Parties. Dinners. Dates. The costs of joining a fraternity or sorority can extend beyond basic member dues when it comes to choosing to live within the Greek life houses.
Vice President of Finances at Pi Beta Phi, Meredith Buenz, is responsible for creating the sorority budget and acting as a financial guide for new members. Further, Buenz has taken steps to make the financial aspect of living in a sorority house more transparent. President of Pi Beta Phi, Audrey Koehler has had first hand experience with the financial side of the sorority experience as a chapter member and resident of the Pi Beta Phi house. Alumni relations officer of Phi Kappa Sigma, Sullivan Bluhm, joined the fraternity in the spring semester of his freshman year and has been living in the house since the fall of 2021.
The Daily Cardinal sat down with Buenz, Koehler and Bluhm to break down the costs of living in their chapter houses.
This conversation has been edited for clarity and brevity.
Would you be able to go through and break down the costs of living in a fraternity or sorority? Preferably listing and explaining the areas of costs pertaining to living in the house?
Buenz: The cost of room and board for the semester is $4,260. The price is specifically for my chapter, which is Pi Phi. The total includes everything housing-related starting with our rent for the rooms. It also pays our chef where we get around 10 meals a week plus grab-and-go snacks. The price also covers our house mom, cleaning people, maintenance people and part of it goes towards a fund for new construction projects. There are also additional dues on top of this price that are mandatory for all sorority members living in and outside of the house.
Bluhm: Yes, so number one, the priciest cost area is the rent. Usually, it's between $800 to $1000 a month which adds up to around $9,000 to $10,000 a year. The second most expensive element are the dues which are required by all members, including those who are not living in the house.
You mentioned dues as being an outside cost of living in the house, what do the dues cover? Are there any other expenses required by members?
Koehler: Our dues are considered all inclusive. To name a few events — formals, date parties and dinner after Monday chapter meetings — are all paid for with dues. There are some extra things that aren’t budgeted for within the dues such as big-little gifts, apparel and parent events, but usually if there are expenses, they are optional.
Buenz: There are approximately $400 of dues on top of the $4,260 for members living in the house. This means the dues [for live-in members] end up costing around $300 less than what they would be if you are not living in the house. Our dues are all-inclusive, but I will say we often do fundraising minimums. Last year we did a sweatshirt philanthropy where [members] could either sell or buy a sweatshirt.
Bluhm: The cost of dues usually ranges between $350 and $650 a semester. Our dues cover a lot of basic needs. Cleaning supplies flies out the door, so a lot of money must be spent on buying more. Usually, a portion of our dues goes to a portion of an event. For example, for a date party or a formal, your dues will cover dinner, but you have to cover a hotel room. So, there’s normally chipping in extra costs but oftentimes we try to help each other out so nobody is missing experiences. Honestly, if I totaled up the cost it would probably be around $800 to $1,000 a year, just based on extra experiences.
The costs of Greek life have prevented some students from joining, but I know some fraternities and sororities have been implementing scholarships to aid the financial burden. Does your house offer any of these? If so, how are the recipient’s chosen? Also, where does the money come from?
Buenz: In our own chapter, we're working on more scholarships, because within Pi Phi Wisconsin, alpha, there aren’t any [merit-based scholarships] right now. We're asking the question of, “where does that money come from?” That is what we need to work through with the National chapter. There's a scholarship fund where you can apply for national scholarships, meaning Pi Beta Phi nationals, or you can apply to scholarships through Panhellenic. The Panhellenic scholarship funds come from fundraising and donations.
Koehler: We do provide [application based] opportunities. For example, Panhellenic just selected their scholarship recipients. So those are merit-based options, but internally, it's primarily need-based aid. That is handled very privately because we don't want to make anyone feel ostracized because of finances.
Bluhm: There are always alumni who want to put new and old members first, so they give a lot of opportunities scholarship-wise and also through basic donations. We definitely have some need-based situations and so those guys are put first. In a merit-based scholarship setting, it's always the most qualified.
Does the size of the house, meaning the actual building size and number of members, alter the cost of living and joining?
Koehler: Absolutely. We need to maintain a certain number of people and dues amount to fund everything. It has been a trend on this campus for older members to drop, which means you'll frequently see fewer seniors than the pledge class originally started with. The number of people who drop determines how many new members we can take in. We must reach a quota for recruitment that is set by Panhellenic, but also internally because our chapter budget depends on a certain number of members paying dues.
Bluhm: Definitely. In some scenarios, it’s a matter of working it out amongst yourselves. Bigger rooms usually require more money from the renters and that can be determined internally. Typically, bigger houses with bigger parties end up costing more money.
Were the financial aspects of living in the house clearly outlined as you rushed?
Koehler: There are some websites where you would go if you were interested in rushing. There's a lot of information outlined on this page that goes into cost information. It is updated annually, and it holds primary recruitment financial information. This is something that, when I went through rush in 2019, my family and I looked at. We sought it out and were able to find it easily accessible. The information definitely isn’t being broadcasted on social media, but it is public.
Buenz: I was a freshman when I rushed in 2019. Since then, the Panhellenic website has gotten a lot better through realizing you need to be transparent about the financial aspects of Greek life. They now have all of the financial breakdowns, but when I was going through rush, they did not.
[During] my freshman year, you weren't really supposed to talk about anything financially related, meaning you weren’t supposed to discuss how much the sorority costs. My thinking was that you should know how much joining something you’re interested in is going to cost. So, this year I did a presentation for the chapter on the costs of everything and made them memorize all these numbers so that if they got questions, they could sufficiently answer them in an effort to be transparent.
Bluhm: I remember every fraternity I went to, questions regarding the financial aspects of joining were always asked immediately. I feel like right away, the information is disclosed. From what I have experienced and what I have heard from others, the price you pay has been essentially exactly what you thought it was going to be. If anyone is interested in rushing, it's kind of like that's just a decision that you have to make over time, but the information is explicitly given to you. It's not kept secret until later.