Columbia -- Some mentors in the University of South Carolina's residence halls, who have had a room of their own in exchange for helping their fellow students, now are sharing a room with a freshman.

Finding a place to park at the university's downtown campus, always tough, now is much tougher, and getting into some classes is tougher too.

With the fall term under way, USC's Columbia campus -- which took in another record-size freshman class this year -- is jam-packed, forcing the university to try to find solutions to handling that influx and forcing students to plan better, leave for classes earlier and prepare for a time in the not-too-distant future when they won't be able to live in on-campus housing.

"We're full," said Adam Waelde, 19, a sophomore from Greenville. "We just can't handle it. Our parking is full. Our dorms can't handle it."

USC, like other public colleges and universities across the country, gives preference to incoming freshmen in allocating housing because research shows that first-year students are more likely to succeed, and return for future semesters, if they live on campus and get involved in campus life.

But that preference raises the question of what commitment schools have to returning students who already have demonstrated their own commitment.

"If the university is a business, we are its clients," said Waelde, an international business and computer science double major. "The returning clients are suffering."

USC's housing is crowded.

For example, Gene Luna, USC's associate vice president for student affairs, said lounge space in some residence halls has been converted to bed space.

Thirty to 40 of the school's 220 resident mentors also have been asked to share a room with a freshman, Luna said.

Those freshmen will be moved to other rooms this semester as space becomes available, and the resident mentors who share their rooms will be given additional pay to compensate for the loss of their private rooms.

Also, rooms that once were set aside in the Capstone House dorm for use by members of USC's Board of Trustees and other university guests now will be used for students.

The on-campus housing crunch, however, won't end this year.

USC requires freshmen to live on campus, reserving enough beds to make sure they can. However, the school blocks off a smaller number of its available rooms for sophomores and an even smaller number for juniors and seniors.

Luna said a random lottery system is used to determine which sophomores, juniors and seniors get to live in on-campus housing.

In early March, after the fall housing sign-up period for upperclassmen ended, about 800 students who had participated in the lottery were not assigned a room. They were placed on a waiting list.

Luna said that list has been whittled down to zero as students made other housing arrangements. Some on the waiting list got rooms on campus when other students canceled their housing contracts. Others decided to live off campus.

"Increasingly, a lot of juniors and seniors want to be off campus," Luna said. "That's part of their education too, moving toward independence."

Waelde, however, said the housing crunch has financial implications for some students he knows.

"Some are losing scholarships because the scholarships are tied to their living in on-campus housing," he said.