I have been playing with the Lightwave and Maya programs (demos). So far it seams easier to work in Lightwave how do you feel the compare? I also need to go with bang for the buck and I can get Lightwave as a student for a very good price. It looks like lightwave has more in it in the standard package than Maya. I am going with one or the other. I have been working with other 3d programs. I want to do art that I can blend with photography and video. I will be doing 3d animations. I use Photo shop, Painter, FCP suit, Shake and Commotion Pro. Dose Maya work better with the programs I am using? Both programs look very good so far.
Not sure what to tell you, your question is what's better for you and nobody can answer that but you. Maya is scary powerful and incredibly deep. Check around town at some of the places you'd like to work and see what they're using, this will get you in the right direction. You'll likely end up working with at least one other 3D package during your career so which one you can get a job with at this point seems more relevant to me in your situation, maybe I'm wrong.
Hope that helps.
(John David Hutton)
Digital Effects Artist, Support Technician
Kansas City, Kansas - United States