This question was on my mind when I first visited Dartmouth as a prospective student. I had not applied to any other schools with a Greek system, and based on what I had seen in the movies, I figured it was wise to avoid universities with a fraternities and sororities. Dartmouth's Greek system was its one negative on my color-coded spreadsheet of colleges' pros/cons (yes, I'm a little type A).
And yet, Dartmouth made my college list. I loved the mid-range size, the D-Plan, the tight-knit community, the enthusiastic students I had met. In the end, the positives out weighted my hesitations about the Greek system; I took the risk, chose Dartmouth, and packed my bags (somewhat nervously) for Hanover.
Once I arrived on campus, I realized the Greek system at Dartmouth was very different than what I expected based on media images and stories from my home state university. Here's why:
* Dartmouth students cannot pledge a fraternity or sorority until sophomore year. This removes the pressure to join a Greek house in order to find friends. At Dartmouth, everyone makes friends freshman year through the dorms (all first-year students live together in residential clusters), classes, teams, etc. Come sophomore year, students can choose to join the Greek system if they want to meet new people, but they usually have a solid group of friends already so there is no pressure. A little over half of the sophomores choose to join a fraternity or sorority, and about half decide not to.
* There are no dining facilities and very limited residential space in the in the frats/sororities, so even if students join a Greek house, they still eat in the dining halls with everyone else and usually live in the dorms too. The average Greek house at Dartmouth can sleep only 15 - 20 of the 100 or so members. This means the Greek system does not dominate most students lives on campus -- rather than an all-consuming place, it is just an added social option.
* Events and parties at Greek houses are open to everyone. True to the feeling of the Dartmouth's community in general, the Greek system is welcoming and non-exclusive. The Greek houses put on tons of events that enhance the social options for everyone, including dinners with professors, slam poetry competitions, fundraiser for charities, and parties like Disco Inferno (my favorite! Don funky neon clothes and donate a can of food to rock out to 70s music).
When my sophomore year rolled around, I decided that I wanted to join a sorority, much to the surprise of my parents & friends from home. After all my uncertainty about the Greek system, they could not believe that I was becoming a "sorority girl." I explained that one of the best parts of Dartmouth was meeting the amazing people here, and I figured a sorority would be a great way to make friends with girls that had totally different interests than mine.
It worked beautifully. I met awesome girls in Sigma Delta, but also kept my best friends from freshman year. I never lived in the sorority, preferring the dorms instead. I still spent most of my time with friends from the crew team, outing club, mock trial team, etc. But the Greek system did give me a chance to have my own social space, host parties and events I wanted to see on campus, and get to know a really diverse group of people. In the end, the aspect of Dartmouth that I had been most nervous about turned out to be one of the best components of my Dartmouth experience.