It’s pledging season. All across the nation, there are excited collegians preparing their applications for membership to a black sorority or fraternity. Many of them are students on Historically Black College and University (HBCU) campuses. Dubbed the “Divine Nine,” the National Pan-Hellenic Council member organizations—Alpha Phi Alpha, Alpha Kappa Alpha, Kappa Alpha Psi, Omega Psi Phi, Delta Sigma Theta, Phi Beta Sigma, Zeta Phi Beta, Sigma Gamma Rho and Iota Phi Theta—are some of the nation’s oldest and most distinguished black service organizations. Historically, their membership rolls have included some of the American nation’s most powerful and productive black citizens.
It’s not surprising that you want to be a part of this legacy. But all too often, aspirants pursue their interest in entirely the wrong ways.
So, here’s some free (and good) advice about how to increase your chances of being accepted.
Check yourself. Are your grades together? If you’re barely maintaining a C+ average, your priority should be raising your GPA not joining a NPHC organization. Do you have the financial resources? If you can’t afford to join, you can’t afford to be a member.
Image matters. Don’t let a bad reputation precede you. This includes cleaning up your social media platforms. Maybe your Twitter and Instagram names are unbecoming; change them. Bathroom selfies, throwing up middle fingers and checking-in at the club are not good looks. Good branding also includes observing good personal hygiene and daily grooming.
Serve others. Demonstrate a genuine commitment to service. This means your service record should be more than three months long, especially if the three months you serve are right before you anticipate intake. Fraternity and sorority members immediately assume that you only served to be eligible for membership. And deep down in your heart, you know they’re right.
Good recommendation letters. Ask the person if they can give you a strong, positive recommendation letter. This should not be assumed. Recommendations can be negative, make sure theirs isn’t by giving them something good to report. Seriously, give them a detailed list of what you’ve done, where you’ve done it and for how long too. It is not appropriate for you to ask a member of an organization to which you seek membership if he or she is active (and/or financial). Your relationship with the member and his or her relationship to the organization means that he or she knows what he or she can and cannot do for you as a prospective applicant.
Building relationships (the forgotten piece of the puzzle). It’s all about relationships! The first time you express interest in an organization to a member should not be when you want/need a letter. Ideally, because you express an interest in a service organization, a member should, by example, be serving. If the member isn’t serving, it’s unlikely that he or she is “financial.” And even if he or she is why would you want someone like that to write a letter for you? Even if all else fails, if the member thinks you are a good candidate, he or she will tell you what she can and cannot do for you—this includes writing your letter.
Don’t be thirsty. “I will do anything to get in.” Worst. Words. Ever. Spoken. Who wants an applicant with no standards? Not me. Have standards, and keep ‘um high.
“But I didn’t make line.” If you’ve done all the right things and you weren’t accepted, don’t start bad-mouthing the organization. No one wants a “Negative Nelly.” Continue to work hard, study hard and serve others. Things will work out in your favor. Pledging a graduate chapter also has its benefits.
A 2003 graduate of Fisk University, Crystal A. deGregory, Ph.D. is the founder and executive editor of HBCUSTORY, Inc. an advocacy center presenting inspiring stories of the HBCUs past and present, for our future. She teaches in Tennessee State University’s department of history, political science, geography and Africana studies. Follow her on twitter at @HBCUstorian.