Monika Batra held a painting under one arm and a pillow under the other as she rolled a large black suitcase into her new quarters at Stony Brook University.
Her mother wasn't far behind, carrying a bin of clothes as her daughter quickly found space for her things, including shoes, photos and a shower caddie.
"It's starting to look like home already," said Batra, 18, of Valley Stream.
From the minivans stuffed to the ceiling to the parents giving last-minute laundry lessons to the various social gatherings -- it is evident this week that college students are descending onto campuses across Long Island.
Nearly 24,000 students will begin their freshman year at local public, private and community colleges over the next two weeks.
Though a Sallie Mae study last month suggested more students are forgoing the traditional dorm experience, Stony Brook University has more than 600 students on a wait list for campus housing, with about 450 students tripled up in rooms designed for two.
"Students here want to live on campus. As we've made improvements, the demand has gone up," said Dallas Bauman, assistant vice president, campus residences. "There's just a lot more going on on campus than there was before."
Molloy College and Farmingdale State College also are reporting wait lists of a few dozen for campus housing. Hofstra, Adelphi and LIU Post are accommodating all requests, according to officials at those schools.
At Stony Brook, more frequent renovations to 28 undergraduate dorms, new LEED-certified buildings named for Nobel Prize winners, efforts to group students by common interests and give them more social opportunities on weekends, have all helped build a solid campus community over the years, Bauman said.
New this semester is a $37.5 million, 88,000-square-foot recreation center complete with three-court gymnasium for basketball, volleyball, and badminton; fitness studios for yoga, Pilates and indoor cycling; and a 17,000-square-foot weight/fitness room. It is expected to open next month.
And the number of student-led campus organizations has doubled in the past decade from 180 to 367, said Jerrold Stein, associate vice president for student affairs.
"We are opening this year with a sense of pride on this campus like we've never seen before," he said as new students and their parents gathered to hear the "Spirit of Stony Brook," a 185-member marching band. "We stress that academics come first but there's a sense of belonging that is critical to retaining students. It's good for their mental health and for their academics."
Back in a dorm building called Gray College, Kaarina Hanington of Babylon was in her triple room with her parents after her roommates left for the campus welcome cookout.
Hanington, 18, wasn't thrilled about being cramped into a triple room. But she was happy to be among the Women in Science and Engineering (WISE) students.
"I like how they have us all living together," said Hanington, referring to female students grouped together based on their shared interest in the sciences. "It's kind of like being in a sorority."