I hate to make another "so.. where can I go" submission, but I would really just like some feedback from people more knowledgeable about this than me. I don't want it to sound like I haven't done anything either, there is so much to do and so little time. I originally was going to ask for good safety schools but this post kind of evolved into "general advice" so I might have posted in the wrong place.
GPA: I have an overall GPA of 3.25 or something from Nowhere State in California. I had a 4.0 in upper division physics until a rather harsh case of senioritis (not even sure you can call it that) gifted me with four B's and took me off track - but otherwise, I have a 3.7 in upper division physics. I have three letters of recommendation, which I think will be strong. I have one summer of REU research in theoretical QM and that's it unfortunately (letter coming from prof I worked with). We don't get too many research opportunities around these parts.
I graduated in 2008 and was out of school for two years. A bit less than one of those years was spent working in laboratory for an oil company. I left that company for political reasons and as such cannot use them as a letter of rec. After a year of stagnation, depression, and other things (taking care of a family member due to an emergency), I realized that I was being depressed because I left school. I don't even know why I did, I just felt like it wasn't challenging anymore and I needed to go be productive - but then I realized that it's a two way street and I needed to challenge myself - and this is what I want my life to be (I'm so inspirational, my face should be on a Hallmark card). So I decided it was time to get my ass back to school and go for that PhD. I am now taking two graduate level courses to help improve my application (Superconductivity and Mechanics). Since I understand many big schools teach Goldstein and Jackson to undergrads, I'd like to be "caught up." Next semester, I'll be taking grad QM and E&M. I'll be getting A's in all four of these, but unfortunately (and obviously) I can only show two A's on my application from this semester.
I'm taking my GRE on the 13th. I'm not sure what score I can get as I kind of screwed up the way I planned my studying (I'll get my studying done in time, but will be able to gauge my score by taking the last practice test this weekend). I'm confident I can break 70%, really hoping for much higher though. Realistically speaking, I can't tell until that last week before the test (as I will be able to devote 100% of my time to nothing but practice problems).
Here's my list of schools so far (as you can see, I'm aiming pretty high and only have feeble attempts at safety schools):
University of Washington, UC Santa Barbara, UC Santa Cruz, UC Davis, UCLA, University of Oregon, University of Colorado-Boulder, University of Michigan, Michigan State University, Boston University, Notre Dame, Purdue, University of Illinois at Chicago, University of Chicago, University of Maryland
Yes, I do plan on applying to many many schools. I know it will cost a lot of money, but I'm willing to put everything I've saved up and willing to pawn all my stuff to guarantee I get into a decent school. I think I will be visiting four-six of these schools on the west coast in person, so that I can boost my chances. Why so many? My philosophy is that one of them has to let me in, and if I have a %10 chance at all of them, well - you know math. I was beginning to build a school profile spreadsheet like other forum members suggested but upon researching individual institutions, I realized that I really do not have any specific interests. As such, these schools are mostly determined based on places I'd like to live, a wide breadth of research options (I'm leaning toward HEP, but I want a school that has other good programs if I decide that's not for me), and funding for those paths.
So any suggestions, criticisms, ideas (safety schools?) or thoughts? Are these schools too far out of my league? I've checked the thread where people post their information and scores and whether the school accepted them, but most of them applied to only a few schools. I'm trying to match myself up to them but there are just too many variables.
Sorry about the blog style writing of this post, but I'm just very stressed out right now. Thanks!