Welcome to the Sunshine State, and welcome to UF!! I understand what you mean about the northeast; I'm originally from up north as well, and sororities are completely different up there. But what I can say is that joining a sorority, for me, was one of the best decisions I have ever made. You're right, it is a quick way to make friends...but it's also a way to make real connections with other young women who are very much like you. The recruitment process is designed to help you, not to keep any PNMs (that's "Potential New Member") out. The weird and exhausting method of visiting houses and mutual ranking and selection means that whichever house you end up at is a house full of girls who love you, are excited to have you, and with whom you will make lifelong bonds.
I know it's going to be hard to do, but try to not feel like you're fighting the system to get picked. I know very, very few girls who ended up without bids on bid day. The best advice I can give you is to just be yourself, and let the recruitment process work FOR you, not against you. If you're not comfortable at a house, fine - drop them from your list and move on. Throughout recruitment, your ultimate goal shouldn't be to impress us...it should be to find that house where you'll be so happy and comfortable that you won't HAVE to worry about making us like you or pick you; you'll feel right at home!
A few bits of advice:
** Take great notes after each party so that you'll have an easier time whittling down your list at the end of each day.
** Be prepared for a LONG day Round 1. Normally, that round is split into two days because you see all sixteen houses. This year, Panhellenic is doing it in a single, grueling day. It'll be exhausting for you, but keep in mind that it will also be hard on those of us rushing you!
Stay positive - once you make it through Round 1, the rest of recruitment will be SO much easier...and it will be worth all the hard work!!
** Pack smart for recruitment! Your Pi Chis will try to have everything on hand for you, but just in case, pack your own bag of goodies. Bring extra pens, any makeup/hair products you may need out in the heat, an umbrella, a book for the waiting periods, some snacks to nibble on in case you don't like or are allergic to the ones the Pi Chis provide, a water bottle (or two!) and basically anything else you think you might need. The days (especially the first) are long and hot, and the weather unpredictable.
I also recommend packing a pair of sandals to wear between rounds, so you're not stuck in heels all day or in case a heel breaks or something.
** Don't get discouraged! There WILL be times where a house that you liked doesn't show up on your schedule the next day. This does NOT mean that they didn't like you, or that they think you're unattractive, or that they don't want you. It just means that they don't think you'll fit in with the rest of the chapter. Remember, we're looking for sisters as well...and we want you to be somewhere where you will be cherished and loved, and where you will feel like you're at home! If we're rushing you and think to ourselves "Oh, this girl would be so happy at sorority XYZ" or "I don't think she'll get along with my sisterhood; we don't have much in common", we're not going to call you back. It's for your own happiness, AND ours! On that note, there are 16 chapters...and at LEAST one of them will be a perfect match for you, I promise.
We're all different, but there isn't a single "bad" chapter on campus. You have a home here, you've just got to find it!
** Do NOT listen to tent talk. That girl under your tent that is bad-talking a sorority, or saying she's "totally a shoo-in" for some chapter? She's wrong, and she's not. This needs to be YOUR decision; don't let the girls around you affect that. Nobody goes into recruitment knowing where they will place, and like I said, there are no bad chapters. The tent talk is ridiculous - make friends under your tent, but when it comes time to preference your chapters, pick the ones that make YOU most comfortable, not the ones that your new friend says are "the best ones".
Do you have any specific questions? Feel free to message me, and good luck!