For thousands of new (and even returning) students, late September means making new friends, exploring new interests, and perhaps most importantly, finding and building their new communities. The relationships forged during those formative weeks on campus often define students’ lives as Bruins. Even though the pandemic has rewritten the circumstances, UCLA is doing its best to make sure this upcoming year will be no exception.

From Sept. 24 through Oct. 4, the True Bruin Welcome program will introduce students to the countless ways to get involved at UCLA and provide them with opportunities to virtually connect with like-minded students and resources to support personal growth and academic success, whether studying from home or on campus.

“Community and community building is an important part of the college experience, whether a virtual or in-person quarter,” said Josh O’Connor, assistant director of leadership and involvement with the office of residential life. “The goal is to ensure that everyone at UCLA has the opportunity to feel a sense of belonging. True Bruin Welcome’s objective is to provide educational and social engagements to allow students to find their communities to feel a sense of belonging.”

This year UCLA will welcome approximately 6,300 freshmen and more than 3,800 transfer students, though fewer than 800 students will be living on the Hill. To help reduce the spread of COVID-19 testing is required for all students living in university housing or participating in on-site or hybrid classes, as well as for faculty, staff, or teaching assistants involved in teaching on site.

True Bruin Welcome kicks off Sept. 24 with a day full of virtual events geared toward introducing students to UCLA and providing them with resources to navigate life as a Bruin. This is Bruin Life, UCLA’s signature student welcome, will feature Chancellor Gene Block, student body president Naomi Riley, current students and alumni sharing what they have learned and how they have grown at UCLA.

Friday, Sept. 25, includes events focused on helping students transition into the new environment of college — among them, virtual meetups to help build communities among students from rural areas and those relocating to the Los Angeles area. Students will also have the opportunity to check out hundreds of student organizations at the Enormous Activities Fair. Instead of taking over Bruin Walk, the fair will be held virtually on Instagram so students can take their time to familiarize themselves with the different resources and opportunities available to them.

Over the weekend, students will have the opportunity to connect with classmates from their academic disciplines, get more information about student activities, and even see a table top production of Shakespeare’s “Much Ado About Nothing” from UCLA’s Center for the Art of Performance, where one actor gives an intimate retelling of the play using household objects. UCLA’s Greek community will also be hosting an event on Sept. 26 to welcome new and continuing students. Members from the various Greek organizations will share information and answer questions from students.

Academic-focused events will continue throughout the week. The UCLA College will hold open houses for academic disciplines, including labor studies, physical sciences, art history, and ecology and evolutionary biology among many other fields.

On Sept. 29, ASUCLA will hold a Q&A session about campus job opportunities, where many Bruins find their strongest communities. Also on Tuesday, commuter students will have the chance to connect with one another over a game of Kahoot!

The Transfer Student Center will hold a transfer trivia event at 11 a.m. on Sept. 29, where prizes will be given for knowledge of the UCLA transfer community.

On Oct. 1, LGBTQ student groups will hold a virtual event to introduce new and returning students to the organizations and offer students a chance to meet one another. Similar events will be happening throughout True Bruin Welcome, including an event specifically for LGBTQ international students.

The Dashew Center also invites new international students to join them on Oct. 2 for an FAQ session that will give them assistance in their transition to life as a UCLA student.

Students will also be provided with valuable resources to help them navigate the challenges of university life. On Sept. 24, students will be able to attend Zoom seminars on student unions and workplace rights, overcoming imposter syndrome, and access to disability accommodations and advocacy with the Center for Accessible Education.

And finally, the return to school programming will conclude as it always does with UCLA’s annual Volunteer Day, which like everything else this year is changing because of COVID-19. Even without the large-scale group volunteer projects that have been a hallmark of the event — now in its 12th year — anyone can register for Volunteer Day and participate in one or more of the dozens of virtual Volunteer Day activities. Activities include a mask-making tutorial, an info session to register as a poll worker, and learning about local community service groups. While nearly all of Volunteer Day, which is Oct. 10, will be held virtually, there will still be a blood drive and a basic-needs food drive drop-off on campus.

For the first time, Volunteer Day includes educational webinars bringing UCLA’s expertise to the community on topics like effective protesting during a pandemic, the Black Lives Matter movement, and voter registration and suppression.