Ok, my daughter is going to an Art college next year for Media Arts & Animation, which I know nothing about, but I see some things in the catalog about the following- Programs they may be using are: Adobe Flash Professional, After Effects, Premiere Pro, Final Cut, Motion, and Autodesk 3ds Max and Maya. Can you tell us what laptop or desktop we should plan for? The $ amount is irrelevant at this point, since we intend to make it a High School graduation present, we just want to make sure she has what she needs for this college/career.
I would recommend a desktop computer of some kind, unless a laptop is required.
I am currently attending art school for visual effects (3d computer graphics for film) and I use a custom built pc desktop. For 3D rendering and video editing, the most important specs for a computer are the RAM (amount and speed, 16GB is preferred), the processor (cores and clock speed, quad-core or better is recommended), and the hard drive (space and speed, a quick 3.5" drive at 1TB or more is recommended).
The graphics card isn't quite as important unless you're gaming. Any mid-range nVidia quadro or geforce card would work (quadro 2000 or gtx 560 or better) just fine. But you may not even need a card that fast.
As for a monitor, I definitely recommend looking into more color-accurate monitors. I use a Dell U2410 and it is great! The U2412m is also good I hear.
My entire setup is probably around $2000 but you could easily sacrifice in some areas to get it down to $1500 or $1200 if needed.
If you want to buy a pre-built computer, make sure you get at least a quad-core processor, 16GB of ram, and 1TB of hard drive space with any kind of dedicated graphics card, and it should work for a while. Same with a prebuilt laptop, but it will probably be more expensive than the desktop equivalent.
Budget is something that needs to be planned as it will determine what to look for and as rgd posted, a pc can cost as much as a new car. As this pc is for a student just getting into the field, you'd probably don't want to spend ~$15k.
I would recommend a desktop because they will have better performance, cost less and the more screen space, the better. Around $1500 would get a pretty high end pc with an i7, at least 8gb ram and a good graphics card like a 560ti or quadro 2000. You will probably want to go with nvidia for the graphics because some add ons use nvidia's cuda technology, especially adobe products. Multiple monitors is a big help, and I will suggest at least 2, 24" 1080p monitors. An ssd is a must for a high end build and will speed up workflow a bit. At least 120gb would be enough for the os and software. Also keep in mind the software costs quite a bit, but that can wait til which program they specifically need at the time. You will also want to get a wacom tablet, at least a medium size, or cintiq monitor if you want to spend more.
Assuming you aren't building it yourself, you could go with the major manufacturers or go with a custom build place like http://www.cyberpowerpc.com/ which will probably offer better specs for the price. We could help pick specific parts if you choose that route. Of course we can also find a good hp/dell/etc. if you choose that route. I could post links to a few pcs but I like to have a budget so I'm not shooting in the dark.
Edit: In reply to the above post as he posted just as I did. You can't specifically look at more cores/ghz as this is not telling of performance. An 8 core amd cpu will be beaten by a quad core intel i7 even if it were less ghz. http://www.tomshardware.com/reviews/ivy-bridge-benchmar... Also, the gpu would be more important depending on if they use gpu accelerated renderers which I would recommend doing. This will cut down on render times quite a bit.