A bit of information about my academic status: I am a physics freshman at a mid-ranked state university. I am taking sophomore level courses.
I was lucky enough to get a research opportunity from a professor well-known in his field. If I can hold my ground, I think it is a big possibility that I will get a strong recommendation letter from him and another professor who's from a top university also working in that field.
Here is my plan to achieve my goal:
1.) Take graduate level theoretical condensed matter and materials courses in my upper-division years.
2.) Get a 1-year master's in materials/nanoscience at my home institute. From this program, I will take courses such as nanomaterials characterization, electrochemical storage/conversion, and computational materials, and also work on an applied project.
3.) Apply to grad school after my master's to my dream schools. If not accepted to any, work for a year and reapply.
I felt that my plan was very strong, and that I wouldn't need any advice, but slip ups recently in few of my exams and assignments look like they will cost me in my GPA. It seems that my cumulative math+physics GPA will be in the range of 3.56 to 3.68 (physics GPA 4.0, although it is only 1 class).
I was a B- student in high school, and have been mediocre at anything I liked to do throughout my life. Although I may have said this several times already, I feel that I can confidently say physics is my life. 2.9 GPA in high school, 3.19 during summer, and this semester my GPA will be at least 3.7, so I would like to think that I am at least in an upward slope (although I am aware that courses will get harder as time progresses). Ultimately, I am looking to shoot for a 3.7 in undegrad and 4.0 in master's, and around an 85 percentile on the PGRE.
I am hugely interested in the field of theoretical/computational condensed matter physics, and would like to apply to Stanford, UC Berkeley, Caltech, UIUC, UChicago, Princeton, and Cornell.
Here are my questions:
1.) In general, how competitive are programs in condensed matter theory? And is it considered applied physics?
2.) What would be a safe range of GPA and PGRE for CMT in the listed schools?
3.) Is it possible to apply to different concentrations within a same school?
4.) Any tips and advice are welcome!
Thank you for your time!