Panhellenic (sorority) recruitment

This week’s Weekly Message for First Year families offers some advice for parents/families of women who will be participating in the virtual Panhellenic recruitment process (what we called “sorority rush” when I was in school), which begins in January. Note that today’s post is about Panhellenic recruitment. For young women interested in NPHC chapters (i.e., historically Black sororities), the intake process for those chapters is currently being worked on; you can read more here. We hope to have an equivalent piece for men’s fraternity recruitment in the coming weeks.

I wanted to share this now so you have the opportunity to talk to your daughters over the break if you choose. But before I begin, let me make my annual disclaimer: I am truly neutral about Greek life, so this is not an attempt to persuade anyone that they should do it, nor do I want to dissuade anyone who is interested. The fact is that Greek life is one of the things I get the most questions about, so I share this info in hope that it will be helpful. And over the years, having witnessed a lot of recruitments, I know there will be students who might make choices and not understand the consequences, and my goal is to save our ladies angst if I can help it. I don’t work in sorority and fraternity life, so I will also make the disclaimer that these opinions are mine, not Wake’s.

This year, recruitment is all going to be virtual, nothing in person. While our Office of Fraternity and Sorority life will be working out the process – and some of that will be worked on up until recruitment begins, the general gist is below.

The Potential New Members, or PNMs are assigned into groups. Each group attends every virtual sorority event on the first and second day (January 16-17) so they can have exposure to all groups. After the first day, the mutual selection process begins: all PNMs will rank the chapters based on who they would like to get to know better, and the chapters also rank the PNMs based on who they are most interested in.

On days 2-4 (Jan. 19-21), PNMs will be invited back to fewer virtual events as they and the chapters continue to submit their preferences and narrow down their options. During any given round, a PNM may find herself released by a sorority she was interested in (i.e., they are not invited back to the next virtual event for that group). 

Sometimes PNMs are “fully released,” which means they are not invited back to any of the virtual events (this is typically a small group, 3% of students last year). While the goal of sorority recruitment is to place as many PNMs as possible, it is not a guarantee that a woman will receive a bid to join a chapter. 

On Preference Night (Jan. 21), women can rank up to 2 chapters that they are still being considered for (though it is possible they will only have one active option, or they could be fully released). Bids (or notifications they are not going to be invited to join a chapter) will go out on January 22nd at 3:30 pm and women will be invited to a Virtual Chapter Bid Day celebration at the same time.

When I talk to female students about the process, I do it by story and with a visual.

example of what recruitment bids look like

I stink at math, so I need to use round numbers. Assume there are 400 PNMs. We have eight sororities. Each sorority will have a new member (pledge) class of approximately the same size; the recruitment process is built to place as many women as possible. But that does not mean every woman can join her top-choice chapter. 

Throughout my 32 year association with Wake, there has always been an informal ranking of which sorority is the most desirable, and which are less so (though the most/least popular can change from year to year). Most PNMs are high achieving students who excelled in high school in terms of their leadership positions, club membership, etc. So many of our PNMs enter recruitment expecting that things will go their way (since they always have in the past). The reality is that we might have 400 girls who would love to be a member of the same one or two sororities, and that math doesn’t work.

If you have 400 girls vying for 100 spots in the perceived top 2 sororities, not every woman will get her first choice, or even her second choice. It is not uncommon on day 2 or 3 of recruitment to have women who are not invited back to the virtual events for the sorority(ies) they wanted to be invited back to. Not being invited back to a desired sorority never feels good. 

Sometimes, when their feelings are hurt, PNMs withdraw from the whole sorority recruitment process, thinking “If I can’t be a [insert sorority name here], I don’t want to be anything at all,” assuming (wrongly, in my opinion) that they can only be happy in certain sororities and not others. If your Deac finds herself in this situation, please encourage her to pause before deciding to withdraw. Withdrawal can be a hasty decision she might later regret. 

I always urge PNMs to stick with the process and see it through. Don’t drop out if you don’t get invited back to your first or second choice of group. I am convinced that every single sorority has a wide range of sisters. They are not monolithic. There will be studious ladies and party ladies and people on both sides of the political aisle and from various states or religious practices, etc. in every single group. So in my mind it is a myth to think that you can only find sisterhood in certain groups. And like the Harry Potter sorting hat, ladies seem to land in the chapters they are well suited for if they will just trust the process. 

Sometimes there are women who don’t want to accept a bid to a newer or less established sorority – they want to join a chapter with a more established presence on campus. When I was a student, a new sorority came to campus, and women were unsure of what it would be like to join the new group, when the older groups seemed cooler. Several of my freshmen hallmates decided to join that group and build it from the ground up – and it is now a strong, successful chapter. The bonus was that an existing bunch of friends stayed together in the same chapter! 

So in the event that your daughter does not get asked back to sorority X but gets asked back to sorority Y, urge her to give Y a try. An upperclassman Deac mom wrote our office a few years ago to tell us her daughter had just been named to an important position within her sorority, and mom wanted to share this bit of very sage advice:

“After [my daughter’s] rocky recruitment experience, she found the absolute right sorority for her. I know you will get calls and emails about recruitment from anxious parents come January – I was one of them. But, I wanted to pass along this information in hopes that it might bring some reassurance to another freshman mom and daughter to participate fully in the process and the outcome will be as it should – even if it feels otherwise in January.”

Parting thoughts:

If your daughter is going to go through recruitment, encourage her to trust the process and the outcome, and don’t get caught up in preconceived notions of where she should be.

Encourage your daughter to consider all chapters, not just the ones she is already familiar with. Your daughter may know a couple of members from a chapter through her classes or other student organizations. But slight familiarity with a single chapter does not mean that chapter is the best place for her. Remind her to keep an open mind as she gets to know everyone.

I got this advice from a mom a year or two ago: the Potential New Members “need to be told at least a million times that the girls in the sororities show the same love to every girl going through rush, and that there should be no assumptions whatsoever on the part of the girls.” Help your daughters realize that friendliness or a “see you tomorrow!” is not a verbal contract or implied invitation back the next day. (Families of current sorority sisters, it might also be helpful to remind your daughters of how their words can be construed, so choose wisely).

Not everyone gets their first choice. During recruitment, urge your daughters to be mindful of other women on their hall who might not be having as positive an experience, and to offer support. And if your daughter has a hard time during the recruitment period, encourage her to seek support from one of the many resources available to her (her Greek Recruitment Counselor or GRC, her RA, the Counseling Center, etc.)

Lastly, Panhellenic Recruitment leadership has asked their Recruitment Counselors to have three touchpoints (PNM Assembly, before winter break and during winter break) with members in the group before the recruitment process begins on January 16th. I encourage you to ask your student to take advantage of these meetings to ask questions about the new process. Some areas their GRCs can assist them with would be: how to use Zoom, answering questions about chapter interactions during Zoom calls and how the flow of the week will go.Their GRC will be their best resource during the weeks leading up to recruitment and when recruitment begins

Good luck to any of your young women who will be embarking on this process!


— by Betsy Chapman, Ph.D. (’92, MA ’94), with an assist from the Office of Fraternity and Sorority Life


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