Geon, blender is marmite.
You love it, or hate it. I cannot get on with it at all, I have gone past the days when I am prepared to learn hundreds of key combinations so I can move a few polygons around.
I think if you start out with blender, without having used anything like 3ds max, then you end up loving it. The other way around usually ends with a quick uninstall.
I am not a fan of game engines, I have never found one that does everything I want, on all the platforms I want.
Plus I have been doing this a long time and have a library of code I can call on, but for a start up I would look at one of the fully formed engines like Unity.
If you are just doing it as a learning experience, maybe something like XNA would be good. It's free, has a lot of examples and tutorials etc. However the code you write will not be directly useable after school, XNA's pretty dead.