President Reagan tried the other day to summarize for a group of college students his view of the Soviets and his forthcoming summit with Mikhail Gorbachev, the Soviet leader. He told the students that the United States would continue to compete with Moscow's military might.

"Well, the cartoon told it all," he said. "When we started building up our . . . arms and our military, when there was a cartoon of two Russian generals, and one of them was saying to the other, 'I liked the arms race better when we were the only ones in it.' "

AND A HISTORY LESSON . . . Reagan also offered the students a short version of communist history.

"Lenin made an eloquent statement," Reagan said. "He said, 'We must take Eastern Europe.' And they certainly have now. There it is behind the Iron Curtain. He said, 'We will organize the hordes of Asia.' Well, they tried in China. They haven't done too well there, but we look at Cambodia and Vietnam, North Korea. And then they said, 'We will move into Latin America.' And they said, 'With the last -- then we will not have to take the last bastion of capitalism, the United States. It will fall into our hands like overripe fruit.' "

BALANCING THE BUDGET AND OTHER FACTS. . . Reagan, an apostle of balanced budgets who has presided over a doubling of the national debt, was asked whether a constitutional amendment to balance the budget could be enacted now. "There is no way you could balance the budget in one year," he told the students.

"It is too far out of hand," he added. "And, remember, this unbalanced budget goes back half a century. And there were many of us, over the years, who were complaining and saying, 'This is wrong and someday it's going to get out of hand.' "

INTERIOR DESIGN . . . White House chief of staff Donald T. Regan has put his imprint on the layout of West Wing offices down the hall from the president. Over the August vacation, workmen cut a new door and rearranged desks so that one of Regan's top assistants, Dennis Thomas, is now closer to the chief of staff's office, and Regan gets a bigger reception area.

VEEP VIEWS . . . Vice President Bush seems to be making an effort to improve the content of his speeches. For a long time, Bush traveled the nation giving speeches that loyally followed the Reagan line but were devoid of new policy pronouncements. This week, he delivered a major address on U.S.-Soviet relations in Manhattan, Kan., and also a trade speech to the Commonwealth Club in San Francisco. Both seemed to contain more detail about administration thinking than Reagan has offered on the subjects lately.

Bush explained in the trade speech that politicians are "feeling the heat" to limit imports. "And you know how it is when you're under pressure -- when a fellow's being chased by a dog, that's no time to ask his opinion on national canine policy."

BUDGET TIME AGAIN . . . The White House has given marching orders to the Cabinet agencies for the next budget cycle, fiscal 1987. The word from Joseph R. Wright Jr., acting director of the Office of Management and Budget, is to keep domestic spending requests generally within the bounds of the fiscal 1986 budget Reagan proposed last February, not the compromise that Congress recently approved, which has higher domestic spending levels. In other words, Reagan will again ask Congress for many of the deep domestic cuts it refused to approve this year.

The flip side is that the White House has all but accepted the congressional compromise when it comes to defense spending for fiscal 1987 -- the 3 percent increase after inflation has been written into administration policy. Wright is running the show until Reagan's nominee for OMB director, James C. Miller III, is confirmed.

PERSONNEL . . . Michael Guest joins the White House staff to help foreign policy spokesman Edward Djerejian. Guest comes from the State Department, where he worked in the Office of NATO Affairs and with the U.S. team in Geneva negotiating with the Soviets on defense and space weapons.