Hiring sorority coaches: How badly do you want to get in?
MADISON, Miss. (AP) — Sorority rush. Movies have been made about the experience, exposes written and anonymous blogs are devoted to the behind the scene escapades that happen at college campuses nationwide.
But what happens before Bid Week? A niche market of sorority coaches, if you will, has sprung up across the country to help sorority hopefuls. And business is booming.
Kimberly Neyland, of Madison, is quickly establishing herself as one of the go-tos in Central Mississippi for sorority “packets.” Unfamiliar with a packet? Neyland can educate you.
So what do you need?
A packet includes a resume, cover letter, two photo cards (made out of stock paper as not to smudge), a color-coordinated folder, mailing and address labels, envelopes to send to sororities with stickers, thank you notes to the women who write recommendation letters and postage.
Two years ago, Neyland’s daughter was heading to the University of Mississippi. The incoming freshman planned to rush and Neyland asked a family friend to write the teen a recommendation letter. The friend obliged, telling Neyland, “Sure, just get me her packet.”
Neyland, who was unfamiliar with the Greek system, had never heard of a packet. She knew her daughter needed a resume and photos but that was the extent of her knowledge. So she turned to Etsy, a popular crafting website.
Scrolling through the website, Neyland found countless color schemes and fonts — resumes on steroids.
“Oh, it’s just pretty,” she thought. “I can do pretty.”
A creative person with a background in technology, Neyland quickly got to work. She and her daughter selected a subtle watercolor font, “nothing obnoxious,” and included the teen’s photo card, resume and recommendation letters with matching monograms. She then offered to create one for her daughter’s roommate. The packets were sent out to women across the country in hopes they would write recommendation letters.
Then, the 11 sororities on the Ole Miss campus were each given a packet. Both girls rushed sororities and “all’s well that ends well.”
With that, Welcome Home — Neyland’s company — was born.
“At the end of the week, I want them to hear ‘Welcome Home,’ she said. “That’s the whole point.”
The year her daughter rushed, Neyland made just two packets. The following year, she made 48. She would have made more, she said, but she simply didn’t have enough hours in the day and had to put a limit on the number of customers she could take.
Neyland offers packets of 10, 20 and 30 at $250, $350 and $450, respectively. Some girls have ordered 40 packets in hopes of securing a bid.
Mississippi State has eight sororities on campus so a girl heading there may only need 10 packets. A girl attending Ole Miss may need a packet of 20 since the school has 11 sororities on campus.
What do the students need to know?
When meeting with girls, and oftentimes their mothers, Neyland carries around a black binder, at least four inches thick, with countless examples of her work. Flipping through, there are matching letterheads and fonts in pastels, all accompanied with professional photos of smiling girls. She encourages the girls to show their personality in the packet-one photo card is a girl snuggling her dog- but she’s quickly warn to never pick a color scheme in the colors of the sorority you’re not so secretly hoping to get. What a hopeful may think of as a subtle move could be seen as an insult to other sororities and, if the sorority of your choice doesn’t choose you, you could be left without a bid.
Neyland prefers to meet with both the mother and daughter so they can discuss the basics “just trying to get an idea of where they are and what they understand.”
For someone who never experienced rush firsthand, Neyland is a quick study. When talking with girls, she speaks the language of sororities — “Do you know what a PNM is? (Potential New Member) Do you know the difference between a recommendation and a letter of support?”
That meeting may be the only time Neyland meets with her clients face to face but she’s in constant communication with them throughout the creative process.
Through an online form, Neyland asks questions like, “Where do you like to shop? Are you a girlie girl? Are they a tomboy? Do they like to shop at Free People and Anthropologie or are they more of a Material Girl or D Squared?”
From that information, she takes “little design cues” and creates a packet individual for each girl. Now, the girl essentially has her own “brand.”
Attention to detail
Vicki Butler and her daughter, Sydney, used Neyland’s services last spring. Like many families with seniors in high school, the Butlers, of Madison, were constantly busy. Vicki Butler, who had never personally experienced rush, said not only was she not familiar with the process but she didn’t feel that she had the time necessary to devote to creating Sydney’s packets.
So, when Sydney came home from school and told Butler about Neyland, Butler didn’t hesitate.
“I think the full meal deal,” Butler said. “I didn’t have a clue and she had done all the research and, to me, it was well worth the expense to have everything taken care of.”
Neyland created a packet that was unique to Sydney and Butler was impressed with the keen attention to detail.
“It was nothing that was left out of the packet that needed to be done. Period,” Butler said. “The girls have input as far as colors and style. Each package is rather unique to each girl and I have not seen one alike yet. It’s unbelievable.”
Madison resident Shawn Ward, a Phi Mu alum, has written numerous “recs” for other girls. So when it was time for her daughter, Emma, to send out packets for the University of Georgia, she knew she wanted something that would stand out. Emma’s photo was of her standing in a field of flowers so Ward wanted a bright yellow packet with yellow stickers. Neyland made it happen.
“I figured she could save me a lot of time and effort,” Ward said. “I had a vision of what I wanted to do but she had the resources. It was really painless.”
Even after her services are rendered, Neyland stays in contact with the girls. She talks with each of the girls throughout the rush week, checking in on them to see how it’s going. With each one of them, Neyland refers to them in a possessive sense — using words like “my,” ″our” and “we’re.”
“I’m on pins and needles waiting to see what everybody gets, as long as they’re happy,” she said.
A superior success rate
So far, Neyland’s girls have all gotten bids.
Sydney went Pi Beta Phi at Mississippi State. Emma went Alpha Delta Pi.
“I was totally and positively happy,” Butler said. “I’d do it again. It’s kind of like my child has a second mom for this sorority. I would do it 10 times over.
“I totally think it helped Emma stand out,” Ward said. “Not only having an outstanding resume, it was just fun to look at.”
In Oxford, Grace Counseling offers a different kind of help. Tiffany Lewis and her partner, Denease Bishop created a workshop for girls called “Beating the Rush.”
For $125, the girls will meet in a group setting and discuss tips and tools to help them prepare for the rush process, Lewis said. The workshop is offered in a five-session bundle.
“It’s not about helping them get their top house, it’s great if that happens, but it’s about using a positive physiological, strength-based approach,” Lewis said. “We want to help them get to know themselves better.”
Some of the topics addressed may be “What do I have to offer these houses on campus, even beyond rush?’, What do I have to offer the world?, How to use your strength to success and Conflict Management.
The goal, Lewis said, is to help girls “have the best experience and find the right fit for you.”
The workshop meets once a week for four weeks, ending the week before rush. The fifth session will take place in October, as a way to check back with the girls and discuss the process as well as focus on time management.
Lewis said, in her experience, she’s seen college freshman deal with anxiety and depression and they try to balance schoolwork and independence for the first time. Adding sororities and midterms to that mix can be overwhelming, she said, especially the first semester.
While the workshop is titled “Beating the Rush,” Lewis said she hopes it offers the girls an opportunity to discuss some of the life decisions they’re dealing with for the first time.
“It doesn’t just end with rush,” she said. “From a bigger picture, I see it as life skills to help them be successful in life.”
Information from: The Clarion Ledger, http://www.clarionledger.com