You’re certainly not wrong to be confused.
There’s a tremendous amount of hype regarding the right ‘platform’ for design these days. And the sad thing is most of this ‘good’ advice is coming from your professors or an entire old guard of photographers and designers who couldn’t change their workflow if they tried. The truth is that the real hardcore professionals use whatever works. They learn and adapt all the time to get their work done, beautifully and efficiently. Adobe hasn’t adapted in a decade which is why their products are an afterthought to their real product which is a digital ghetto of useless utility style services.
The most versatile operating systems are not Windows or Mac. Many large production and FX houses use Linux or BSD for most of their infrastructure. Mostly this is because there is no limit to what their developers can create. With Linux and BSD you could theoretically fork you’re own kernel if you wanted. With proprietary software, not so much. Of course there are applications that are OS specific, like BlackMagic’s DaVinci Resolve runs on OSX, but this might change too. BlackMagic just released their amazing Fusion 8 software (motion graphics) to run on Linux. Other high-end products like Foundation’s Mari and Nuke also run profoundly faster on systems that aren’t spending half their resources answering your cell phone or sending copious amounts of ‘user behavior’ data to some Mother Ship. By the way all of the products that I mentioned you can use for free. This is because the most valuable client they can possibly have is you, the student.
All that said, there are certain areas of design that I have to have MacOS for. For example, many critical font design applications are only available for Mac. e.g. Glyphs and RoboFont. Although FontForge is pretty cool, and I do use it. If you’re doing architectural work, AutoDesk applications on Windows are the sharpest tools in the shed. But in general Libré/Opensource tools might be the future because you can support and build your tools and they will never be taken away from you for any reason. If you’re not happy with the direction a tool is taking you can fork the project yourself if you like. Plus you… Yes you can improve and support your own tools.
In your situation this is what I’d recommend: System76 is shortly releasing a faster, bigger GPU, Oryx Pro laptop. It’s a beast of a laptop and cheaper than Alienware. Run a debian based operation system, like CentOS or Ubuntu Gnome. If you’re really clever you can dual boot your system into OSX or Windows when you need to run the odd * apps. Pixls has some great info for photography. LibreGraphicsProduction is a very old site, but still useful info. The important thing for you is to dive into the PDF standards. You need to really understand post-script, pdf production. These are truly portable documents that any printer can rip. Strangely LaTeX, LuaTeX and ConTeXt are making a comeback. You can create stunning documents programmatically, and layout sophisticated maths, etc. using these old typesetting methods. Very powerful for school papers! It also is very flexible, you can render your document out to many formats, PDF, Markdown, ePub, HTML etc.
Other software I would highly recommend. Blender is absolutely amazing. Even huge production companies use it for the odd job. Used in conjunction with MakeHuman for starter avatars. Use Mari painting objects, and Nuke or Natron for compositing.
Krita is an astonishingly powerful painting application, but you can even use it for image editing in a pinch. Gimp has a long way to go, but it opens in two seconds, so if it’s a quick image resize and crop, it will save you time. If you really want to save time use ImageMagick whenever you can. Believe me when I say nothing will impress your boss more than you resizing, rotating and converting to sRGB a hundred images before he or she can get back to their desk with a simple $ mogrify -resize 500x500 -colorspace srgb -rotate 90 *.jpg — might just blow their minds. PS actions can suck-it! RawTherapee and Darktable are great for RAW processing.
I love Inkscape, but it needs XQuartz on the Mac to run, and I find it a bit buggy. However it runs like a monster on a Linux. There are many things it does that I haven’t been able to replicate on any other vector drawing application. Especially for linear calculating, shape interpolations, drawing with objects on the clipboard, etc. I couldn’t live without Scribus any longer. It has a bit of a learning curve to it, but it’s terrific once you get used to it.
If you do find yourself with all your school books and a pantry full of Top-Ramen, you might consider AffinityDesigner (All the cool kids are using), and AffinityPhoto is getting better and better. Pixelmator and Google Web Designer are great for UI stuff. Mischief is fantastic for sketching.
You get the idea. Long story longer, don’t be fooled by people telling you have to do it this way because everybody does it that way. Those people are automatons who gave up thinking for themselves years ago. The truth is the designer tells the boss what he or she is going to use. That’s why everyone wants to turn you into an Adobot.