Hi all! This is my first post here, so I'd appreciate any input (and sorry for cross-posting from PhysicsForum!)
Anyways, I'm currently a 4th year student in Combined Physics and CPCS in a top 3 university in Canada and trying to apply for grad school in top schools in US, but am freaking out comparing my 3.5GPA to all the 4.0 profiles on here!
I did very well in my undergrad, got a fellowship to work at a National Lab from which I got 2 publications in PRC (but is n-th author and mostly did data collecting/some analysis + equipment maintenance during runs - will these make any real difference in my application?).
However, during my 2nd year, I did a full coursd load + TAed for 1-2 courses per term + was Resident Advisor. I ended up being very close to my residents and closely dealt with a suicidal resident, a resident whose partner committed suicide, and a resident who was sexually harrassed through messages by their biological grandparent amongst others. Furthermore, my grandfather was diagnosed with cancer, and my dad got into a car accident with 2 twins where one passed away and one is still in vegetation state... He is still serving his sentence right now, but it was a hard year for our family. I was in denial and tried to act like everything was fine, but I was struggling hard with mental health issues, and my grad slipped to a C+ average. By the time I accepted that I was struggling, it was too late to help my disastrous GPA...
That summer I just tried to recover, and came back to 3rd year doing research and pulled back an A- average (got an A average first term, but my grandfather passed away during final season of 2nd term, so my average got slightly affected). So my current GPA is around 3.5/4.33.
During last summer, I got a fellowship to work at my research lab on topological insulators and was mostly leading the research as PhD and grad students were busy. I want to get into CME and had since learned stacking, AFM, SEM + will soon assemble our lab's Raman and might work with MBE. With CPSC, I know C/Java/Python etc. and can self-teach any new languages. Also, my prof is from my 1st choice uni + well-known in the field and is willing to introduce me to PIs I'm interested in working with.
Also my GRE is V158, Q160, W3.5 (was staying up til 4am doing research the night before, but will redo and should get better).
My question I guess is if I can get a PGRE ~900, do I have a chance for at least 1 of the top school (Stanford/Harvard/MIT/Yale/Berkeley), or is it a complete waste of time with my GPA? Also, how much details of my circumstance should I include in my application?