Greek life at colleges comes with a cost

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When a student decides to go Greek, the cost of joining in addition to the fees due every semester can pile up.

"The sororities at USC average around $1,800 per semester in dues," says Michelle Yramategui, 22, a recent grad from the University of Southern California and Alpha Phi member, who used her internship money to pay for chapter fees. "It was really expensive, so my parents helped me out with a quarter of it."

The California native says she didn't know the exact cost of her sorority until part way through "rush" – the sorority recruitment process.

This is a fairly common practice among Greek organizations since their philosophy is making a decision based on social fit, not cost, says Mark Koepsell, executive director and CEO of the Association of Fraternity and Sorority Advisors, an association that represents university professionals that oversee Greek life on more than 700 campuses across the U.S.

Discover the 10 most expensive U.S. universities this year:

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Top 10 most expensive colleges (2016-2017)
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Top 10 most expensive colleges (2016-2017)

University of Southern California, $52,217

(Geri Lavrov via Getty Images)

Franklin and Marshall College, $52,290

(Photo by John Greim/LightRocket via Getty Images)

Tufts University, $52,430

(Photo by David L. Ryan/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)

Amherst College, $52,476

(Bob Krist via Getty Images)

University of Chicago, $52,491

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Sarah Lawrence College, $52,550

(Photo by Andrew Lichtenstein/Corbis via Getty Images)

Trinity College, $52,760

(Harvey Meston/Archive Photos/Getty Images)

Harvey Mudd College, $52,916

 (Photo by Ted Soqui/Corbis via Getty Images)

Vassar College, $53,090

Columbia University, $55,056

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"They want them to make a decision on fit – a fit leading to that concept of brotherhood and sisterhood. And price being secondary," Koepsell says.

But more schools, Koepsell says, are starting to shift away from this tradition and list the average cost among chapters on campus.

A handful of colleges and universities – usually state schools – post the chapter fees per semester for each sorority and fraternity on their website.

The University of Central Florida, where 7 percent of undergraduates participate in Greek life, publishes cost comparisons of all its fraternities and sororities.

"We started publishing this information at the request of parents and students who were interested in the Panhellenic recruitment process," Briant K. Coleman, a UCF spokesman, said in an email.

Since the university began the practice four years ago, Coleman said: "It has had a positive impact on the Panhellenic community because it lets students know the financial commitment, so they are better able to plan."

According to data from the 2015-2016 school year, the least amount a UCF student would have to pay as a new member of a sorority is $956 per semester at Delta Zeta, compared with the highest amount – $2,346 – at Delta Delta Delta. The Tri Delta membership costs more because meals are included in the plan.

For joining a fraternity at UCF, the cost for a new member ranges from $300 at Theta Chi to $895 at Kappa Sigma per semester.

Experts say membership fees for chapters vary among different campuses, costing from a couple hundred of dollars to more than $3,000 a semester – depending on the school and chapter.

Chapter fees for members who aren't living in the house may include parlor fees, dues to the local and national chapter; social fees, a one-time new pledge fee and other charges. Dues follow a monthly schedule and scholarships are often available.

At the University of Alabama, where some of its sorority houses are featured by Southern Living magazine, the highest price for a member living out of house was $3,400. That amount doesn't include one-time fees associated with pledging.

The USC grad says big schools such as hers, with a well-known football program and an established Greek system, tend to have higher dues.

"It'll probably be more expensive, but it'll include a lot more things like food and having this house that you can go to all the time," says Yramategui, who took advantage of A-Phi's meal program. "I never had to go grocery shopping or cook anything."

Koepsell from the Association of Fraternity and Sorority Advisors says real estate can also be a factor when it comes to costs and "beautiful houses."

Check out the colleges with the most billionaire alumni:

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Top 12 colleges with the most billionaire alumni
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Top 12 colleges with the most billionaire alumni

#13: UCLA

Number of billionaires: 5

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#12: Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Number of billionaires: 5

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#11: Duke University

Number of billionaires: 5

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#10: University of Michigan 

Number of billionaires: 6

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#9: Dartmouth College

Number of billionaires: 6

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#8: Columbia University

Number of billionaires: 6

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#7: Princeton University 

Number of billionaires: 7

Photo credit: Getty

#6: Cornell University

Number of billionaires: 9

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#5: University of Southern California

Number of billionaires: 11

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#4: Stanford University 

Number of billionaires: 13

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#3: Yale University

Number of billionaires: 14

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#2: Harvard University 

Number of billionaires: 14

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#1: University of Pennsylvania 

Number of billionaires: 21

Photo credit: Getty

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"The buildings at USC are gorgeous, beautiful houses and just like in the private market, you would pay more for a house like that," he says, adding that chapters that lease a place tend to be the least expensive and prices are set according to the local real estate market.

Experts say, for the most part, fraternities and sororities at the same campus tend to have similar costs in chapter fees.

"There wasn't such a large discrepancy among the other fraternities," says Matisyahu Goren, 27, a college grad who pledged to Sigma Chi at California State University—Northridge and paid his dues with the money he earned as a basketball coach.

Goren says the cost of pledging and the associated fees with being an active member at his fraternity were "clearly communicated" to him before he made a decision.

For prospective students and families interested in learning more about the cost of participating in Greek life, experts recommend contacting the fraternity and sorority advising office on campus.

"Each individual council or chapter can provide that information. Additionally, each organization provides that information to interested students during the recruitment process," Joe Wheeless, assistant director of student leader development at the College of William & Mary, told U.S. News in an email.

William & Mary is one school that doesn't list the average chapter fees among sororities and fraternities on its recruitment website.

"The most detailed information is available during the recruitment process as the fees can change from year to year," Wheeless said.

Trying to fund your education? Get tips and more in the U.S. News Paying for College center.

Copyright 2016 U.S. News & World Report

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