A very different move-in day for students at Carleton University in Ottawa, Sept. 6, 2020, as COVID-19 precautions take centre stage. (Shaun Vardon / CTV News Ottawa)

First year students are arriving at university and college campuses all over Ontario this week. In the past, they could expect to find parties, socializing, and a bit of a carnival atmosphere, but COVID-19 has put an end to that for now.

When Trace Haefele arrived at Carleton University to drop off her daughter, Amlie, a neat line of cars greeted her, along with a list of precautions now necessary in the age of COVID-10. She was among the parents quietly helping their children unload everything they would need for a year that is nothing like their first year in university.

“It’s a little nerve wracking dropping her off in this situation,” Haefele said. “It’s a very different dynamic.”

Only one person could help bring items into the residence, so Trace waited patiently with the car wile her husband hauled in cases of bottled water.

“There’s a little bit of fear that will be tied to this experience for them, more so than just moving from home,” Haefele said. “I feel the university is doing as much as they can.”

Amlie is looking forward to beginning her four-year adventure in higher education. She is in the computer science program and, although she is disappointed to be missing so much of the traditional university experience, she is excited to start her studies.

“Having grad year taken away was really rough, and prom and all that stuff, and now frosh week is supposed to be the time you all party and get to hang out, there aren’t that many people on my dorm floor,” Amlie said. “I think overall it’s set up really well, it just feels a little empty.”

To help keep students safe in residence, the university is giving each student a “COVID Care Package”. It includes two washable face coverings, hand sanitizer, and a cleaning kit for the washroom. All students in residence have single rooms with their own washroom and are expected to wear a mask and physically distance whenever they are not in their rooms.

The upcoming year is expected to have its own unique challenges. Although Haefele feels bittersweet to see Amlie off this year, she has no doubt her daughter is safe and will succeed in the face of COVID-19.

“I think seeing the masks and all the procedures they have in place,” Haefele said, “it makes me feel a little more assured.”