College students who join fraternities or sororities may get lower grades


April 20, 2017

Joining fraternities and sororities distracts college students from their coursework. A new study suggests students’ grades may suffer and they select easier classes to accommodate Greek activities.

The issue: Some college students consider fraternities and sororities an important part of campus life. Across the United States, hundreds of thousands of young adults are members of Greek-letter organizations, many of which exist primarily as social groups that also do community service and raise money for charity. There is debate, however, about whether these fraternities and sororities actually detract more than they add to students’ college experience and university missions.

Fraternities in particular have long been associated with hazing, excessive drinking, sexual assault and other dangerous behaviors. In March 2017, the University of Connecticut banned the Kappa Sigma fraternity from campus after a woman was killed following a fraternity party.

It’s unclear how joining a fraternity or sorority influences graduation or job-placement rates. There is limited published research on such topics. A 2011 study examined students during their first year of college and found no difference between fraternity and sorority members and students without a Greek affiliation in areas such as critical thinking and cognitive activity. But a new study indicates Greek affiliation may hurt academic performance.

An academic study worth reading: “The Effects of Greek Affiliation on Academic Performance,” published in Economics of Education Review, 2017.

Study summary: Andrew De Donato of Duke University and James Thomas of Yale University look at how college students’ grades are affected by membership in a fraternity or sorority. For the study, De Donato and Thomas focus on Duke, which prohibits students from joining Greek organizations until after the fall semester of their freshman year. This rule allowed the two authors to compare students’ performance before and after becoming members.

For the study, they reviewed student transcripts and examined data collected by the university’s Campus Life and Learning (CLL) Survey of students entering undergraduate programs in 2001 and 2002. The vast majority of the 1,008 students in the sample are white, and more than one-third come from families earning more than $200,000 a year.

Key takeaways:

  • Joining a fraternity is associated with a slightly lower grade-point average during the spring semester of the freshman year. Also, fraternity members “strategically choose leniently graded courses in this semester to mitigate the negative effects of affiliation.”
  • Sorority members appear to be more distracted from their classes during spring semesters after their freshman year, when they are involved in recruiting and educating new members. During these semesters, being a sorority member is associated with a slightly lower grade-point average. Sorority members choose easier courses during these semesters.
  • Students of different academic abilities are affected differently. Students with lower SAT scores “experience strong negative effects.”

Other resources:

Related research:


We welcome feedback. Please contact us here.

Citation: De Donato, Andrew; Thomas, James. “The Effects of Greek Affiliation on Academic Performance,” Economics of Education Review, 2017. DOI: 10.1016/j.econedurev.2017.01.004.