More than 150 students are camped in the recreational lounges of 23 University of Maryland dormitories because more students than expected showed up this fall to claim their on-campus housing.

And while this isn't the first housing crunch to hit the school, this year's problems are particularly severe and don't show signs of quickly abating.

At Denton Hall, for example, in a room that might ordinarily contain a pool table, five metal-framed beds are crammed together in a row with some three feet of space between them. Dressers are lined up on both sides of the door, while footlockers and strewn clothes take up most of the remaining space.

Dorms are intentionally overbooked every fall semester, Jan Davidson, administrative services manager for the campus housing office, said yesterday.

This is done, he said, because many students who initially plan to live on campus end up finding off-campus housing or withdrawing from school and canceling their housing arrangements.

Davidson also said that while the overflow usually disappears within three to four weeks after classes start, some of this fall's students may have to stay in lounges the entire semester.

Only twice in the university's history -- in 1974 and 1983 -- have students had to spend an entire semester in "overflow-housing" as the lounges are called.

"Our biggest inconveniences are studying and privacy," said Rich Wood, 18, a freshman from New York City, and one of four students living in a third-floor lounge at Denton Hall.

"If you want to study," he said, "there might be somebody who wants to listen to the radio; there's not a whole lot you can do about it."

Returning students are given priority on dormitory rooms, Davidson said.

When the fall semester started last Tuesday, 230 students were placed in lounges in 24 dormitories.

Since then, 78 have been shifted to regular dormitory rooms, university officials said. Another 800 students are on a waiting list for campus housing.

Davidson said living in lounges is voluntary and that, for most students, overflow-housing is an alternative to being placed on a waiting list or finding housing on their own. "It's a program that we believe in," he said.

Students who end up living in the lounges after Sept. 29 will be charged $614, two-thirds of the semester's $921 housing fee, Davidson said. That price does not include meals.

Although the University of Maryland has 37,000 students, there are bed spaces for only 8,000. Between 500 and 1,000 students end up being placed on a waiting list every fall semester, Davidson said, adding that there are no plans to build additional dormitories.

The major reason for the no-build decision, he said, is that some of the older dormitories need to be renovated before new construction is considered. There is simply not enough money to renovate and build at the same time, he said.

There are currently 19 dormitories, many of them built before World War II, being renovated at a cost of nearly $50 million.

The modernization project, which will add more than 400 bed spaces, is not expected to be completed until the late 1980s, Davidson said.