The first thing I would do is to check with your school to see if they have an outdoors program. If they do, it is likely they will have gear that you can rent and organized trips you can take with your peers. This allows you to try before you buy (although the gear may be dated). I participated in Appalachian State University's outdoor program when I was in college and I got to take a lot of cheap trips to some great places (with some really heady ladies).
Next, I would prioritize. Make a list of the items you need, starting with the basics required for camping/backpacking. And start keeping an eye on www.steepandcheap.com
to find some good deals.
Finally, I would go to the Ultralight Gear Store on www.backpacking.net
(at the bottom left side of the page) and click on the type of gear that you are researching. Then click on the "Table" tab. This will allow you to compare each piece of gear (weight, packing size, material, etc).
Just my 2 cents.