I would listen to the advice your school has given you. The new iMacs aren't drastically different from the last generation, and if your school didn't recommend them the last time around, I doubt they'll start recommending them now. Autodesk Maya is PC only software, so for starters you're going to have to purchase and load Windows 7 onto the Mac, and then cross your fingers that incompatibility issues don't arise with your 3D software.
Don't waste energy on unnecessary workarounds while you're in school. Listen to the advice of your educators and put all of your energy into learning and creating amazing work. This kind of software is Windows-based, so it behooves you to master running and troubleshooting it in the PC realm. When you get hired to make animations for future blockbuster movies, your PC expertise will serve you well in your career.
We sell the HP z800 at B&H, but I imagine that one is it bit out of reach price-wise. Personally, I would just get the system your professors recommend and not give it any more thought. When you need a dedicated Windows-based workstation, it's usually best to take the software manufacturer's specific hardware recommendations seriously. Your goal is to build the most reliable system possible within your budget. As far estimated costs are concerned... I'm not sure. You're better off picking the brain of one of our Computer Sales Professionals. You can reach them on the phone at 1-800-606-6969 or via live chat.
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