I'm a returning adult student currently in the sophomore year of my second attempt at college. The first was absolutely dismal; I started when I was sixteen taking sophomore- and junior-level courses, tried about four different majors in a year and a half, flunked out, got back in, and flunked out again (not having learned the lesson that one needs to at least show up for the tests to pass classes). I was out of school for five years, four of them in the military, and returned to college last year.
At my current school, I have a 3.8 GPA with a 4.0 in math, physics, and chemistry. I expect to graduate in 2011 with a double degree/triple major in physics, applied math, and math, with possible minors in anthropology and Romance languages and linguistics. I have always had outstanding standardized test scores in both math and verbal fields, and have absolutely no doubt that if my current record and future GRE scores were all that mattered I would be accepted to some physics grad school somewhere. However, I'm not sure how graduate programs view students with really, really bad past records (two years with an overall GPA of < 1.5, including one C and one failure in physics courses - will likely drag my cumulative GPA below 3.0 and GPA in majors below 3.7).
Is it possible that graduate schools might overlook a distant past record given stellar recent performance, good test scores, and recent research experience? Is it a reasonable idea for someone in my situation to take an upper-division curriculum geared toward theory and research in preparation for further academic work, or would I be best served concentrating more on applications in anticipation of being in the job market after graduation?