If you’re considering joining a sorority this year, enthusiastic Greek friends and relatives may have already bombarded you with advice about rush. In addition to being given pointers on how to dress and what to say, you may also have been told that you need to spend the summer acquiring letters of recommendation.
You might be thinking, “Letters of recommendation? I thought I was applying for a sisterhood, not a job!” We know it sounds weird at first, but don’t worry—we’ve put together a short guide that will make understanding and getting those letters of rec a snap!
What is a letter of recommendation?
Calling it a letter is actually pretty misleading. A rec isn’t an open-ended correspondence, but simply a form filled out by the woman recommending you for a sorority. These forms, which can be found on each sorority’s national website, require information about your grades, test scores, volunteer work, extracurricular activities and hobbies. They’re usually submitted along with two photographs (one headshot and one of your full body).
How to determine if you need letters of recommendation
Figuring out if you need to worry about getting recommendations can be surprisingly tricky. In general, if you are headed for the SEC or any school with a reputation for having a competitive recruitment process, you can assume that getting letters of recommendation for every house is basically essential. At schools without a competitive rush reputation, however, it can be hard to tell whether you should get them for every house, just a few houses or none at all.
Jessica Williams is the CEO of Phired Up, a company that works to grow Greek organizations. She says it’s important to remember that all schools are different. “The most important thing is to email the Panhellenic office on campus and ask if [letters of recommendation] are recommended or common,” Williams says.
You might think that it can’t hurt to get recommendations, even if it isn’t normal to do so. Yet surprisingly, recommendations can potentially be a waste of time or even detrimental to your rush aspirations, depending on the school and chapter. “At some schools, when recruitment chairs get them, they just throw them away,” says Williams, who also authored the book I Heart Recruitment. “If they aren’t common, you might stand out in a negative way. You need to know what the culture of the campus is.”
Rebecca*, a former member of Alpha Chi Omega at a university where letters of recommendation are not often used, says that rushees at her school who submitted recs were often held to a higher standard than they would have been otherwise. “With [only] 30 percent of students participating in Greek life, I have found that letters of recommendation are more of a hindrance than a help,” she says. She explains that recs “put [potential new members] under more scrutiny.”
Who to ask for a letter of recommendation
If you’ve determined that you do in fact need recs, the next step is to find women who can write them. Before you go off to ask a former teacher or boss, you have to remember that this isn’t your average recommendation. Letters of rec are sorority-specific, which means that the women who write you recommendations must be alumnae of the sororities to which the letters are sent.
We get that this is a little confusing, so let’s break it down: For example, if your college has a chapter of Zeta Tau Alpha, you can ask your mom’s friend, who was a Zeta when she was in school (even if she went to a different college!), to write you a letter of recommendation for that particular house. However, that recommendation cannot be sent, for instance, to your college’s Alpha Phi chapter—you’ll need an Alpha Phi alumna for that one.
Where to turn if you don’t have Greek connections
If you’re headed to a school where it’s important to get recommendations for every house on campus, it’s unlikely that you’ll know enough alumnae to ask right off the bat. Never fear! There are many ways to find women who will be happy to write you a recommendation. Tammy Neeb, author of the recruitment advice blog “Sorority Girl 101,” suggests several strategies for finding them:
- Use your network: Neeb advises looking wherever you can to find sorority women who could potentially recommend you. “Your friends, your parents’ friends, church... I actually had a girl who followed a woman [who looked like she might be Greek] up and down the aisles of a grocery store,” she says. (If you’re wondering—it worked!)
- Find a local Panhellenic Conference: Once you’ve contacted as many people as you can on your own, Neeb says your next step is to find out if there is a Panhellenic Conference nearby. A Panhellenic Conference is a group made up of alumnae of various schools and Greek organizations who live in the area. Reach out to see whether anyone is willing to write you a recommendation.
- Find local alumnae chapters: If there is no Panhellenic Conference nearby, your next move is to look up local alumnae chapters of the different sororities you are missing recs for.
- Contact sororities’ national offices: This should be your absolute last resort, Neeb says. “They’ll tell you they won’t do it, but you have to be persistent,” she says.
The dos and don’ts of asking for recommendations
Do take it upon yourself to reach out and get the recs you need.
Don’t assume you’ll get one. “Recommendations are not an entitlement from an alumna,” Neeb says. “A good rec is time-consuming, and some alumnae are extremely picky.” It’s important to be polite and accommodating, as well as to provide the alumna with the information she needs (information about you, where to send it, etc.).
Do feel free to ask for a rec from someone you don’t know.
Don’t ask someone to write it without talking to you first. Getting a recommendation from someone you’ve never spoken to can do more harm than good. “One time I was at a chapter while they were going through letters of recommendation, and they got one that had the [potential new member’s] name misspelled in the letter,” Williams says. “That’s the only time when recommendations are problematic, when it’s very obvious that the person writing the letter has never had a conversation with the young woman. Why even get a recommendation when you can’t even bother picking up the phone?” Meeting with alumnae isn’t hard. Neeb suggests you “offer to meet them for coffee, or Skype if you don’t live close.”
How sororities use recs
Much like a college admissions team, sororities want to offer bids to a well-rounded group of young women who will improve the house as a whole. Especially at schools where rush is a competitive process, chapters use recommendations to figure out which girls they want to pay particular attention to when recruitment begins. “Recommendations are important because they put you on the radar,” Neeb says.
At less competitive schools, the simple act of submitting a recommendation might help you stand out. “It’s a good way to say that being in a sorority is important to [you],” Williams says. Remember, no sorority wants to offer a bid to a rushee who doesn’t want to be there!
When to finalize your recommendations
Sororities should receive your letters of recommendation prior to the start of recruitment. This means that summer is the time to secure your recs, so get moving! Exact timing varies by college, so make sure to check out your school’s Panhellenic website for the suggested date. The woman who is writing your letter is the one who mails it in, not you. When she agrees to recommend you, make sure to give her a large envelope that is stamped and addressed to the chapter’s recruitment chair.
Getting letters of recommendation might seem like a pretty overwhelming process, but with this guide, you’re already ahead of the game. You’ll thank yourself on Bid Day!
*Name has been changed.