MATLAB is absolutely used beyond school if you are going to work as an engineer. I personnlay prefer MathCAD over MATLAB for most of my work, but MATLAB is easier when doing calculations that involve matrices (thats what it was originally designed for). Most engineering schools pick one of the math applications (MAPLE is popular also) and use it for everything in the school- so most likely your school has picked MATLAB and you will continue to use it until you graduate, so get to know it.
After graduation it will depend on what you do and where you work. I know engineers that have used MATLAB and Simulink to create engineering software programs as control systems for development projects.
While the syntax can be a bit of a problem, if you get a job doing very similar calcualtions on a variety of systems, you can set up MATLAB (or MATHCAD) with the calculations, then just run it with the inputs for each job. You dont have to set it up again every time.