Incoming freshmen will tell you college is challenging enough, with new towns, new roommates, new academic hurdles, and new concerns about how far they can stretch their parents' dollars.
Now, students, parents and college faculty and staff face one more worry - a worldwide virus pandemic. And universities have radically changed their approach to learning in response.
The University of Illinois at Chicago, for example, anticipates a 50/50 mix of in-person and online classes. For some students, that will mean 100% e-learning. Others will have actual in-person instruction.
"Some of the arts classes, like studio arts and music, will be very difficult to achieve the learning goals without being on campus," says Dr. Susan Poser, Provost at UIC. "We're trying to have every first year student have at least experience on campus that they can building that connection to the campus and to each other."
Like most schools, UIC has spent the summer reinventing the university experience. During normal times, about 85% of the school's students are commuters. But some will be arriving for on-campus living in the fall.
"The plan now is to do double-occupancy in the rooms," Poser told NBC 5. "We also have set aside some residence halls, some floors of residence halls, for any students who test positive and have to be quarantined."
Masks will be required throughout the campus and testing protocols are still being developed. But UIC notes one advantage: renowned medical programs and a teaching hospital adjacent to campus.
"We have a school of public health at the University and we have outstanding medical doctors and PhD's who study infectious disease," Poser said. "And we have been consulting with them all summer."
Of course, Chicago and the state of Illinois likely have substantially different virus numbers and trends than other college towns where local students may be enrolling.
An analysis by NBC 5 Investigates of hundreds of top designations for Illinois freshmen shows that more than three quarters of those schools are located in counties where coronavirus cases are rising, or spiking to higher levels than when the pandemic first peaked last spring.
At Southern Illinois University, for example, both the Carbondale and Edwardswillve campuses are in counties where the virus has recently hit record numbers.
Indiana University, in Bloomington, sits in a county now seeing 140 new virus cases per week. And Bradley University in downstate Peoria, reported 12 students tested positive last week alone.
You can use our online tool to check the virus rates for the 350 top destinations of Illinois students here.
Like every college and university nationwide, Chicago's Loyola University has been building a raft of new procedures and guidelines in preparation for the return to campus this fall. Masks will be required campus-wide, and new cleaning protocols are already in place.
"The vast majority of our classes will be online," said Kana Henning, Loyola's associate vice president for facilities. "We will have a small number of classes on campus, and those will mainly be anything that has to be face-to-face."
Henning said Loyola anticipates bringing fewer than 2,000 students to campus to live in residence halls, and only 10 of the university's 15 dorms will be open.
"All of our study lounges and common spaces will be closed down," she said. "We will be housing our students in single occupancy rooms."
Loyola has advised students arriving from any states on the city of Chicago's travel watch list that they will be expected to quarantine for 14 days.
"At this point in time, a little over half of our students come to Loyola from out-of-state," Henning said.
Loyola believes about 99% of its classes this fall will be online. But Henning said campus facilities like the library will be open for those students who want to travel to campus and feel closer to the university community.
"We want them to still feel connected to the university," she said. "If you will be entirely online and you are living in the area, and you want to come study in the library or the information commons, you want to sit in the student center with your friends, all of those facilities will be available to all of our students, not just our students who are living here on campus."
Of course college means new experiences, new friendships, and a myriad of new activities which take place far from the classroom. Local administrators said they are mindful of that, and asking students to exercise responsibility as they face a very different reality this fall.
"We want to remain open to our students, we don't want to have an outbreak, we do not want to have a reason to close down at some point during the fall semester," Henning said. "So we're really relying on training, continuing education, peer-to-peer influence through our student leaders, and the goodwill of our students who want to be here and want nothing more than to be on campus."
At UIC, Poser said the university plans extensive publicity about masks and social distancing, and said they are asking students to look out for each other and themselves. But she expressed confidence that those students will want to do the right thing.
"Our students, many of them, have worked very hard and beaten the odds to get to UIC, so they have many of their own reasons for being careful," she said. "I'm really hoping and believing that we're going to come together as a community."