Hello, I'm posting this because I am just finishing my fifth semester as a physics major and am gauging my potential for graduate school. I believe I am at the right stage to consider if graduate school is "right" for me. I know this is an issue that should concern my academic adviser, but recently he has been preoccupied.
First of all I'd like to share a little background, you can skip this section if you'd like (this is to sort of show you where I'm coming from). I began college not knowing what to do with my life. I was recovering from two surgeries (from my senior year in high school) with a few years of untreated depression. High school was fine; 4.0 gpa, perfect scores on the math section of the ACT, nationally recognized scholarships awarded, and college courses under my belt, etc... but I went to 3 high schools (transferred 4 times) and actually didn't apply to colleges until December/January of my senior year. In reality I was trailer trash, told to drop out of school my 2nd year, with a father recovered from alcoholism. I'm sure all this has had an impact on my self-image and outlook on my future. So, I went to a second-rate college... because a high school counselor (after knowing her for ~2 weeks) told me to. Also, I'm an underrepresented minority (one of the rarest in physics: Native American), first-generation, and low-income (none of this I mention in any of my applications).
For college, I started as an undecided and took random engineering/computer science/math courses... to gain experience because I thought I was gonna drop out my first year (like I said I have horrible self-image). I did well, so I thought I was worth something and did something daring. I applied to a top-university that had less than a %2 acceptance rate for transfer students. I was wait-listed. I didn't go and I decided to just switch my major to physics (I have no idea why). The next year I got transfer acceptance to some top-universities (acceptance rates of %10 this time), but didn't go... I was concerned about my minority status. Basically, I thought I would not be taken seriously at those schools, because of who I was.
In physics, I did ok my first year with an average of B's and A's... I completed the first two years of physics that year, but was hit hard the next semester with life-threatening complications with my heart (pulled some C's). So, I slowed down and decided to just work with the full 4-year program for my physics degree (which would make 5 total years for an undergraduate degree for me). I did an internship that summer at a well-known program as a math tutor and took the math major sequence of analysis and advanced calculus at that school. I returned to school that fall and pulled a 4.0 in all my courses (it was a heavy load with 3 math courses and junior classical mech). I also started research on a theory project that I'm still on. The problem with that semester is that I went through heart surgery in November... how I pulled a 4.0 after ditching on classes during Thanksgiving is beyond me, but the next semester wasn't so great. In mid-January, after returning to school with a hole in my chest, I finished finals from the semester before and took a heavy load. Pain killers and hours of bandage changing takes a toll, so I got a some C's that semester again. But, I was able to get into a great REU program and worked with a well-known (famous) theorist, at top-ranked university.
I brought that REU project home (working at it tediously and am still communicating with that well-known theorist to hopefully publish) and working at a publication from my first project (I went to a conference this summer and will go to another one this spring). My projected grades from this semester are "ok". I expect, after this semester, a 3.85-3.9 GPA on all upper-level physics courses (does "Astrophysics" and "Planetary Science" count as an upper-level course, as in the same category as classical I/II, e&m, quantum, etc?). For physics classes next semester I have e&m II, quantum I, thermo & stat mech (all of which I expect an A... thus, a projected 3.9-3.95 GPA for upper-level courses).
Things worthy to mention are that I did a GR/E&M project at that REU (I never even took an e&m or GR course prior to that project), I hold multiple leadership positions (SPS president, Sigma Pi Sigma VP), can now speak 3 languages, and have entered art contests (receiving awards in some). I'm also a math minor and computer science minor (never owned a computer until 3-4 years ago). Also, my institute does not have a graduate program... so, I really can't take courses in CFT or QFT.
Some graduate schools I've thought about are as follows; University of Arizona, University of Maryland-College Park, Indiana University, California Institute of Technology, University of Washington, University of Chicago, Arizona State University, and Stanford University. Are these good, and realistic, choices to aim for? I fear that me not being that "ideal" physics student hinders my prospects. I don't even know what I'm doing or why I'm even doing all this, too. Physics was never my intention... I never even thought graduate school was a possibility 2-3 years ago. I feel I enjoy physics for the wrong reasons. I enjoy the images I see in my head when I look at a problem... I don't think about the physics or significance of the physical problem. I just build an image in my head and the math just flows afterward. I do a lot of artwork... I draw people, fractal images (by hand), and just sketch things I see on a day-to-day basis. I don't look up the latest trends in physics or technology, I don't disassemble radios or play with mat-lab, and I don't get involved in physics conversations... hell, I don't even read much into xkcd, haha. I don't see my family, I talk to classmates for about 1-2 hours a day, and spend a lot of time alone... well reading pointless things like philosophy, novels, maybe a Dover book, and dabble with my research. This seems, to me, a bit of an oddity and not an ideal student. So, I feel like I'm not fit for graduate school and I'm not even sure if I should apply. I know many people say this is something I should "love", but I don't "love" it. Sure I enjoy theoretical problems in chaos theory, toying with calculus of variations, general relativity, and field theory, but this is what I do as a past time... I don't want to be ordered around as a graduate student. Plus, a promising job doesn't interest me at all... I don't mind going back where I came from.