Going Into Debt To Go Greek

This University of Alabama sorority scandal, over which the bouncy blond women of Alpha Phi have had to take down a recruitment video and at least temporarily disappear from the Internets, reminds me about how much I don’t know about the mainstream America college experience. There were no sororities where I went to school and only two small frats. Greek life became relevant only very occasionally, like when my school decided to cut the football team and scores of guys from both frats held a candlelight vigil on the lawn.

If you were to ask me, “Hey, how much does it cost to be a Tri-Delt or whatever, anyway?” I would gawk at you for a second and then change the subject to something I know anything about, like Elena Ferrante or pipe cleaners.

Turns out the answer is, a lot. To start with, there are three-figure non-refundable registration costs (at least that includes two t-shirts!). Then, assuming you do get in somewhere, there are fees, fees, and more fees. Here’s the info for the University of Alabama (h/t Kate Dries).

Sorority members pay dues each semester. Many groups use Greek Resource Services (GRS) or another financial management company, which offers online access and monthly payment plans. … Each chapter has a financial requirement, which should be taken into consideration before pledging a sorority. Financial requirements may include membership dues, house fees and room and board if you live in the facility. It is important to note that membership fees vary by sorority.
Living In-House Fees (per semester): *Includes room, chapter meal plan, chapter fees, and national fees
High: $6,500.00
Average: $5,934.00
Living Out-of-House Fees (per semester): *Includes chapter meal plan, chapter fees, and national fees
High: $4,500.00
Average: $3,300.25
New Member (first year, typically semester pledged): *Includes one time fees associated with pledging and initiation
High: $950.00
Average: $472.00

Yowza. Of course, college itself is much more expensive than it needs to be. As some of the parents point out on this College Confidential thread about whether anything justifies the expenses of frats and sororities, they pay less for their kids than they would if their kids hadn’t pledged. Redditors concur that frat living can be cheaper than standard on-campus life.

Still, these costs may seem prohibitive; to many they probably are. To others, they’re a decent investment. Consider this first-person account from a Jezebel commenter:

As a sorority member and VP finance/ Treasurer of my sorority while I was in college (a top tier sorority at an elite southern school), I can fully attest that it can cost big $$$. Our official dues were over 1k per semester (which compared to other schools is actually on the lower end). Dues are just the start of how much it costs. Even though dues go to pay for events, each member will spend at least 1k-2k more per year for outfits, costumes, event tshirts, alcohol, Rush related items, “dates” with potential new members, big/little “dates”, gifts for your little, and God knows what else. I would have girls come to me crying about finding a way to set up payment plans or get scholarships. We would do as much to help as we could (the university collected dues so somtimes things were out of our control). …
Being in a sorority was really the great social equilizer for me. I grew up in rural IL and was incredibly poor. I had no idea how to function in the world I would need to if I wanted to have a job (that actually paid all the bills and turned into a successful career) after college or be remotely successful to the degree I wanted to be (I know that many people make this transition without joining Greek life). It wasn’t just learning how to function in a culture that feels completely foreign to the one you grew up in, it also afforded me countless connections (and still does years after graduating), lessons in social interaction, panels on careers I barely knew existed, help with resumes and interviews, and so many things that I don’t have room to put here. After I was raped in college, I was able to get funds from my sorority to get counseling that I desperately needed and had no way to afford (this was before parity laws that actually made a difference), and many of the girls provided endless emotional support. Even in grad school and in my current job, I have been helped by my sorority’s alum network (both personally and professionally).

Are sororities more expensive than frats? Though I couldn’t find a straight up answer, it sure seems like being a sister comes with lots of extra unforeseen costs, including the cost of potentially racking up five-figures of debt:

I spent the most money trying to compete. Not necessarily with my sisters, but with girls in other sororities. I also spent a good amount of money accepting every invitation that was thrown my way. If someone wanted to go out to eat — I went. I partied five of the seven night of the week that first year and it definitely added up.
I did some “research” for this post and went back through all my credit card statements from this period in my life. All the expenses broke down as follows:
  • $1,680.00: Monthly dues @ $70 a pop for 24 months (I was only in the sorority for two years before I transferred schools)
  • $150.00: One time “initiation fee”
  • $306.00: Gifts for Big/Little Sisters
  • $140.00: 10 different t-shirts @ $10 a pop for 14 different events
  • $170.00: 1 year of outfits for recruitment
  • $70.00: Fines. Not including the $100.00 I donated to an Alcohol Awareness speaker because I got caught drinking on the bus…
Grand Total = $2516.00 over two years
And that’s just what I spent on Greek related expenses alone. This doesn’t include the many outfits for all of the cocktail mixers/formals that required special attire, or the money spent socializing outside of the sorority either. It adds up. …
I had friends who rushed at bigger state universities and dues were even triple that. Per Year. This means at a bigger school only the truly wealthy can afford to go Greek. … After college I found myself in nearly $10,000.00 worth of debt. Which I didn’t pay off until I was 24.

What’s your take? Did you try Greek Life and decide it was worth the financial sacrifice? Or, when you saw the price tag, did you back away slowly, as from an unexploded bomb?

This story is part of our College Month series.