"The parking lot is full, and the lunch line is around the corner. It's kind of alarming, especially with the increase in cases recently," said sophomore Arianne Huffman.
The university also has its largest first-year class in history.
"It's going to be a pretty large new student population coming to campus. Then if you add the 1,800 students studying remote last year, it's going to be a large group coming on to campus and exploring for their first time," said Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs Charles Nies.
Two-thousand, four-hundred and sixty-six students are freshmen, while 282 are new transfer students and 140 are new graduate students.
Nies said students would experience new amenities throughout the university completed last summer as part of the $1.2 billion Merced 2020 Project campus expansion.
"We got a new pool and aquatic center that opened up, classroom and research buildings, and we are looking forward to students coming back," said Nies.
Huffman remained on campus during the pandemic but said safety guidelines were strict.
"We were not even allowed to leave our dorms. We would go to the cafeteria, grab our food and then go back," said Huffman.
With the return of students, a vaccine mandate is in place. Currently, about 90% of the campus community is vaccinated.
Everyone must also wear a mask indoors and socially distance.
Huffman said she feels overwhelmed with the number of students on campus and hopes the university continues taking guidelines seriously.
"I hope they continue to enforce the vaccination rules and keep up with masks. I have a 300 person lecture today, so I am curious to see how that is going to go," said Huffman.
With school being delayed a few days because of a lack of housing availability, Nies says 500 beds were added on school grounds, with hotels booked as temporary options.
Administrators are still working to help some students.
"We still have about 68 to 70 students that are still searching for options. We are hoping to work with them and settle that today. We know it created stress, but our hope is by the end of today, we will have a plan for all of our students," said Nies.