LOS ANGELES (KABC) -- The University of California school system announced in January its plan to have students back on campus for the 2021-22 school year, and that time has finally arrived.
UCLA planned a surprise welcome celebration for students for their first day back to school.
"To finally be back and experience this moment, and experience this campus coming back to life after 18 months is just incredible," said Steve Ritea, a UCLA spokesperson.
This academic year marks the first full return to in-person instruction at UC schools since March 2020, which means for some second-year students, this is their first time on campus.
"I'm super excited to transition from being on Zoom to being on actual campus," said Lauryn Famble, a UCLA sophomore. "This is going to be my first time taking real classes."
"You make a lot of friends on Zoom, but it's way better when you see them as more than just a box in a computer screen," said Taylor Gomez-Douglas, another UCLA sophomore.
With so many students back on campus this week, school administration not only wants to make sure the students feel welcome but they also want to make sure they feel safe. They put in place a number of different COVID safety protocols around campus, including vending machines that dispense free COVID-19 tests.
"There is a COVID test that was developed at UCLA and you'll see vending machines all around campus," said Ritea.
"You can just be like, here's my Bruin card and get your test," said Famble. "They make testing and overall safety really accessible and really important to the school which I deeply admire."
Local business owners are also happy about students being back in-person. After surviving the pandemic, they're hoping the new school year will boost business.
"I believe there's 30, 40,000 undergrad students, so with that many people all of a sudden coming into town, I expect it'd be good for the entire community," said Steve Kim, owner of Gogobop, a Korean rice bar near the school.
The UC system has required all students and staff to get vaccinated to be on campus unless they're exempt and UCLA representatives said they've reached over 92% compliance so far.