Most importantly I would advise you not to spend too much money on your first bass. Choosing the right bass won't be easy until after you've been playing for a while. Once you have a good year of lessons behind you, you can make wiser choices with your (or your parents') money.
Bass is a large instrument. It can be played with any size hands, but for most everyone it will require some stretching in the beginning that you are not used to. For beginners, it is a little easier starting on a bass that has a smaller neck. For instance, Ibanez basses have very thin and easy to play necks, where Fender basses have quite large necks. If your hands are smaller, go with the smaller neck. If you have large go with the bigger necks if you prefer.
I could go on and on about tonal differences in basses, but in the few hundred dollars range the differences aren't that big. Get a bass that has two pickup configurations. Typically there are P-pickups and J-pickups. They are named after Fender's Precision bass and Jazz bass. The P-pickups look like two offset rectangles - one under each pair of strings. The J-pickups look like a long, thin rectangle. Both have their own sound. Also the placement of the pickups affects the tone. A beginning bass with a P-J setup will give you the most tonal variety.
Most basses are now made in foreign countries. I have taught many beginner students and seen many beginner basses. The poorest quality basses seem to come from China, Mexico, Malaysia and Indonesia though they've been improving. The best quality basses seem to come from the U.S.A., Japan and Korea. This is definitely something you should pay attention to though the quality gap has been closing over recent years. The instrument's origin is usually clearly marked somewhere on the bass.
For a long time 4-string basses were your only option. Now there are 5- and 6-string basses. The difference is a 5-string bass has an extra lower string. This allows you to play 5 lower notes than a 4-string bass in standard tuning. This is pretty low! For most styles of music you don't need these lower notes. A 4-string bass can be tuned lower to get two of those lower notes. So you only really gain three extra notes on a 5-string. If you intend to play the hardest heavy metal, you probably do want a 5-string. Those extra notes will be used often.
I think it is easier to start on 4-string. Some of the technique is easier in the beginning and changing over later is not too hard. Also, cheaper 5-string basses rarely sound very good.
For the money, I recommend Ibanez basses. Many are Japanese made and are very consistent in quality. They sound good, are easy to play and are built well. I would also recommend the newer Peavey basses. This company has turned around in the past several years and is producing some quality stuff at great prices. I think they are US made. Yamaha basses are good quality, too. If you can spend a bit more, I'm a fan of G&L Guitars Tribute series of basses.