Joining the Greek community means "opportunities for leadership development, service, brotherhood, academic achievement, networking and social engagement," "a home away from home" and "an opportunity to belong to one of the world's largest lifelong, personal development organizations," according to the North-American Interfraternity Conference, a trade association representing 5,500 men's fraternities at more than 800 U.S. college campuses.
In the 2010-2011 school year, the most recent year for which data are available, more than 300,000 men belonged to undergraduate fraternities, gave 2.25 million hours of community service and raised $14.6 million for charity. The National Pan-Hellenic Conference, which represents 2,986 women's fraternity and sorority chapters on 655 campuses, says women's fraternities provide value beyond the college years, by helping individuals develop their potential "through leadership opportunities and group effort." While you may not be able to put a price on benefits like these, you can put a price on the many expenses associated with membership.
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Room and Board
The room and board expenses associated with belonging to a sorority or fraternity vary by school and chapter. At the University of North Carolina (UNC), for example, the average cost for a fraternity member's room, board and dues is $2,970 per semester but ranges from $1,600 to $5,000. For sorority members, the average cost is $2,987 per semester and the range is $2,575 to $3,407. Living in a Greek house is not necessarily more expensive than living in student housing and buying a university meal plan. For example, in Westwood, the upscale Los Angeles neighborhood where UCLA resides, Greek housing can actually save students money. The costs for both seem to be steadily rising as well, but there are ways to combat rising college costs.
New Member Dues and Active Member Dues
At UNC, new members pay $600-$900 in new member dues in the semester when they join. Thereafter, the average cost is $200 to $300 per semester. Dues consist of chapter dues, national dues and pan-hellenic dues. This money helps cover expenses, such as liability insurance, house upkeep, scholarships and social events. Some chapters have payment plans that help members meet their dues obligations.
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Some chapters impose fines on individual members for breaking rules. You might have to pay up if you miss a mandatory meeting or activity, or don't meet GPA standards. Recruitment infractions can also result in fines, which might cost $50 per violation. Members may also be fined for not doing assigned housework or for drinking alcohol at events where alcohol consumption is not allowed. Some chapters allow these fines to be paid in service hours. Also, Greek houses can face fines for fire code violations, trash violations and failure to submit required paperwork on time. In a worst-case scenario, a house could face expensive police fines for violations of city laws, such as serving alcohols to minors and exceeding house occupancy limits during parties.
Expenses associated with social activities can be difficult to estimate before joining a sorority or fraternity. They can vary significantly by chapter but they're also the expense you technically have the most control over. However, just because it isn't mandatory to donate to every charity event and buy a new dress for every dance and a new t-shirt for every function, doesn't mean you won't feel like these expenses are required when you're overtly or subtly pressured into them. Social expenses can add hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars to the cost of "going Greek."
You might be expected to spend money on clothes with your chapter's colors and letters, gifts for your brothers or sisters, event tickets, outings to restaurants and bars, limousine rentals for formal nights out and professional event photos. In some chapters, you could face pressure to buy designer clothes and accessories to maintain the group's self-styled image.
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Students who take to heart the lifelong membership component of the Greek system will find themselves with sorority- and fraternity-related expenses long after they graduate. "Adults spend an astronomical amount of money as members of alumni chapters of fraternal organizations, especially in the African-American community," says Crystal L. Kendrick, president of Cincinnati marketing firm The Voice of Your Customer.
"Many professionals join alumni chapters at costs that could easily reach $1,000," she says. In addition to joining fees, there are event fees. Regional and national sorority conventions that give graduates an opportunity to meet members of all ages of their chapters from other colleges, but it costs money to travel to and participate in these events. Kendrick adds that supporting various fundraising efforts throughout the year and purchasing expensive paraphernalia can further add to alumni expenses.
Fraternity and sorority members are more likely to graduate and, as a group, have slightly higher GPAs than their non-Greek peers. Beyond graduation, if you nurture the social connections you'll develop as a member of the Greek system, you can have access to a lifelong network that can help you get a job and advance in your career. Numerous politicians, Fortune 500 executives, Supreme Court justices and American presidents belonged to fraternities or sororities.
The Bottom Line
The expenses associated with Greek life may not be that different than what you'd pay as a non-Greek student purchasing the school's room and board package and participating in other extracurricular activities, such as sports, clubs, university-wide events and social gatherings. Also, Greek scholarships are sometimes available to help offset college expenses. Expenses do vary significantly by chapter, so if money is a concern, find out as much as you can about the costs you'll face before you pledge, and decide whether those expenses are worth it for the experiences you'll have and the connections you'll gain through Greek life.