For many students having to work a job, or even two, while in school is the only option to be able to participate in costly extracurriculars, like greek life, on top of an already hefty tuition bill.
On average, joining a sorority at Cal Poly can cost $594 for the first quarter of membership and $391 each quarter after that. On the high end, first quarter membership dues can be as much as $881, decreasing to $527 each quarter after that.
“My first year I think it was $800 a quarter, but that was like a new member fee, agricultural business senior Jen Harlow said. “Once your first year is up, or I don’t know if maybe it’s that new member period is up … you only pay $800 a year. So, that really took a lot of pressure off.”
In comparison, InterFraternity Council dues (IFC) range from $250 to $500 per quarter.
Fraternities tend to be much more affordable than sororities and offer the same benefits, liberal studies senior Victoria Frichner said.
“The sororities I think are more expensive than the fraternities,” Frichner said. “I feel like the fraternities are much more doable and you get the same of networking and friendships out of it.”
Other fees can also be added onto quarterly dues, such as housing costs, events and penalties for missing or being late to meetings or events.
While as of 2013 Cal Poly had the highest proportion of students from the top 20 and 1 percent family income distributions among the California State University (CSU) system, there were still over 30 percent that fell within the bottom to middle income range.
This means that paying for a fraternity or sorority may not be plausible for some parents, and students may have to work a job or two in order to pay their own dues.
Harlow joined her sorority, Alpha Omicron Pi, sophomore year and has paid all of her own expenses, as well as tuition, since joining.
She was encouraged as a child to save any birthday money in a college fund to have a head start on paying for tuition. Once Harlow was in college she also worked two jobs every summer to earn extra money to go towards her tuition and sorority dues. This summer she worked at an internship and her father’s law firm to save up the money.
While it’s no secret that sororities cost money, it helps to do research so there are not any surprises, Harlow said.
“You know going in what you’re going to be paying, there’s no surprises,” Harlow said. “It’s all out there, it’s online, on social media. It’s no secret that sororities cost money, but I think Cal Poly does a really good thing of making it transparent.”
However, there were still times that Harlow said she worried she would not be able to balance school and paying for her sorority.
“I got on academic probation when I worked during the school year as much as I was working over the summer,” Harlow said. “That was a really difficult time for me because I was debating dropping out of AOPi [Alpha Omicron Pi] because I didn’t know if I’d be able to afford it.”
Luckily, Harlow had the money she had saved to fall back on as well as a scholarship her sorority allowed her to apply for after she said she was having difficulty paying.
For some students the best or only option to finance their dues is simply paycheck to paycheck.
Frichner joined the sorority Chi Omega her spring quarter of freshman year, but decided to drop her sophomore year when the costs began to outweigh the benefits.
She said having to work 20 hours a week and a large chunk of that paycheck going towards paying over $250 a month for dues was also a factor in dropping.
“By mid sophomore year I felt like so much of my paycheck was going to the dues and I had already made my friends,” Frichner said. “I think every individual has to do that cost benefit analysis for themselves and for some people I think it is really worth it, but for me it just wasn’t.”
Despite having to work to cover all the expenses associated with being in a sorority, Frichner said every penny spent was worth it and instrumental to her college experience.
Art and design sophomore Tiffany Dang wanted to see what being in a sorority was like for herself.
Since joining Dang has become an advocate for greek life because of the ways it helped her grow as a person and become more extroverted, she said.
“I was a very different person before going to college. Going to college, being in a sorority, it’s helped me to like grow a lot as a person and really understand myself and what kind of a person I am,” Dang said. “I think it’s a good experience so far and there are always bumps in the road, but the sisterhood and the bond is worth it.”
In order to pay the dues for her sorority, Alpha Omicron Pi, Dang saved up money from the job she worked over the summer.
“Honestly, for the average college student, considering that a lot of people our age are broke … I don’t really think that it is feasible for the average college student unless their parents are willing to help,” Dang said.
While Dang’s parents allow her to be in charge of her own finances and know she is in a sorority, it can be difficult for them to fully understand the culture of greek life.
“They know that I’m in the sorority, but they don’t exactly understand how it works just because they’re immigrants and I’m a first-generation student,” Dang said. “So, from a cultural perspective greek life isn’t exactly understandable.”
Despite the difficulties along the way, Dang said she believes joining greek life was worth it in the end and can help a person become more well rounded.
“What you put into it is what you get out of it. If money is an issue and you’re not putting in the effort to meet people, you’re not putting in the effort to get more involved in your chapter, then it’s not worth it,” Dang said. “You have to not only pay for it, but you also have to work for it.”