How Fraternities Work

The Sigma Pi and Phi Kappa Sigma fraternities have a water fight on the UCLA (University of California at Los Angeles) campus, Los Angeles, California, April 3, 1957. See more pictures of college life.
Gene Lester/Getty Images

"Toga, toga, toga!" Does this familiar chant from "Animal House" bring fraternities to mind? While National Lampoon may have set the standard for the public's idea of fraternity life, these societies vary widely by campus, organization and location.

Why would anyone want to join a fraternity? On the one hand, there's the promise of parties, living college life to the fullest, meeting pretty sorority girls and indulging in wild, alcohol-soaked adventures. On the other hand, there's the chance to become a leader and embody the values and ideals of a fraternity.

In this article, we'll talk about what fraternities are, how they recruit members, and what the pledge period is like. We'll also discuss the dangers of hazing and explore fraternity life.

Fraternities have their roots in the early college curriculum, when most colleges and universities taught the classics instead of the liberal arts. Phi Beta Kappa was the first Greek-letter society, founded in 1776 at the College of William and Mary. Phi Beta Kappa was (and still is) a literary society, a place for intellectual debate. The secrecy and rituals of modern social fraternities began with Phi Beta Kappa [source: Encarta].

Social fraternities overtook literary ones as more colleges incorporated a liberal arts education. [source: Encarta]. Kappa Alpha became the first social fraternity in 1825. The first black fraternity, Alpha Phi Alpha, was founded in 1906 as a support group for minority students at Cornell University. Today, the North-American Interfraternity Conference (NIC) represents the interests of 69 fraternities. The National Pan-Hellenic Council (NPHC) oversees traditionally black sororities and fraternities.

Some social fraternities are further differentiated -- there are Jewish fraternities, Christian fraternities, and even some gay fraternities.

In addition to social fraternities, there are also professional, academic and service fraternities. These fraternities are coed. Depending on the type, they might be restricted by major or grade point average.

In the next section, we'll take a look at the recruitment process.