You would think that the only cameras being made are Nikon and Canon. D40! XTi! Both are good cameras but IMO are rather lacking in features. Pentax and Sony both have their version of Image Stabilization (IS) in the camera body. Every lens you use with either of them will have the benefit of IS, not just certain lenses which cost more for that feature. Since Sony bought the DSLR line from Konica-Minolta and kept the Minolta Maxxum A-mount, every Minolta Maxxum AF lens made since 1985 has full functionality with the Sony Alpha series cameras. So instead of having to pay for AF when you buy a lens you already have it. Pentax has steadfastly kept its venerable K-mount first introduced in 1975. Every AF K-mount lens has complete functionality with the Pentax K series cameras. Plus, you can use every manual focus K-mount lens made since 1975. No need to pay for AF every time you buy a lens.
Having said all that, you’d be wise to check with the school and see what type of camera is required. If its a good school, you’ll probably need a 35mm 100% manual film camera. If so, buy a Pentax K1000 – its considered the best student camera.