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The line in which I stood on the grass lawn in front of the stately residence hall was about fifty women long. My line was only one of at least a dozen lines of young women. We were arranged in alphabetical order, and everyone wore a nametag displaying her name and hometown. Most of the women were fashionable, gregarious, and clearly sorority material.

Although I probably fit into the same description, I didn’t know it, and I was nervous. I had been a varsity multi-sport cheerleader, a member of my high school’s award winning show choir, and the vice president of the girls’ honor society at my high school. My GPA was average. I had held numerous leadership roles, had ample volunteer and work experience, and was in advanced placement classes at my public high school. I came from a family filled with respected politicians. I was considered a legacy at three different sororities. I was inquisitive, friendly, thoughtful, and a good conversationalist. In other words, I was a qualified candidate for sorority membership. Knowing that much was a bit of a relief. I realized it would not be much of an uphill battle. I could probably relax, have fun, and make friends. After all, the recruitment counselors repeatedly told us to just “make some new friends.” I could certainly do that.

At the very first party, I met several sorority members I liked. I was delighted when Paige, who had been a cheerleader at my high school the year before me, came across the crowded room to say hello. With a bit of glee, I mentioned how happy I was to see her and how much I was already enjoying recruitment. Because we had both been cheerleaders on the same squad, I knew Paige would make sure I was invited back to her chapter.

Several parties later, I arrived at the chapter of my dreams. The women in this chapter were just like my friends from my hometown, and I felt completely at home there. They were personable, kind, mature, outgoing, intelligent, attractive, and accomplished women. I knew right away these women were going to be my sisters and I knew they felt the same way.

After the first day of visiting fourteen chapters, I was exhausted. That night, I could barely sleep because of my excitement. I would spend the rest of recruitment making more solid friendships with the fantastic women in my favorite chapter.

Early the next morning, I went with the other girls in my recruitment group to accept and decline invitations for the second round of parties. I was fully prepared to rank those chapters in my preferential order. But when I saw my list, there was a mistake. There were seven chapters listed on the first page, and—wait a minute. Where was page two? I approached the attending recruitment counselor, wondering if there was a second page.

No second page.

Seven chapters had released me after the first round. I was shocked. Worse, those women at my top choice sorority who were most like my best friends had released me. I couldn’t believe my eyes. I could feel my throat closing and the tears welling up in my eyes. I sat in my chair for quite a while. I tried to ignore the bursts of delight from the other women receiving their lists. Women came and went while I remained in my seat, stunned.

As much as possible, I gathered my wits. I folded my now useless notes sheet that indicated the preferential order of the sororities. The blank bubbles stared at me longingly. I accepted the invitations of those seven sororities, went back to my room, and cried.

Four long hours later, I was ready to receive my list of parties for Day 2, along with the rest of the women in my group. This time, I was composed. My day two recruitment schedule was handed to me. It indicated the chapters I would visit and the time I was expected there. During two of the party times, I had no sorority to visit. I humbly attended each event listed, with a different attitude than I had on Day 1.

After the second round of recruitment was over, my recruitment counselor, Kelly, asked if I had time to update her on my thoughts of recruitment. Being invited back to seven chapters after the first round was not great. She knew I was flabbergasted and wanted to check in on my emotional state. It’s part of the job of a recruitment counselor. I lied and said I had come to terms with it and found some new friends I liked in those remaining chapters. Then she dropped a bomb. A campus Panhellenic Council officer had called her about my situation. She gently advised me that for the second round of five parties I would only receive three invitations. I was at risk of being released from recruitment altogether, based on my statistical track record so far.

It was like another punch to the stomach. The rejection was tough to handle. What was going on here? I felt a mad concoction of yesterday’s betrayal, today’s disbelief, and a twinge of anger. Dealing with those emotions was challenging. How could I leverage my feelings to make an excellent impression on the three remaining chapters? Where was the hope in this hopeless situation?

Back to the computer lab I went to yet again enter my selections in that despised bubble screen. Three bubbles darkened. Done. At least I was not leaving the room in tears this time. In fact, I was teetering between denial and anger. I preferred the fulcrum: numbness.

Day 3 provided an opportunity to be warmly and genuinely welcomed by women who were excited to see me. They remembered my name and even the details from our prior conversations. I remembered their names too. They smiled and waved to me even when we were across busy rooms from one another. Something was different. These women now seemed more like those friends back home than the other women that cut me so quickly. I felt more like myself on this day—a nice balance of self-worth with humility.

Day 4 was preference day: the final day of recruitment consisting of three formal parties. Before I visited the computer sciences building, I already knew what I would see. My counselor had paid me another visit to tell me that I would receive only one invitation to preference parties. I was speechless, of course. What could I say? Being eliminated by all but one sorority was not what I had envisioned.

I had to wonder if I should withdraw from the process with that kind of result. After all, there was a new sorority colonizing on campus later that fall. But I wasn’t sure I would be able to get into that one either, considering my abysmal results with all of the other sororities. Chances were slim. I could wait one year to participate in formal recruitment again. But then I would be sacrificing a quarter of my sorority experience (first year), and there was no guarantee I would have better results, especially as a sophomore. It was a tough choice . . .

By now, I had figured out how to feel my way through that burst of disappointment and the ensuing self-pity. I completed the preference invitation screen, hit enter, and I was invited to one preference party.

The preference party I attended turned out to be a lovely, elegant, touching event. I looked around the room several times during the event and realized I needed to do a gut check. Were these women genuine? Would they be—could they be—my friends, my sisters, for college and for life? Was this going to be a good place for me, or a bad one? All of us stood in a circle together. I stood between two of the members, listened to songs, stories, and a ceremony. I listened for a warning from my gut, from my subconscious, from my God. But I heard nothing bad. In fact, I felt peaceful, content, happy. This place and these women would be good for me, I decided.

The final selection was simple. There was just one space to fill on the “sorority preference” screen. I selected it, chuckling to myself as I recognized ironically I was doing what the recruitment counselors so strongly recommended not to do: single intentional preference. One question remained: would I be high enough on the sorority’s list to get in?

I slept surprisingly well that night. Either I would get into the sorority, or not. Honestly, I had considered the concept of not being Greek so many times during the prior days I was both tired of contemplating the thought and prepared for that reality. There was nothing else to fret about.

The next morning, there was no knock on my door, no unusual visit from the counselor. When it was time to go find out which chapters we all matched with, I sat patiently waiting with the others until it was time to leave our residence hall. Kelly smiled at me and signaled me to come with the group. And with that, I knew: I was in.

I pledged the sorority, the only sorority that wanted me. And now, it was the only sorority I wanted. Everything fell into place from that day forward. I was home.

Although I was dissatisfied with my recruitment experience, I was not in the wrong sorority. In fact, had I been invited back to all sororities, I would have based my responses on the wrong criteria. Had I found myself in one of those other sororities, I would likely have been unhappy as a member and not been able to commit to the sorority for very long. Instead, I found myself in a sorority that, though it didn’t match my initial impressions of the house I “appeared” to belong with, matched me perfectly with women—sisters—who had values similar to mine. There was no way I could have known that during recruitment. But the sorority members knew. Every sorority member I met that week knew very clearly whether I fit in her chapter.

During recruitment, and for years afterward, I questioned the term “mutual” in the so-called “mutual selection” process. I felt I never was able to exercise my power of “selection” by regretting a party invitation. In hindsight, it is clear to me that I did have a say in which chapter I joined. It simply did not happen how I expected. Instead of me cutting the sororities by regretting their party invitations, I did so with my personality, by showing the sorority members my true self. And, since I accepted some invitations, I was in control of how many chapters I revisited. I did have the option of declining any invitation I received, so I did have choices in the process.

~Sunday Tollefson
Author, RUSH RIGHT: Reveal Your Best YOU During Sorority Recruitment

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