WASHINGTON (AP) _ As Florida hot spots reel from close to a million spring break visitors, a dozen students from Chicago spent the week in Washington sleeping in a homeless shelter, painting buildings and helping unemployed women prepare for job interviews.

For Naureen Choudhury, a freshman at Chicago's DePaul University, the choice was simple: ``I can go to Cancun and get drunk with my friends, which is meaningless, or I can go broaden the scope of what I know about other people.''

Many students still prefer to party. Panama City Beach, Fla., alone estimates 500,000 people will flood in this year during spring break time.

But last year, 20,000 students from across the nation did some type of alternative break activity, estimates Break Away, an 8-year-old group at Vanderbilt University in Nashville.

And more and more campuses, uneasy about the binge drinking and violence associated with the annual break from school, are encouraging and helping students to skip the revelry for higher pursuits.

``This generation does want to make a difference,'' said Thomas Greene, a spokesman for Norwich University, a central Vermont school that sent several students to Washington to work in soup kitchens and build houses.

Among those who participated last year in volunteer or charity work during spring break were students who tutored migrant farm workers in Florida, built homes in Appalachia, registered voters in rural Mississippi and worked with the homeless in Washington.

Among examples this year:

_University of San Diego students will tutor grade school children in Arizona.

_About 20 students from Siena College in Loudonville, N.Y., near Albany, will spend a week helping a Navajo community in Tohatchi, New Mexico.

_A choir at the University of Cincinnati spent its break on a tour that included historically black colleges.

Marquette University in Milwaukee has sponsored service spring breaks for more than 20 years and the University of Dayton, in Ohio, for about 10.

In the last couple of years, a string of drinking-related deaths and accidents at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Louisiana State University and at other campuses and spring break spots have led officials and student leaders to increase efforts to deter drinking.

States and communities have set up task forces to work with local bars and restaurants to prevent underage drinking.

The alcohol industry also has curbed its spring break advertising to some degree. Budweiser has moved promotions off beaches and into bars to keep them away from underage drinkers, said Jack Dougherty, Anheuser-Busch's director of consumer education.

Community service is a natural replacement, said Nancy Schulte, coordinator of drug education services at George Mason University in Fairfax, Va.

``The temptations are removed,'' Schulte said. ``The students are doing something worthwhile, and they can see the benefits of their activities.''

Some students don't stop with spring break. Sarah Holthouser, a junior at Salem College in Winston-Salem, N.C., spent the semester organizing an April 16 event during which about 200 college students will spend the night in a park to raise money for homeless shelters.

It's best to start volunteering when you're young, said Holthouser, 21. ``By the time they are older, it's become a habit to volunteer,'' she said.

DePaul sponsored 10 trips for 120 students this year, ranging from helping physically disabled children in Montgomery, Ala., to the homeless trip to Washington.

Choudhury, who is 18, and her fellow students weren't having much luck with their survey of the city's homeless. Many people sitting in a park near the White House simply refused to answer the students' questions about their health and housing history.

But the effort wasn't wasted, said Rebecca Amend, a 22-year-old senior who's always chosen such spring breaks.

``You get to meet a quality level of people,'' said Amend. ``Besides, I don't like the beach.''