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What do university students have to do to be accepted in a sorority or fraternity?

The tradition of ‘rush week’ is centuries-old but has risen to prominence in recent years after receiving attention on TikTok.

The secretive entry process for sorority and fraternity groups
Hyoung ChangGetty

Last year the phenomenon of college ‘rush’ events became a major talking point on TikTok as videos posted by freshman students went viral. The sorority rush week at the University of Alabama is one of the country’s largest and more than 2,500 students come to campus early in order to participate in the recruitment process.

American universities have long been home to myriad sorority and fraternity groups; student organisations that claim to offer social and academic support for their members. However the process is shrouded in mystery and there have been countless reports of discrimination and abuse.

What is college rush week?

There are currently more than nine million students in the United States who belong to members of sororities and fraternities. The tradition is thought to have begun in the 1700s with the Phi Beta Kappa Society and has swelled to become a huge presence on the campuses of most major colleges.

Rush is the annual ritual by which new recruits are inducted into the organisation, typically by proving themselves to be a suitable member of the exclusive groups. It is typically centred around a series of social events spanning one or several weeks, ostensibly for the purpose of allowing prospective and existing members to get to know each other.

Students can engage in the process at multiple sororities and fraternities across rush week, before the houses themselves will offer ‘bids’ to the applicants that they feel are deserving of a place.

What does sorority rush involve?

Education advice site ThoughtCo outlines some of the differences between the sorority (female) and fraternity (male) organisations. In sororities, most new students are expected to visit each house in order to meet the members and better understand each other’s personalities.

There is typically a brief interview process, which may involve multiple stages for applicants who are deemed a good fit for the house. Existing members often give a performance of some type, like a group song or choreographed dance.

Successful students will be offered a place, while some unlucky ones will not receive bids to join a sorority. However, there is nothing stopping unsuccessful students from applying again the following year and many sororities also hold informal rush events throughout the year for those who missed out.

What happens at fraternity rush?

Fraternity rush is typically less formal with a looser interview process and more casual ‘get-to-know’ events. However the principle remains the same, giving existing members a chance to assess new recruits and prospective members to judge their own suitability.

This process can consist of events like parties and barbeques, or for the sportier fraternities a game of touch football. As is the case in sororities, once the rush week has finished the house will offer bids to those who they want to join.

After this point, however, the process can sometimes differ from the sorority’s. Applicants who accept become pledges and embark on a separate process to prove themselves a worthy member of the house. This can vary hugely between groups, but it can take as long as 18 months before a pledge ascends to fully-fledged member of the fraternity.


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