Mention anxiety to a college student at the start of a school year and the conversation quickly will turn to lines -- lines for registration, lines for financial aid, lines for buying books and lines for housing.

But many students arriving for this fall's classes also are worried about a new line: the imaginary one in the Middle East sand that President Bush told Iraq not to cross.

With the largest U.S. troop deployment most of their generation has ever seen, this group of 18- to 24-year-olds for the first time is facing the concerns and questions that sprout in a nation on the edge of war.

Interviews with scores of students on campuses in Washington and the suburbs showed varying levels of information about and interest in the Middle East crisis. Most had a grasp of the issues and were supportive of the U.S. military presence in that region.

"Hell, yeah, we should be there," said Russ Lowder, 20, a George Mason University junior who is majoring in government. "I haven't talked to anyone in my peer group who doesn't think our troops should be there."

But other students -- a minority of the more than 150 interviewed -- questioned the U.S. government's motives.

"What I'd like to know is why the United States could not let the Arab countries settle this among themselves," said Eugene Edwards during a break in his first day of classes at the University of the District of Columbia.

A few students talked about the economic impact of higher gasoline prices. Some were too overwhelmed with beginning-of-the-semester chores to pay much attention to the issue.

But clearly, most were apprehensive that forced military service could be renewed if the volunteer force proved insufficient.

"I'm more than a little concerned," said Terrence Watkins, 20, a Howard University junior. "I'm scared as hell because I could be drafted."

John Barnett, 20, a mathematics major at the University of Maryland in College Park, said he hasn't thought much about the issues. But the military buildup in the region -- especially the inclusion of reservists -- has caught his attention.

"I've considered ways to avoid being drafted," Barnett said. "My friends have joked about it. But we've been halfway serious."

Currently, males are required to register with the Selective Service within 30 days of their 18th birthdays.

Reinstating the draft would require congressional action and the president's signature. If that were to happen, college would not provide the potential four-year shield for students that it did during the Vietnam War.

The postponement -- no longer a deferment -- would last only one semester, an academic year for graduating seniors.

And students know that.

Miguel Gonzalez, 22, and Shannon White, 18, talked about the Mideast crisis as they sat on a bench outside Howard University's fine arts building.

White, a freshmen pre-med student, said the television news stories about soldiers leaving their wives have been touching. "But for the most part, I've put it in the back of my mind," she said. "It's depressing."

Not so for Gonzalez, a microbiology major who graduates in three months.

"I'm going to be out of here pretty soon," Gonzalez said. "If something happens there and the draft returns, I would be expendable."

One measure of student interest in the crisis is enrollment in courses related to war and the Middle East.

Georgetown University's Arab Studies Department has seen "a decided increase in enrollment" in classes, said Ann Jones, a spokeswoman at Georgetown.

At American University's School of International Service, students have filled four sections of "Between Peace and War," a course that offers simulations to help students understand issues that challenge policy-makers.

"Students have been coming to freshmen orientation carrying the New York Times or The Washington Post," said Nanette Levison, associate dean of AU's School of International Service. "We don't usually see that. And they have been talking about the Mideast crisis."

Over a breakfast of soft drinks in the George Mason University Student Union I, Donna Dennis and Jennifer Basham expressed different interests on the issue.

"I've been too busy with the start of classes to think much about it," said Dennis, 21, a psychology major.

Basham, 19, was highly critical of Iraqi President Saddam Hussein's holding of hundreds of foreign nationals inside Iraq. "That is just not right," Basham said.

Among the students, many more blacks than whites said they did not support sending troops to the region.

The pattern followed national polls that have shown about three-fourths of white Americans approve of sending troops to the Mideast, while only about four out of 10 black Americans approve.

"I couldn't fight a war over the dollar," said Brian Woolfolk, 19, a University of Maryland junior who is black. "If the United States was more consistent in its foreign policy, I might not mind. But this is all about the dollar."

And speaking of money, the $2.5 billion price tag the Pentagon put on the troop deployment last week got Howard University junior Shereia Moore thinking about the Mideast crisis.

"All of that money they are spending there they could be spending on education," said Moore, 20, a marketing major. "I need my $2,500 Pell grant."