Thanks to advice from his fraternity brothers, Parshant Mittan, a rising junior at the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania knows to leave the last button open on a three-button suit jacket. As a member of the Alpha Kappa Psi business fraternity -- one of three at Wharton -- Mittan received that tip and several others, which helped him land an internship this summer at Goldman Sachs (GS). Even though Mittan got his interview through on-campus recruiting, he took part in mock interviews with brothers, which prepared him for the real thing. Senior members also taught him how to use Wharton's online career-services portal and offered guidance on his career aspirations.
Opportunities to network and learn about job-related skills are enhanced in business fraternities because members are surrounded by like-minded students and alumni who work in related fields. However, many undergraduates say they make connections and learn about the corporate world through other professional organizations, social fraternities and sororities, campus career centers, and targeted recruiting efforts. With all those other organizations and networking opportunities, you're left to wonder whether business fraternities are beneficial or a waste of time.
The first business fraternity -- Alpha Kappa Psi -- began at New York University in 1904, after the university founded the School of Commerce, Accounts, and Finance in 1900. Three years later, another small group of male students created Delta Sigma Pi at New York University, which became the country's second business fraternity. Though both organizations started as single-sex, they are now co-ed.
Today, the two organizations have more than 19,000 members combined. This past academic year, DSP initiated 4,244 students into its 187 chapters nationwide -- a consistent figure in recent years. Alpha Kappa Psi has 10 more chapters -- located in the U.S., Canada, and Britain -- and inducted 5,471 members. Newer organizations include Phi Gamma Nu and Phi Chi Theta, both started in 1924 in the Chicago area. Groups operate at some of the top undergraduate business schools, including Wharton, the University of Virginia's McIntire School of Commerce, the University of Michigan's Ross School of Business, and the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill's Kenan-Flagler Business School. Several other business-related fraternities exist but are based on one field, such as marketing or accounting.
PLEDGE PRACTICES. These fraternities are not your typical Greek organizations. Compared with social Greek organizations, business groups have more of a focus on building professional relationships and skills needed to further members' careers. Though many social fraternities and sororities say pledging processes are all in good fun, reported hazing violations are more common than in business groups. Bill Schilling, executive director of Delta Sigma Pi business fraternity, says fewer than one chapter per year is closed for alcohol or drug-related offenses, though it does happen. Business fraternities' pledging emphasizes the principle of professionalism through team-building and business-related activities.
Activities are clearly connected to the career path. In the Delta Sigma Pi chapter at the Pennsylvania State University's Smeal College of Business, pledges organize and execute social, community-service, fund-raising, and professional events, says Jason Rabinovich, former president and chancellor of Delta Sigma Pi, as well as a member of the off-campus social fraternity Alpha Delta Phi. "The tasks given for the business-fraternity pledging made a lot more sense in why we were doing them," he says. "In the social fraternity, we did things because we were told to do so."
Members say that business fraternities can help students practice for the real world. At the University of Virginia, last semester's Alpha Kappa Psi pledges created a 20-minute presentation on Rolls-Royce that incoming President Alyssa Guo says built teamwork, public-speaking abilities, and confidence among undergrads. A group of 15 brothers critiqued the presentation, offering pointers and ideas to pledges. The activity gave pledges the chance to speak publicly in a less intimidating environment in front of peers, Guo says.
OTHER OPTIONS. Once initiated, brothers of business fraternities can easily make career connections because members are interested in similar fields. Rabinovich, who graduated from Penn State in May, used the business brotherhood to get an internship for this summer at ING (ING), since a fellow member's father is an executive at the company. "The interview was very casual, and I basically already had the job before I walked in. We went out to lunch and talked about life in general." Some groups also advertise positions through their online listservs. Emily Winans, a senior at Arizona State University and member of Delta Sigma Pi, is studying abroad in July and found a replacement for her internship position at the Arizona Historical Society through an e-mail blast.
Couldn't you make contacts through other organizations? Schools' professional clubs also provide networking opportunities and teach skills similar to those emphasized in a business fraternity. The Wharton Accounting Society puts on 10 events per semester, including speaker panels and professional luncheons. Guests from prominent companies including Ernst & Young have spoken to the group. Club President Martin Peters says events teach members about what companies are looking for in employees. Group members are also available to clarify common misconceptions and answer questions.
Though business fraternities are filled with students who are in the same major, social fraternities also offer networking possibilities. Students help out fellow members with career advice, and jobs and internships are advertised internally. All members of the Beta Sigma Beta social fraternity at Penn State are assigned mentors whose career they find interesting. Ben Ader, a business major at Penn State and member of Beta Sig, received an internship offer for this summer in the legal field through his mentor -- though ultimately he declined it.
LOOSENING THE TIE. Besides creating professional connections, most students join a fraternity or sorority to have a good time and make friends, and in this area social groups usually win out. Parties and formals are a big part of mainstream Greek life. Having the members live together in a house or on a special floor of a dorm, which is not possible for co-ed business groups, adds to the bonding experience of the traditional Greek system. Ader briefly thought about joining a business fraternity but decided against it because of the social aspect. "I didn't think I would form close bonds, whereas in a regular fraternity you live with brothers and get to know them better," he says.
Still, business fraternities are becoming a little less rigid, thanks to the realization that networking is socializing. And let's face it -- sometimes business and pleasure collide. In Penn State's Delta Sigma Pi chapter, members occasionally hook up or date, though it's not extremely common, says Rabinovich. Many chapters throw parties at brothers' houses or off-campus apartments. Marquette University's Delta Sigma Pi chapter holds some events with alcohol, which President Kathryn Wells assures are only for students 21 and older. "Back in the early days there was next to no social aspect of Delta Sigma Pi," Schilling says. "It was almost like the anti-social fraternity."
Business fraternities have their share of positives -- from a built-in network with similar goals to opportunities to build confidence and skills. "Business fraternities or clubs can provide a nice vehicle if students are less confident doing networking on their own," says Mike Schaub, interim executive director of Georgetown University's MBNA Career Education Center. However, it is ultimately up to the students themselves to use those resources effectively to benefit their future.
Gordon writes for BusinessWeek Online from New York