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At Northeastern University, a student carried a trash bag overflowing with button-down shirts still on their hangers. Outside Boston University’s Student Village Apartments, two women in carefully curated first-impression outfits awkwardly exchanged phone numbers. A continuous flow of U-Haul and UPS trucks dropped off boxes and furniture as students hugged their parents goodbye.

Across the Boston area, college students returned in droves this week for the first time since the pandemic began, renewing the end-of-summer rite. But among the familiar orientation traditions and back-to-school reunions, there were reminders that COVID-19 lingers still.

At BU and Northeastern, students were required to submit proof of vaccination before getting a move-in assignment. Both schools stagger move-in times to limit large congregations of people.

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Students’ guests are limited and everyone must be masked during the process. Students also must get tested upon arrival at both schools, and at Boston University must remain in place until they receive a negative result

D. Cohen was sitting outside Northeastern’s East Village dorm, where he said his wife and youngest daughter were upstairs setting up his oldest daughter’s room.

At Northeastern, to promote social distancing, each student is only allowed to bring two guests to help them move in. Cohen was waiting for his turn.

“Send me a picture,” he said to his daughter on the phone, eager to see her new room.

Forming behind him was an assembly line of at least a dozen employees from University and Student Services, a private company hired by Northeastern to help facilitate move-in for the 9,000 students returning to campus from Aug. 29 to Sept. 7.

Many families commended the system, which operated like a well-oiled machine.

A car pulled up, packed to the brim with moving boxes and dorm room furniture. Within seconds, the employees emptied the entire car, loaded the contents into a rolling cart, and passed the cart onto the next group of employees who took it up the elevator and to the students’ room.

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Then, in the dorm lobby, students had to swipe in and show they were within their move-in time window.

Northeastern freshman Abby Noreck and her two parents were nearly done unpacking by mid-morning Tuesday. To limit COVID risks, the school also caps guests’ stay at two hours.

“It was easy,” Noreck said of the move-in process.

Noreck said she was excited to be on campus and thinks the school has done a good job mitigating the spread of the coronavirus.

“I’m not nervous,” she said as she continued hanging her clothes in her new closet. “The school did well with testing and everything.”

Noreck was preoccupied with her excitement. She was waiting for her new roommate, Cassidy, to arrive. They found each other on Facebook and have been Snapchatting ever since.

Many students at Boston University also expressed trust in the school’s ability to mitigate the effects of the pandemic. Move-in, which took place from Aug. 25 to Wednesday, occurred in the absence of lines and large crowds.

Mario Calito, a third-year at Boston University, said he thinks it’s smart for the university to impose testing, masking, and vaccine requirements during move-in. It’ll help prevent another virtual semester, he said.

“BU has done a really good job with the pandemic,” Calito said as he lugged a laundry basket full of toiletries into Student Village Apartments. “Zoom is not my thing, so last semester was horrible… But it feels like we’re slowly going back to normality.”

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Before going inside, he put the basket down to pull his mask up from his chin.

Calito’s parents, who came from Los Angles to help him move in, were the only two guests he could bring inside. They too pulled up their masks and followed him in.

At Boston University, students are expected to limit contact with others until they receive a negative COVID test result.

Despite lingering restrictions, the grip the virus had on college life seemed to be loosening on Tuesday. The air on both campuses was buzzing with a familiar new-year energy.

Allyson Lazarre, a senior at Northeastern from Stamford, Conn., helped a friend unload a car full of boxes into their new off-campus apartment in Allston. Lazarre is hopeful her senior year will be normal, especially since all her friends and classmates are vaccinated.

“I’m just trying not to think about [the Delta variant],” Lazarre.


Julia Carlin can be reached at julia.carlin@globe.com.