College Move-in Day During a Pandemic

What does college move-in day during a pandemic look like? At least for this parent, it definitely entirely different than it used to be.

Pants and tape next to a move-in box
Photo by Karolina Grabowska from Pexels

Weeks of reading parents’ (sometimes heated) debates over sending — or not sending — students to college this fall did nothing but fuel anxiety about driving 15 hours through several coronavirus hotspot states for my daughter to begin her freshman year living in a dorm and attending in-person classes.

It turns out, all that worry was wasted energy.

If there is a silver lining from this pandemic, it’s this: College move-in was a low-stress event accomplished in under 40 minutes. In fact, I’ll even suggest this is how it should be post-pandemic, even though it had a few downsides.

Move-in day

The university, like many across the country that are opening to students, spread out freshman move-in to control crowds. My daughter reserved a 30-minute slot online for check-in, which was offered over five days. She picked 9 a.m. on a Saturday morning, the second day of move-in and what I feared would be the busiest day.

I still expected lines of cars battling for a tight spot to unload and lines of overheated, emotional parents lugging their kids’ lives up flights of old stairs. That’s exactly how it had been with my other two kids, lots of waiting in lines: in a line of vehicles just to get onto campus, another line to get to the dorm unloading zone, another line with a crowd at the dorm door as people pushed through with microwaves, futons and giant fuzzy pillows, another line at the elevator (or risk a heart attack taking on the stairs), another line to get down the overcrowded hall to the dorm room.

Here’s what we experienced instead: We drove right to her dorm with not a single car in front of us, got a parking spot right in front, she checked into the dorm and got her key in under three minutes and we unloaded and had her stuff in her room on the third floor in 37 minutes.

I timed it.

No lines, no crowds to navigate, no stress.

Everyone wore masks, there was hand sanitizer and clever signs everywhere reminding people to keep their distance and high-touch areas, such as entrance doors, were manned by staff to keep contact to a minimum.

We felt completely safe in a coronavirus hotspot after months of sticking close to home.

The downside

As great as move-in day was, it didn’t feel like an “event” at all. It was missing the excitement of the big day — the noise, the music, lots of staff on hand with shouts of welcome, jubilant helpers from Greek life who literally are lifesavers when it comes to carrying that heavy futon up the stairs. There weren’t carts or dollies to ease the burden in order to keep spreading germs to a minimum.

As we headed out for lunch after unpacking and decorating her room, even the restaurants near campus had no lines, no waits.

By the end of the day, the dorm itself still felt empty and outside it, there were not groups of teary-eyed parents snapping pics.

I shed a few tears, of course, but there was no one to see them as I wandered back to my car to leave my baby to take on this next phase of her life.

Other parents have chosen to keep their kids home this first semester and that’s OK, too. Other universities are taking a pause on dorm living or in-person class and that’s OK, too. But as a mom, I supported her decision to go to school even though I’ll worry constantly that coronavirus will find her and hurt her. She’s loaded down with hand sanitizer and cute masks (I couldn’t put my hands on Clorox wipes in time). She knows what to do to stay safe.

She’s ready to be on her own for the first time.

Now the big question is, will the campus remain open as students return? Only time will tell. We already have a return-to-home plan in place just in case the campus closes again as it did in the spring.

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