It’s a jungle out there.
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Being in a sorority can come with a variety of pressures — the pressure to maintain a certain grade-point average, for example, or the pressure to grow hair that blows perfectly in the desert breeze. But before a college woman can experience the myriad pressures of sorority life, she must first survive a process called sorority recruitment. Recruitment takes different forms at every school, but it most commonly consists of a week spent traipsing from Greek house to Greek house in a fancy dress, being chanted at, and trying to talk a large group of strange women into liking you. To capture this singular experience, the Cut spoke to eight sorority women about what sorority recruitment was like for them.
The One Who Was Brainwashed in High School
I went to an all-girls’ high school in Kansas City, Missouri, and probably 80 percent of my graduating class was going to go through sorority recruitment. Girls started to get ready in April — they worked out, lots of people dyed their hair, and there was a lot of pressure to clean up our Facebook pages. They made it seem like sororities wanted the most perfect girl — like not only did your hair have to be good and your nails done, but you had to be well-rounded. I was super stressed-out, especially because I didn’t want to come back to high-school reunions and be the one girl who didn’t get into a sorority.
Going through recruitment was really weird. Going into each house, I kind of slapped a smile on and said what I hoped they wanted to hear. That sounds terrible — you’re obviously going through the process to be yourself and to find a house that fits you, but for me there was a lot of pressure just to get into a house. You’re talking to a bunch of girls who are just there to judge you, and you don’t really know what they’re looking for. So sometimes I felt like I had to be fake.
Daisy Weems, 22, University of Missouri alum
The One Who Bought a Whole New Wardrobe and Then Realized Nothing Matters
[Before rush] I literally went shopping every single day. I wanted to get an outfit for every day, and I didn’t really know what to get. I had some older friends in sororities, so I talked to them about what kinds of outfits I should be buying. I planned out an outfit for every day — I went and bought an outfit for every day. I got my hair done. I got it colored. I got my nails done. It was an intense preparation …
[My sorority was] middle tier or whatever. I don’t even fucking remember, because it’s so stupid. I graduated, and I went back for homecoming, and I found out that my sorority is now in the “Core Four,” which is the best four houses. It hasn’t changed in like, years, and now apparently all of a sudden, [my sorority is] Core Four. It’s so funny because they’re so fixated on it, and I’m like, “Oh my god, when we were here, we did not give a shit.”
I work with a girl who was in the top, top sorority at Cornell, and I was in the middle-tier. We both work at the same place and she’s trying so hard to be my friend. It’s like, “Ha, at school, you literally ignored me and acted like I didn’t exist.” So it’s hilarious. When you come into the real world, you realize how little [sororities] matter.
Trish S., 21, Cornell alum
The One Who Had No Idea What She Was Doing
I decided to go through recruitment really late, so I felt very behind. There were girls who had been prepping for this for all of high school, if not longer, and that was intimidating — it was almost like showing up for an interview and everyone else has been prepping for six months and you sort of maybe looked over the material a week ago.
I thought they’d want someone well-dressed, and I had no fashion expertise at all; I didn’t even own a sundress. And I thought they’d expect me to be polished and put-together, and by that I don’t mean my ability to articulate my thoughts, but more the idea that my hair would be perfect and my makeup would be done.
There’s an image you have in your head of what a sorority girl is, and you’re trying to fit that image, but you’re also trying not to fit it because it’s not a good image. You think they want you to be x, y, and z, so instead of being yourself you’re freaking out about how you can fit that expectation when you don’t even really know what it is. It’s a lot of pressure to go into every day feeling like you have to be 100 percent and knowing these people are either going to like you or cut you and there’s nothing you can do. Honestly, it’s sort of a shitty process. It worked out for me, but if I had the option to go back and do it again, I don’t know if I would.
Sara B., 24, University of Texas alum
The One Who Learned How to Do Her Makeup on YouTube
I think that there definitely are a few different types of women who go through recruitment. There are the ones who buy all new outfits, learn how to do makeup and do their hair, and watch YouTube videos and all of that stuff, because that was me as a freshman. I was that crazy, obsessed one over winter break. I learned how to do makeup for the first time for recruitment.
I think, in my head, I thought that they wanted someone who was super bubbly and open. Someone who was really excited about this experience, and someone who looked really put-together and like they knew what they were doing. I feel like I was able to talk really well and make good small talk. But I wanted to make sure that I also looked presentable and like I knew what I was doing. And I know, for me, when I look good, or when I think I look good, I feel really good. So a lot of it was knowing that if my hair was done and I had makeup on, I would feel a little bit better and less nervous.
The three top houses, if you buy into the ranking system, there’s the one that’s the stereotypical blonde chapter, there’s the fun and outgoing and quirky one, and then there’s the rich one. And then all the rest of the chapters kind of fall under those three big stereotypes and are just kind of lesser versions of it. It’s a very bizarre dynamic.
Bailey, 21, Northwestern alum
The One Who Went on to Become Director of Recruitment
Neither of my parents were Greek, so I didn’t really understand what a sorority was. Getting ready for recruitment, I remember I wanted to look good and I wanted to look put-together, but I also wanted to look like myself. I ended up getting a bid from a sorority I really liked, so I enjoyed recruitment. I know a lot of women who didn’t though.
I think there’s something to be said about the way sorority members talk to you for a limited amount of time and then make comments or scores based on the brief interaction you’ve had. And I’ll openly admit that the matching outfits thing is pretty silly. Why would you make every single person wear the same pair of J.Crew shorts? And there are still some places where the train of thought is Well, she’s really pretty and she’ll look good in our new pledge class and she’ll be able to impress guys at parties. I’m not defending every chapter, but a lot of chapters are starting to shift the focus to having high-quality conversations about shared interests and values.
When I was running recruitment, I wanted to spend the most time on being better at conversations and not being awkward, so I worked on that a lot with my chapter. I think it was nice for me to help run recruitment because I had the ability to help my chapter focus on things that I thought were most important, which were not what the potential member is wearing or what she looks like.
Natalie Rooney, 25, University of Missouri alum
The One Who Didn’t Feel Wanted
I rushed as a freshman. I lived in an engineering dorm, and I had pretty much exclusively male friends, so I decided to rush because I wanted more girlfriends. I remember rush as being really fun until probably halfway through, when the big cuts started happening. And then it was not fun for me at all.
From “set one,” which is the first day, to “set two,” it cuts from twelve houses to nine houses. You can have a maximum of nine houses ask you back. So it was nice and really flattering that I got asked back to nine houses that I really liked. And then from “set two” to “set three,” again, I got asked back to six houses, which was the maximum amount of houses. And they were mostly houses that I liked. And then when more cuts started happening, like to “pref night,” I was really upset and pissed that I thought things were going well at certain houses and they evidently were not.
So it was hard for me to feel so wanted, and then it seemed like that went away pretty quickly. But my mom was in a sorority, and she said I should just like stick with it, and I’m really happy I did. I think a lot of times people tell the story of like “It was so perfect.” I ended up in the house that I wanted to be in, luckily, but it was not fun for me.
Chloe, 22, Northwestern alum
The One With Conflicting Feminist Values
At Barnard, our recruitment process is a little bit different than state schools because we do sorority recruitment in the spring semester, as soon as we get back from winter break. I spent all of winter break freaking out about what I was going to wear. I went to every store. I wanted to wear something memorable, so they’d be like, “Oh, that’s the girl that wore that dress.”
I go to a women’s college, and I obviously care deeply about women’s issues — my thesis is about the presentation of female bodies in advertising. So I understand that there’s something fundamentally wrong with mandating how people dress and how they look. I do think it’s bad that appearance factors into recruitment, but honestly, when it comes to women, appearance factors into everything because we have higher expectations for women’s appearance than for men’s.
But honestly, if a girl wants to join a sorority, she has to be pretty. We don’t have a look we go for — we’re not saying, ‘Only tall, skinny blondes.’ But she has to look put-together, your outfits have to be stylish, you have to have your hair done, and you have to have makeup on. You can’t look like you didn’t try.
S., 21, Barnard College student
The One Who Still Goes Back to Help With Recruitment
I stayed in [my sorority] all four years, and I became the recruitment chair. It was probably my favorite part of being in college. I’m on the advisory board now, so I still go back to help every year. We get to decorate the house and run workshops to train everybody on what to expect for recruitment. Because it’s pretty overwhelming. I mean, there are upwards of 800 women who go through [recruitment] — or even more than that sometimes — every year. It’s a lot of conversation happening and some people are more shy than others. Some people are more excited about it, and some are scared. So, it’s a lot of calming fears and teaching people to use their time wisely in conversations. We always did quality conversations over quantity. It doesn’t matter if you find out 100 facts about a woman if you’re not getting into anything deeper about her.
Also, we didn’t want to project an image that wasn’t us. Because what’s the point in lying? It’s just like if you’re trying to make a friend in real life. You don’t lie and say, “Oh, I like all these things,” because when it comes to hanging out with them, you have nothing in common.
Recruitment starts the week before school picks up, so you’re there on campus for a couple of extra weeks with everybody. And that’s a really nice feeling, being in the house with all of these women you don’t always see all the time, because you’re stuck in class and you don’t always have time to hang out with everyone. So you’re all under one roof, working toward a common goal of finding new sisters. So, it’s nice.
Rachel E., 23, Cornell alum
These interviews have been edited and condensed for clarity.