You can’t smell it because of the smog, and you can’t feel it because the weather will get hotter before it gets cooler; but there’s a papery crispness in the air at the end of August that smacks of the back-to-school season for most of Los Angeles’ universities and colleges, large and small.

Back. To. School. Try to keep it together for at least a week before everything dissolves into the madness you’ve known – or, for freshmen, what you will come to know very, very well.

For Trojans (Aug. 24), it’s a sad fact that near nobody starts school so early. In my life, I’ve never met any other college student who had more class days per semester than those at USC, and I’ve known people from schools all across the country, plus prison inmates who take thrice-weekly art symposiums and people who claim to take classes “all the time” just “down the way” at “the ‘tech.’”

Back to school for Trojans is much less about finding new classes or discovering the best new parties ¬– geographically, the campus is small and the social scene smaller – and more about that odd realization that when the August horde returns, the first few weeks of the fall are always a prickly feeling-out process with the local neighbors, a vast majority of whom have enjoyed the peace and quiet of the summer, a small minority of whom have profited greatly from the peace and quiet of the reduced campus security force all summer. I don’t mind saying that I’ve known a few students whose living quarters were near unrecognizable without their valuables, surreptitiously removed during their absence and replaced with the outlines of the items in the dusty carpet.

For Loyola Marymount (Aug. 31), its proximity to the beach and LAX requires that returning students must endure the last of the summer tourists. The beaches are maxed-out with the bronzed bodies of SoCal-ers who seemingly don’t have a job other than to rollerblade, lift, run, scream odd obscenities, swim, surf or lie in the sand and the sickly pallors of the East Coasters and Midwesterners whose blood-red “tan” lines offer the perfect unblemished silhouette of their camera strap and money belt.

Late summer tourists mean more flights in and out of LAX, and though my LMU friends have convinced me the campus isn’t actually on a runway, the university does continue to offer great travel deals for its taller students who can jump off the residence halls and hitch (or clasp) to a variety of domestic and international locations, depending on weight and arm strength.

For Pepperdine (somewhere near Aug. 31) … er … classes are back in? When were they out? Dude … get this … it’s AUGUST! Shi … man, August.

For the Claremont Colleges – Pomona, Pitzer, Scripps, Harvey Mudd, Claremont McKenna – the start of the term (Sept. 1) means that AT LAST the libraries are open for some real studying and FINALLY the Quidditch teams will be chosen, along with the squads for all the other made-up and semi-made up (read: played only internationally, by people in dresses or traditionally with the loser’s head) nerd sports.

Sept. 2 starts the year for Occidental College. One more year to put all the school’s resources towards convincing everyone that all Barack Obama needed to know he learned in two years at Occidental.

UCLA is the straggler, of course (Sept. 24), being on the quarter system. Bruins wait until much of the blasting late-summer L.A. heat has passed before making their return to the fair confines of Westwood.

But football and other sports have been in season for a month, so the first encounters of many returning Bruins are odd ones. Fans and local students have been around forever, well-settled in and well-fed at In-N-Out, while out-of-towners and the athletically disinclined are just pulling up the station wagon and U-Haul for that most terrible of rites: the Move-In When Everybody Else Is Moved In Already.

Nothing like meeting your future roommates/apartmentmates/neighborhood girlfriends or boyfriends while desperately sweaty and cursing at your parents/siblings/friends/pack mule pets for dropping the box with your smoky, tubular glass “vases.” Fortunately, with the way UCLA football has been playing, latecomers probably won’t have missed much in the early season.

So welcome, one and all, to the start of another school year. Take it from me. Even with all the hassle and stress of starting up again, it’s worth it. You’ll miss it when it’s over, when late August means counting the days to Labor Day and fall is a financial quarter.