On the Cornell campus it seems like it is always rush somewhere — and for pre-professional fraternities, it is now that time of year. With some of these organizations boasting admission statistics lower than Cornell’s, it is important to see what’s behind their exclusivity.
Due to the grueling rush process, a culture has grown around pre-professional fraternities, with many students seeing them as overly competitive.
Many fraternities have an application period that consists of three rounds. Often this includes submitting a resume, socializing with brothers and building various professional skills with other applicants.
Current fraternity members view the rush process as a crucial component of their professional education.
Vice President of Theta Tau, a pre-professional engineering fraternity, Katrina Lastra ’18, said the recruitment process is often misconstrued to focus on only those with an established professional background.
“The recruitment process isn’t to find people who are already successful, but to find people who we can see becoming successful and really want to grow and put the time into gaining the professional skills,” Lastra said. “For myself, I had no idea what to do with myself professionally when I was first going through the recruitment process and through those 10 weeks, that’s what I gained.”
Lastra said that she had rushed twice before being accepted.
“After going through it the first time, I learned so much about professionalism just by going by the rush process itself — learning how to be confident in my thoughts and how to pertain myself to other people,” Lastra said. “Going back the second time, I had that confidence to do it all over again and actually make myself be heard at each round.”
Despite the competitive nature of the fraternities, President of Theta Tau, Andrea Clinch ’18 said that she saw the rush process as a tool for anyone trying to gain professional skills.
“Recruitment isn’t for us to get what we want — it’s a service for everyone who rushes,” Clinch said. “Everyone who goes through the process should get something great out of it. It’s a pretty rigorous process, but it’s based entirely on real-life interviews.”
Eri Kato ’20 of pre-law fraternity Kappa Alpha Pi noted that one’s character, not their accomplishments, is what will lead to acceptance.
“Before I came to Cornell, I never worked a day in my life; I think they understand that you were 18 years old up until recently,” Kato said. “It’s about curiosity, grit and passion for something. If someone’s taking a risk on you, they are making an investment on you by giving you this opportunity. You have to do the work, you have to convince them that it’s worth making that investment.”
Due to the large amount of applicants that wish to join pre-professional fraternities, many have developed a reputation of being highly exclusive.
Theta Tau new member educator Kara Guse ’19 expressed concerns about this reputation.
“I just feel like it’s a stigma that was created by the Cornell students themselves without us doing it,” Guse said. “When we started turning competitive, that’s when people started spreading rumors that we’re exclusive.”
According to Clinch, Theta Tau averages about 90 brothers at a time. Despite receiving 150 to 200 applications per semester, only about 10 or 15 students are accepted into the brotherhood.
Clinch said that much of this exclusivity is due to resource constraints, recalling when the fraternity tried accepting more members on a consistent basis.
“It’s pretty hard to fight [misconceptions] because it does end up being competitive to get in,” Clinch said. “With ours, it really just comes down to size. Once we started reaching 95 or 96 members, we weren’t able to give everyone what they deserve out of the group.”
Mike Sosa ’19, a member of the pre-professional business fraternity Phi Gamma Nu, also added that exclusivity is sometimes necessary.
“I think that being exclusive is not necessarily a bad thing,” Sosa said. “We want the best kind of applicants; having a high standard weeds out a lot of people.”
Sosa said that many of the business skills that members learn are from the pledge process.
“If we were to let everyone in, our resources would be spread thin and we wouldn’t be able to provide the same quality pledging process if we did,” he said. “And so being exclusive is kind of a necessity.”
However, many prospective students face the challenge of simply not being able to afford professional apparel, barring them from being able to participate.
Guse said that the fraternity is aware of this disparity and is seeking to combat it.
“Even though we are diverse, I would say we are all the same in terms of income bracket,” Guse said. “We did have a talk about it last semester; we just started realizing that that might be dissuading people from coming out and we are trying to think of ways to eliminate [the requirement that] you have to wear professional clothes [at events] in order to join us.”
Kato also expressed regret over the results of this disparity.
“There can definitely be something that can be done more, we in the brotherhood are talking about how to not unconsciously bar anyone,” Kato said. “That just puts a socio-economic status on your recruitment. [Kappa Alpha Pi] doesn’t represent campus as a whole, but there is definitely room for improvement.”
Despite the best efforts of fraternities to include as many people as they can, the fact is that many fraternities only accept about 10 out of hundreds of applicants per semester.
Kappa Alpha Pi receives about 100 applicants; only 10 to 16 are accepted in a pledge class, Kato said.
Theta Tau received about 150 to 200 applicants per semester and also accept about 10 to 15 per applicant pool, according to Clinch.
On the other hand, Sosa said that Phi Gamma Nu also only accepted around 10 people out of 80 applicants last semester.
On the other hand, organizations such as Phi Alpha Delta have sought an alternative to the typical three round application process.
Phi Alpha Delta is another pre-law fraternity that proudly has an open-membership policy.
President of Phi Alpha Delta, Elizabeth Kletsel ’18 said this policy is used to ease the already burdened Cornell student.
“We have people that come to our info sessions that tell us ‘I’m a bio-chem major that likes law, but I am stressed and I’m scared that I don’t have time for all of this,’” Kletsel said. “We believe oftentimes clubs and extracurricular activities here at Cornell can be very cut-throat and very stressful. Everyone who joins is joining because they have a genuine interest in law and it definitely makes a more cohesive brotherhood.”
Kletsel said that as an open club, PAD is useful for the other kind of student that wishes to join a pre-professional fraternity.
“People are always taken by surprise. We think it’s what makes us really unique and great for new and transfer students to join,” Kletsel said. “I think that everyone wants something different. The people who join our fraternity are the people who like that about us. You’re not going to join a fraternity with an open-membership policy if you want to be somewhere that is more competitive.”
Cornell Without Pre-professional Fraternities
When asked what kind of Cornell we would see without pre-professional fraternities, many members said that a lot of relationships would be missing.
Kato felt that the campus would be missing a key component.
“Obviously, one less friend group for a lot of people,” Kato said. “Something would be lacking, plenty of people on campus are interested in law, and people that wanted to dive into that field would not have the channel to do so.”
Kato also said that pre-professional fraternities are a service that is demanded by students.
“If KAPi didn’t exist, someone would come along make something similar to the mission of KAPi,” Kato said. “Look at our application rate and look at the amount of activity that our fraternity does; there is clearly a demand for it.”
Kletsel said that the relationships made in fraternities are vital to campus life.
“I feel like Ithaca would be an even colder, darker place,” Kletsel said. “I think these organizations are great because it stresses not only important things for your career and education, but also create brotherhoods and friendships that are arguably more important to the college experience.”
Sosa said that many students see business fraternities as the only path to success.
“I don’t think that people need a business frat to be successful,” Sosa said. “It certainly helps, but I don’t think that they should be discouraged if they don’t get in. They should know that they can still succeed; even if you don’t get in, it’s not an indication you won’t do well.”
Kletsel recalled coming to Cornell as a transfer student and how PAD helped her.
“What I got most out of PAD is a sense of belonging and such a good group of people around me who support me and are there for both academic and personal reasons,” Kletsel said. I want to stress that it’s important to join groups, whether it is competitive or open-membership. I think everyone should find a great group of people who share their interests and to develop those interests with each other.”
Many fraternity members pointed out that in the end, these are student run organizations, and are made up of regular people.
“Even though we put on a suit and are in a very competitive organization, we’re the same age as you are, we take the same classes, and honestly, we get the same exact grades,” Guse said. “There’s nothing special except for the fact that we have found unity within each other and we increase the potential within ourselves by being together.”