So I am interested in a few things (perhaps too many) and will be applying to different schools with the intention of working on completely different tasks if accepted. To be a bit more specific: I will apply for Harvard primarily for their Soft Matter group but I will apply to Stanford for HEP-Pheno, etc.
Assuming I have demonstrated interest in the areas to which I'm applying and letters that support these interests (I do, as far as I can tell), is it a good idea to apply to schools in this directed manner? Should I apply more generally?
I am okay with admitting that I'm not sure what I want to do in graduate school, but I have some firm ideas about what directions I might take (and not take)...I would like to write applications that convey that, but I don't want to imply a complete lack of focus. I have three or four main interests, they are just less compatible than they could be.
In general, when you apply to a "competitive" school do you really apply to work with a particular group or to the department as a whole?
I would rather not apply as a strict candidate for HEP *anywhere* even if it's the main draw for a particular school since I don't want to be rejected outright when I would be more than happy to work in another group. Unfortunately, my biggest strengths are HEP-Pheno...so I can't really downplay it much.
I've heard of people being accepted into a department and told that they could do anything *but* certain things, or being accepted into particular groups or things like that. I don't have a lot of hard data to sit on, so it's a little confusing to me.
I'll mention that I'm interested in the purer, analytic parts as well as the numerical aspects of theory and I have almost no interest in experimental physics as a career.
I am also unsure how to approach safety schools since I'm not confident I will be able to meaningfully gauge the general content of schools outside the several I'm considering for more specific reasons. I want (need, probably) some safer options outside of remaining at my undergrad institution but I'm having trouble correlating schools that having two or three options for me within my fields of interest that aren't very rich and competitive.
Thoughts? I'm sure my situation isn't terribly uncommon.
I can provide more details and clarification if needed.