one more thing to consider with companies like dell, hp and toshiba:
you dont have to pay ALL AT ONCE. Its nice to get it out of the way, but you dont have to. All three of those companies have some financing option, some even with no interest for 6 months or a year. Acer and Asus are great notebooks, but again, require a credit card with a limit > $1500. Basically, you can get a better notebook with better specs from one of these companies and pay over a period of time. You mentioned that you work, which is good, so you can take some money out of each check (if feasible) and pay it off over time. Sure, put what you can down now, and just pay it off before you have to start paying interest. Out of those three, I'd say take a look at the hp ze2000z, can configure a decent notebook for around $900, and the quality is reasonable. Its no Asus, but still good. Just a thought.
And also, you said that size doesnt really matter for the laptop because you wont be lugging it around campus... why not just get a desktop? Can get a pretty nice system for < $800. But either way, good luck!