IBM Corp. has chosen George Washington University and Virginia Polytechnic Institute from a field of 115 applicants to receive donations of computer equipment worth a total of about $4 million.

The equipment will be used to start a "computer-aided design/computer-aided manufacturing" (cad/cam) program at GWU. VPI will use the donations to augment a similar, existing curriculum.

GWU and Virginia Tech are the only local schools among 20 winners to receive equipment from IBM, which the company says it is donating to hasten the arrival of "factories of the future."

In addition, GWU will receive computer-graphics equipment worth $80,000 from Evans & Sutherland Corp. of Salt Lake City, also for use in manufacturing engineering.

IBM, which announced last week the winners of awards totaling $40 million in hardware and software for the study of cad/cam and manufacturing engineering, will begin delivery of the equipment in July at the rate of two schools a month, company spokesmen said.

The donations are part of a $50 million IBM program intended to improve manufacturing technology. Later this summer, the corporation will announce five winners of approximately $10 million in cash grants for improving manufacturing systems curricula at universities, according to company spokesman Peter Singer.

Both GWU and Virginia Tech expect to have partial use of the machines in the coming school year and full use of the machines by 1984 or 1985.

James Foley, a mechanical engineering professor at GWU, said that, eventually, about 500 students will use the equipment each semester. But he added that the school will have to spend about $250,000 to prepare a site in which to install the machines.

At VPI, about 850 students will use the equipment, according to J. B. Jones, head of the school's mechanical engineering department.

All schools affected by the program, whether they receive equipment or cash, will benefit by approximately $2 million each, IBM spokesmen said.

The equipment IBM is donating to each school includes the "4341 processor" mainframe computer, storage devices and graphics terminals. Software will be donated by four separate companies. The companies are CADAM Inc. of Burbank, Calif.; Dassault Systemes of Paris; Bell Northern Research Ltd. of Ottawa, and Structural Dynamics Research Corp. of Cincinnati.

Although an IBM spokesman declined to estimate the potential tax advantages of the donations, a tax analyst for Morgan Stanley Inc. said that when the equipment's $40 million list-price value is computed against IBM's 44 percent corporate tax rate, the donations could result in a tax break.

Thomas J. Crotty, vice president of research of the Gartner Group consulting firm in Stamford, Conn., said, "I'm sure that IBM's motivation is not to make money on the deal." Rather, Crotty said, IBM's interest is in developing an affinity among young engineers for its products. "IBM has always been concerned with having machines in the university, for students to learn on IBM," rather than on foreign machines, he said.

Foley theorized that IBM is concerned about the automation-manufacturing lead other nations are gaining over the United States and said he thinks the corporation hopes to close the gap by encouraging the use of cad/cam in manufacturing engineering.

Students using the IBM equipment will be able to design mechanical and electronic parts with the aid of a computer, which will, among other things, show them whether the part will function and whether it is being designed and assembled in the most efficient and cost-effective way.