nicholasastjohn wrote:The list is based off my three favorites the top three, and then the rest are back ups.
I have three people lined up for letters. One I did research under, one is a former Congressman that I worked with, and the third is a faculty member from UT Dallas that I worked under outside of physics.
I have worked on my own research at UT Austin, and I worked under a professor at UT Dallas. I plan this year, before I start applying to try to volunteer or work at one of these: Argonne National Lab, Sounds Physics Lab, Northwestern, or U of Chicago.
Finally, I have 5 schools picked out for masters physics programs, if I do not get into any of those Doctoral programs.
I second astroprof's advice to talk to a reputable physics professor about your school choices. I think your chances will improve a lot if you can identify programs that are a good fit for your experience and interests due to your non-traditional background. It's hard for an applicant to know these things about the schools, so some things you can do in the next few months would be to talk to some faculty member mentors and maybe even contact some potential people you want to work with at these schools and find out more about their program and what they're looking for. I am not sure what you mean by your "favorites" in terms of school selection since generally, one does not select grad schools based on how much they like a school, but instead for the good fit between their interests/goals and research.
In addition, I would rethink your letter from the former Congressman, unless this work you did forms a key part of your application package. As astroprof said, the letters are meant to reflect your academic and research ability/potential. Usually, they are expected to come from faculty members or at least someone who holds a PhD and has experience training undergrads or graduate students so that they can comment on your ability to thrive in the programs you're applying to. So, I am not sure how this letter would address that. I don't know the details of your work with the former Congressman, so maybe this letter does meet these expectations. But I just want to address this point because I often notice applicants treating their grad school LORs in the same way they might request letters for a job or undergraduate education applications. Unlike these other types of LORs, grad school application LORs aren't really meant to speak to your character or work ethic (other than research). As such, people outside of academia may not know how to write an effective LOR for a grad school application.