I am a computer science student and we often get tasks which involve installation of various applications which I only use for a couple of weeks. I don't want to trash my tidy system with installing, configuring and removing. What would be the best way on Linux (Mint) to deal with this? Something like a disposable user account which I could delete and all programs/deamons/configs would be removed (with no impact on my real account). Virtualbox?
Yes to VirtualBox.
When I am testing different things I tend to use virtual machines. You have a completely separate operating system with its own virtual hard disk. You can take snapshots of the state of the VM at any given point, and (very easily) restore to that state when you have finished wrecking it.
When you create an account, all settings go to the $HOME folder. This is the default behavior on any linux system. I'll be frank and admit to have never touched Mint, but my intuition tells me the situation is the same there.
Sureley, it's not as cool as a VM, but the overhead is not worth it. YMMV