The grandiose houses that line West 28th Street, commonly known as USC Fraternity Row, are modern-day symbols of a Trojan tradition dating back to the 19th century. The chapter houses, with adorned Greek letters, bring together students from a variety of backgrounds and experiences at a cost, with dues ranging from $1,500 to $5,000, according to the 2015 USC Panhellenic Council recruitment guide.
Traditionally, the Greek experience is marketed as one that fosters leadership, community and character building. 85 percent of Fortune 500 executives belonged to a fraternity, and almost every U.S President and Vice President has been a member of a fraternity since the concept was created in 1825, according to the National Greek Life statistics from the New Jersey Institute of Technology.
But dues, which are required to participate in a sorority or fraternity, can be financially restrictive for some students who wish to be a part of these organizations.
Elisa D'Angelo is a sophomore who left the Greek system after participating in recruitment, or "rush," during her first semester at USC.
"I have a unique situation with my family, and because of that, I have a tough financial situation," D'Angelo said. "After a month or so, I decided I didn't want to pay the ridiculous dues anymore. You can take out loans for Greek life, but I didn't want to have that weighing me down after I graduated."
Stefania Tibor, a USC sophomore, has to juggle school and work, and realized Greek life wasn't in the cards for her either. "A lot of things I feel like I miss out on because I work. For instance, I registered for Greek life to do rush week. I would have had to take a week off of work, and I can't afford that. So that's something I missed out on."
Although traditional university expenses cover tuition, housing, dining and additional student necessities, Greek life adds a few thousand dollars to a student's expenses, and students like D'Angelo either drop out of the system or choose to not rush.
For the 2017-2018 academic school year, USC tuition costs $53,448, in addition to an estimated $12,000 for rent and $1,300 for personal expenses, according to the USC financial aid estimate.
"I don't want to be in more debt from college, so I'd rather spend that $5,000 on traveling," D'Angelo said. "I just have different priorities."
D'Angelo liked the girls in her sorority, but after a semester, she found that the costs of being in a sorority outweighed its benefits, although she did qualify for a scholarship that would cover part of her sorority dues.
Dues pay for a variety of items, such as three meals a day on weekdays, social and philanthropy fundraising events and transportation to venues or dinner parties. Since fraternities are the houses that hold parties or mixers with other sororities, they spend thousands of dollars a year on the music artists, set-ups, security and alcohol.
While some students have their parents sponsor their Greek endeavors, others find alternate ways to make payments.
"In the past, [the Interfraternity Council] has given out scholarships ranging from $250 to $1,000," said Sam Picus, vice president of finance on the USC Interfraternity Council. "Typically, we give out around 10 to 20 depending upon how many people apply and how much money is available for scholarships."
According to the Interfraternity Council and Panhellenic Council at USC, the organizations offer scholarships just for students in Greek life that are shouldering an additional financial burden. The application process is fairly simple, and awards are handed out based on merit and need, the two councils said.
"If a student can't afford Greek life, we can help them, but we can't fully finance their experience," Picus said. "Therefore, we have dropouts."
If a student isn't awarded a scholarship through one of USC's councils, they can apply for one externally through their own sorority or fraternity chapter, according to Carmel McCullough, the executive vice president of the USC Panhellenic Council. Each chapter is part of a national branch that have their own national scholarships, she said.
Jake Dunn, a sophomore who has been a fraternity member for two semesters, attributes his Greek experience to these available scholarships.
"Getting a scholarship has really helped me stay in Greek life, and honestly, I couldn't imagine not being a part of this brotherhood because I've met many of my best friends here," he said.
Like Dunn, 750,000 students nationwide participate in the Greek system, according to the National Greek Life statistics by the New Jersey Institute of Technology. The Greek system, which features both fraternities and sororities, is complex — each house has its own executive board, comprising of presidents, treasurers, social chairs and other student Greek leaders.
"Being the president of my fraternity has allowed me to work with all the other fraternity Presidents to improve Greek life," said James Rich, president of the Phi Sigma Kappa fraternity at USC. "Since I'm a business major, it's also a great way to work on leadership skills, and it's something I can put on my resume."
This historic legacy is what attracts members like Dunn and James Topping, a senior in his fourth and final year of Greek life.
Topping has wanted to stay involved in his fraternity because of the lifelong friendships he has made and the positive contributions he can add. He recently planned a philanthropy event named "puppies and pancakes" that raised money for charities from attendees buying brunch. Although four years of paying dues adds up, a scholarship has helped him continue his experience.
"My parents pay half my dues and I pay the other half, so a small scholarship really helped me to stay active in my fraternity and enjoy it while not having to sacrifice in other areas," Topping said.
Scholarships are a big reason why students can continue to be involved with Greek life, and for USC sophomore Greg Pereira, it's no different.
"The small amount of scholarship that my fraternity gave me really helps because I raise my own money for dues and it's hard to be a full-time student and still work a job to get the money to pay for dues," Pereira said.
For D'Angelo, an option for Greek life might be to improve social and economic inclusivity, but she doesn't think that's on the agenda right now.
"It's a systemic issue that's been embedded for a long time, since Greek life has been around really," she said. "And at USC especially…So I don't think it's anyone's goal to make it a more inclusive system right now."