Hope you get some good info here. I would agree that plenty of range time with live ammo is important, but if you're new to handguns, or firearms in general, more important is dry fire and empty weapon practice.
It takes approximately 3,000 repititions to commit a movement to "muscle memory". Assuring you do everything right everytime before putting a live round in the chamber assures you'll do it right then too. For defensive purposes, this is utterly paramount. You don't want to be thinking about your holster or safety at all. When you pick up or draw your handgun, it should feel as natural as putting your hands together. No shifting your grip, changing wrist position etc. I instruct that when you pick up a handgun, pick it up the way you will grip it if firing. Don't place it in your firing hand with your non firing hand, pick it up by the slide, barrel or wherever you please. It has a grip for a reason.
If you're self concious, this may take some getting used to, but practice in front of a mirror. Practice proper stance, proper presentation from a holster, proper grip. I stress proper. Practice does not make perfect. Perfect practice makes perfect.
And there's nothing wrong with a lower priced firearm, but I would strongly urge you to avoid bottom line bargain guns, no offense to Hi Point owners. Stick with a major manufacturer, S&W, Colt, Springfield, Glock, Beretta, CZ, etc. You can find something suitable in a reasonable price range from any of those and a few other manufacturers. I wouldn't purchase a parachute that's dirty, rat chewed and has twisted lines that will *probably* get me by, because it's cheap.
The safety class is an excellent idea. First off, no matter what you think you might know, or what you think you won't learn, you'll find something out that you didn't know. Second, it refelects your commitment to responsibility. Any woodchuck or gang banger can sling lead, but then again that's why some of them shoot road signs, another hunter, or themselves in the a** in a night club... There no such thing as a firearms related accident. If you soot someone you didn't intend to shoot, it's your fault. If someone shoots you and didn't intend to, it's their fault. This is not a matter of opinion. Most states WILL attribute a degree of negligence to a firearms related death, and the trigger puller is held accountable through prosecution. And third, many states require one to obtain a CCW.
Just my opinion of course, good luck.