Apple Computer Inc. is learning how to sell to students by asking students how they would do the job themselves. As part of a nationwide college marketing program, the Silicon Valley computer company recently enlisted students at the University of Maryland at College Park to devise a marketing plan to sell Apple's Macintosh Classic model at the school. The results ofthe exercise were more than just academic. Apple representative Susan Hammer said the company will incorporate some of the students's ideas in a campaign this spring.

The 65 students in Roxanne Lefkoff-Hagius's marketing-strategy course conducted a consumer research survey of 240 fellow students and divided themselves into 13 teams to develop different advertising approaches. The winning team -- Howard Fletcher, Anita John, Janet Patterson and Fernando Tuip -- suggested an ad in which the school's Terrapin mascot is shown being conked on the head by an Apple in a takeoff on the Sir Isaac Newton legend.

For the students' efforts, Apple gave the university two Macs and a laser printer. In return, Apple got some free market research and a nice public relations plum. As suspicion and resentment of corporate marketing on campuses mounts, "We want to be an asset to the academic mission," said Hammer. On the other hand, Apple also wants an edge against IBM, which bought its own goodwill by donating several million dollars worth of equipment to the university in 1986.

Apple plans similar marketing programs with students at Georgetown University and James Madison University.