Study: ‘Rise In Student Perfectionism Since 1990’s’ & How Greek Life Can Help Course Correct

posted in: Nik Koulogeoge | 0
Every millennial got a trophy, has been told they didn’t deserve it, and is now freaking out about it. . . Maybe.


I was never paid to get a “C,” nor an “A” or “B.” If I wasn’t working as my parents had when they were children, I was at least expected to excel at my childhood work: school work. 

A study published in the American Psychological Association (APA) journal notes an increase in perfectionism among 41,000 US, UK & Canadian college students over 27 years of survey responses.

The study describes two types of perfectionism:

Socially Prescribed Perfectionism: A perception that people demand excessive things from you (scores increased 32% since the 1990’s)

Self-Oriented Perfectionism: An internalized pressure to succeed and stand out (scores increased 10%)

I’m certainly not immune to these pressures and perceptions – I am a first-generation, millennial college graduate after all, but perhaps these trends are not simply an increase in paranoia. Perhaps external pressures regarding the value of an education, public funding of education and, you guessed it, demands for exceptionalism among fraternity/sorority students are contributing to the cause.

These “worrying trends,” the authors write, “suggest that young people may be increasingly more sensitive to perceived external pressures and are finding it more difficult than previous generations to cope with them.” Recent college students also “appear to be imposing more demanding and unrealistic standards on those around them than generations previous.”

– Authors of study via Reason article

It goes without saying that many of these students have grown into our current professional workforce.

We are the people who unfriend on Facebook those who don’t support our chosen political candidates, the people who make our lives unrealistically beautiful on Instagram, and who create laundry lists of expectations to push students to adopt our rigid sense of perfection. (Read: Student Leaders Are Not Raw Material)

Reports of violent protests at Berkeley over a Ben Shapiro program, he’s a conservative speaker/thinker, only highlight the issue described in this study. We are not accepting of the natural faults of individuals and of humanity – but imperfection is reality AND beautiful.

Fraternities and sororities are prevalent throughout American, Canadian and British colleges and universities, and we may be contributing to this sense of paranoia.

Over the generations, our expectations of ourselves have dramatically increased. We may consider such “standards” as noble, but we may also be running our students into the ground. A key initiative of my team while working at Delta Sig was to reform our standards/accreditation system to address the concerns outlined in this study. (Read about it here)

Perhaps it’s time we start adopting a similar approach among the wider fraternity/sorority community.

We’ve created systems which pit organizations against one another, and which essentially assign scores to fraternities or sororities for expectations largely unrelated to our purpose. It’s not just our students – those of us who’ve graduated and continue to work within education have brought these expectations into the fraternity/sorority system.

A fraternity headquarters was designed to keep everyone connected; they must also now micromanage students away from dangerous activities, provide millions of dollars worth of education, and compel chapters to complete checklists of publicity programming.

Our obsession to be “better” has not only made our organizations less accessible, they’ve made Greek Life a competition which emphasizes and rewards which chapter can wring the most effort of its members rather than which leaves its members better off after graduating college.

Say what you want – we are friend clubs at the end of the day, and friend clubs alone are valuable and needed.

If you’re concerned about the degeneration of the American higher education system, consider making a change, regardless of how small it may seem, to the expectations we lay out for students and ourselves. Fraternities and sororities should graduate away from being graded and compared on anything other than the talent they acquire.

Otherwise Greek Life becomes nothing more than a 4-year marathon to win the most points, be the most perfect, and keep hidden the most dirty laundry. It’s everything we hate about scam politicians, and we are reinforcing it at every turn.

[Share this study, or this Fraternity Man post, with the hashtag #EndChecklistLeadership. Maybe I’ll send you a sticker 😀 ]

Link to Study (Abstract, PDF available upon purchase)

Link to Quoted Article