Emily Kile, 22, is a product of the Butler University Greek system. Her grandparents met on the front lawn of her grandmother’s sorority house in 1959 in Indianapolis, Indiana, and her parents met at her father’s fraternity house in 1985. When Kile joined her mother’s sorority, Kappa Kappa Gamma, in 2011, her mother was thrilled.
“It had been so special for me and such a part of my life,” Kim Kile, 48, says. “I thought, ‘There are going to be some things that we get to share that not all mothers and daughters get to share.’”
While the Kile family represents a Greek life success story, being in sorority isn’t cheap. Women pay national and chapter dues, plus new member fees, which all vary by organization. At the University of Central Florida, the average new sorority member pays $1,280 per semester, and the average new member at the University of Georgia pays $1,570.
On top of dues, there are less obvious costs including lettered apparel, recruitment clothing, gifts for younger members and sometimes, fines for missing events. All these expenses may leave potential members and their parents wondering, is it worth it?
Here are some ways sorority expenses can pay off.
Sororities began in the 1870s as academically focused organizations at a time when few women attended college. In first-generation sororities, women were fined for not practicing their academic work in front of each other, with the idea that if they practiced, they would perform better, says Diana Turk, author of “Bound by a Mighty Vow: Sisterhood and Women’s Fraternities, 1870-1920.”
Sororities have evolved to be more social organizations, but they still emphasize academics. Many chapters set minimum GPA expectations and track chapter averages.
“In having those guidelines for me, I was able to prioritize my studies and extracurriculars in a way I probably wouldn’t have if I hadn’t gone Greek,” says Katie Oldenburg, an alumna of Alpha Xi Delta at Rider University in Lawrenceville, New Jersey. “I was always a pretty good student, but when I first joined, my grades actually went up.”
Beyond grades, sorority women are more likely to graduate on time compared to their non-Greek counterparts, according to 2014 findings published in the Journal of Behavioral and Experimental Economics.
Housing costs vary by chapter, but the price of living in a sorority house is often much less than living in a dorm.
For example, Delta Gamma is the least expensive sorority house to live in at Butler, at $2,302 per semester including room and board. In comparison, the least expensive university housing options are Ross and Schwitzer Halls, at $5,660 per semester for room and board. Butler students are required to live on campus freshman through junior years, making Greek life the more affordable option.
In addition to the potential to save on housing costs, many women enjoy the opportunity to live with dozens of their friends.
“The house provided more security since I knew who I was living with, and we had a house mother living onsite,” says Amanda Kane, a Kappa Kappa Gamma alumna from the University of New Mexico. “I was able to share books with my sisters who were either in my classes or who had taken them the previous semester, so that cut down on expenses as well.”
Leadership, philanthropy and networking
Sorority women serve in leadership positions on their chapters’ local and national boards. These involved members are more likely to benefit from their Greek organization, according to a 2011 study by the Association of Fraternity/Sorority Advisors.
Most chapters have a member in charge of philanthropy whose job it is to coordinate volunteer efforts. In 2013-2014, the 26 National Panhellenic Conference sororities raised a total of nearly $5.8 million for various charities and spent almost 1 million hours doing community service.
Emily Kile served as the vice president of standards her sophomore year, tasked with enforcing the chapter’s rules among her peers.
“It can be hard to do that with women who are your own age,” she says. “I learned a lot about conflict resolution and general people skills.”
After graduation, sorority connections can often lead to job opportunities. Kane, now 31, got her first job after college doing communications for a health care system by networking with a woman in a different sorority.
“A girl from the sorority that was actually across the street from mine worked at the company,” Kane says. “She was able to expedite my application when I applied for the job.”
While the academic, philanthropic and professional benefits of sororities are certainly valuable, many women feel the lifelong friendships alone make Greek life worth it.
Kim Kile still considers her sorority sisters some of her closest friends. She sees some weekly and others at annual homecoming celebrations and Butler basketball games.
“It’s like we’re sitting on the red stairs again talking on a Sunday morning or a Sunday afternoon,” Kile says. “You never feel like 20 years has passed.”
Greek letters image via Shutterstock.
Infographic by Brian Yee