds at all interesting to you, start looking into your school's formal and informal recruitment opportunities, Google its chapters (but definitely do NOT trust Greek Rank) and get to daydreaming about your future BFFs-slash-sisters. In my opinion, it's much better to register for recruitment and drop out because it's not your thing than spend the rest of your life wondering about the sorority sisters that could have been.

The Ugly Truth About Greek Life

Okay, this is going to seem like a complete 180 from the sunshine-and-rainbows opinion of Greek life I gave before, but I feel like the definitive guide to going Greek couldn't be complete without mentioning this: Greek life is most certainly NOT all sunshine and rainbows. In fact, it has a couple of prominent drawbacks that I wish I would have known more about going into it. And here they are:

  • Greek life is tied to party culture. It is true what people say in recruitment: you CAN be in Greek life without partying. But the fact of the matter is that the majority of Greek girls do choose to attend social functions and might choose to drink alcohol when they're there. I don't know why Greek girls are judged so harshly for their party habits, since truthfully, nearly everyone in college attends a frat party at some point in their lives - but if you do something stupid at a party, word will get around, and it will reflect badly on you and the other girls in your chapter. My advice? Don't judge Greek life too harshly for having parties - there are so many other benefits that far outweigh the bummer of party culture - and be sure to follow your sorority's code whenever you choose to attend a social event. (For us, it's the five "ups," which includes don'ts like drugging up, hooking up and throwing up at mixers.) In short, always keep it classy, y'all!
  • You've probably read some scary news articles about Greek life. The hardest part of Greek life for me to reconcile is connecting the sad and scary things I hear about other chapters with the 100% positive experience I've had in my chapter. The news is full of stories where frat pledges drink themselves to death, sorority chapters haze new members by judging their naked bodies and a rape happens within the Greek system. As wonderful as Theta is (and I promise: I didn't experience ANY hazing or drinking whatsoever when I was initiated), I've even heard of sororities at my own school getting suspended for hazing or partaking in dirty rushing (i.e. when non-official, Panhel-banned parties factor into you getting into the srat). But here's the thing that those news articles - or your mom, who's probably read all 7,000 articles - won't tell you: that experience is NOT what Greek life is about. Most people think Greek life has rules that are made to be broken, but in reality, it's the opposite: it has extremely strict rules that take a major effort to be broken. Why do you think sorority houses avoid hosting parties, frats avoid letting in strange guys they don't know and you have to go through online alcohol and hazing education before joining a Greek organization? It's because Panhel is trying to protect you from a negative Greek experience because they know what good can come out of the Greek system. They know the difference between going to a frat party with your sisters and being forced to chug beers just to join a srat. Trust me when I say that the rules are working for YOU, not for the sorority sisters who haze or the frat boys who commit sexual assaults. 
  • Greek life is EXPENSIVE. Like, we're talking $1,000+ a year expensive here. This is probably the item on this list I have the most experience with myself. This year, my sorority dues for the fall semester ended up being $300 more expensive than I was told to expect, and I wasn't prepared for it at all. If I hadn't argued my way onto a three-month payment plan, I might not have been able to be a part of Theta at all this semester, and had to go inactive until the spring. So, above anything else, I wish I would have saved up some extra money last year when I knew I was about to go Greek. It really would have helped when, on the downhill from the rush of big little week and initiation, I got slammed with a $600 bill I wasn't expecting.
  • Greek life comes with a reputation. First of all, I'd like to point out that this is in no way YOUR fault for going Greek - it's the fault of the people who hold these faulty negative beliefs about Greek life. You shouldn't feel like there's anything wrong with being in a sorority just because somebody had a negative experience with it, or is jealous that they couldn't get into the chapter they wanted, or whatever personal reasons they may have for hating it. But the truth of the matter is that college still has mean girls, and those mean girls might talk smack about you or your chapter. They might say that sorority girls sleep around, party too hard or are full of air (which is funny, since on average girls in Greek life have some of the highest GPAs of anyone at their schools) simply based off one person they know from home, or a stereotype they saw in a movie (sorry Zac Efron, but I'm calling out Neighbors 2 on this one). 

"But Haley," you might be thinking, "why are you in a sorority, then?" To me, I think the prices I have to pay to be a part of Greek life are well worth the experience I've gotten out of it. 

Yes, I owe hundreds of dollars each semester to a Panhellenic organization, and I'm not entirely sure where the money goes. Yes, I pay a $15 cover each semester so I can go to frat parties and drink cheap Keystone beers (in a classy way, of course) with my sisters. Yes, I've heard whispers of that one sorority I'd never want to rush because of its dirty rush practices. But I also have met every single one of my best friends through Theta. 

I room with a Theta, whom I love half to death and swear is my long-lost twin from the womb. I serve our philanthropy, Court Appointed Special Advocates (aka CASA), with Thetas every year, and never fail to have fun doing it. I am one of the many leaders who goes into making Theta's recruitment a special experience for the hundreds of freshmen girls who choose to go Greek. And above all else, I identify with and love being a Theta more than I know how to express in words. I guess that's what it truly means to "think Theta" (kite sistas, you'll know what I mean): every word I speak, every breath I breathe, somehow takes me back to Theta. Theta and all of its unique values speak to the core of who I am - in an entirely non-cheesy way, of course ;)

I'm proud to be a Theta despite all the drawbacks of Greek life, and I'm proud to be an example of a chapter woman who's had nothing but a positive experience. Then again, I know not everyone can share my opinion of Greek life - but even if I can't convince you to rush, I hope you've at least developed a more open mind and considerate attitude toward the girls you know who are. Most of all, I hope that I could change your mind about what it means to you to "go Greek," by taking all of those outdated stereotypes and mixed media messages out of your brain and replacing them with my own personal experiences. 

What are your thoughts on going Greek your freshman year of college? LMK @haleymarieblog on social media, or in the comments below! 

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