Blender has real issues, it is hard for many people to use easily. It is open source and has a bunch of potential.
SoftImage, will it always be free for use by Students? Don’t know.
I noticed that Dan Waters is teeing up a new fat tutorial over on his blog, and if his past efforts are any indication, it will be awesome. But being a contrarian I think that Blender is a better solution over SoftImage, not necessarily better tool or overall, but as the price is free (or you can make a donation, which I will do).
Not for any good reason, but that is the way of being a grump.
(Excuse me while I kick those kids off my front lawn.)
Download Blender 2.56a Beta from: http://www.blender.org/download/get-256-beta/
My recommendation is for you to immediately download Blender from http://www.blender.org and start making some tracks on learning how to use it. If you do so, make sure to go to help and PRINT out the “Cheat Sheet” place it by your computer, it will come in handy. Also, if you are using a smaller laptop keyboard, before you start the tutorial make sure to know how to turn on your number pad. Or run over an buy a wireless keyboard you have been thinking about buying. I got a separate numeric keyboard from Staples, it was pricey, but portable as I will using it for demonstrations. Or come to one of my events, I will have a drawing for a wireless keyboard.
Also, if you use your middle mouse button for scrolling turn that feature off while watching the videos, the middle mouse button is used for a number of things in Blender. On the Lenovo, you go to Control Panel, set the “TrackPoint Properties, Chose Scrolling Magnifying Glass function to Neither”, see the second dialog box.
If you used earlier versions of Blender, the documentation was hard to use, the current version appears to be well documented with examples, etc.
Blender has improved over the years, and I think that the arc is that it moving toward a good time for all. Make sure to contribute your time to the community and give a few dollars to support the effort.