WhoaNonstop wrote:This is going to come off as very critical.
First of all, since when is 860 a mediocre GRE score? I can guarantee you there are plenty of people on this forum that would be enthralled with an 860. Even with that, you're also a female. Do a quick run through every application profile on this forum and I guarantee you that you are one of the top scoring females, if not THEE top scoring DOMESTIC female. You have a very good overall profile and to be honest, you look like you're sitting very pretty.
No I'm not boasting my score by any mean, but as I mention by looking at the profile threads, 860 is not a good score for hep theory / theory in general as far as I can see. What makes me nervous is some professors I talked to were hinting at that my PGRE score (well my previous one, which is only 30 lower) will limit my choices. And no, I'm not the top scoring domestic female in the profile - there are at least one who scored higher than me, and did not get into any schools that I want to get into (though her situation seems somewhat different).
HOWEVER, it bothers me a little bit when people are completely focused about getting into a "top-school". I realize the prestige and stuff that comes along with going to a top school is nice and what not, but truly your success (especially in High-Energy Theory field where collaboration is quite common) is based on your own motivation, NOT the school you are attending. When I look at your list, it is compromised of nearly every school in the top 10. I think it is a little drastic to apply to all of these places, even though by statistics, if you have the money, it may be beneficial.
Personally, what do I think you should do? I would suggest cutting your top schools list down by a few and throw in some obvious safeties, preferably schools that have specific research that you are definitely interested in. This way, if for some reason your *mediocre* 860 does not cut it (which I'm sure it will) you'll have a place to attend graduate school next year. But please, get your head out of the clouds and start realizing that not getting accepted to a top 10 program doesn't mean it's the end of your life.
I'm not intended to get into just top schools, but top school that has potential advisors for what I'm interested at (hep-ph). I talked to professors in the field about which schools to apply to, and the top ones happen to coincide with the generally perceived top schools. I don't have, for example, UCSB or Caltech on my list because they don't fit my interest. If you think in hep-th that only motivation determines success, even without a good advisor to tell you to read the right book/article and pursue a topic that actually leads to somewhere rather than a dead-end, you would be naive...
I can see why you can be critical of some top-school-name-fame hunters, though I do have my reasons. I have connections to and am relatively sure of my chance at one school (say School A) at my list, although at that school I will be doing something not quite my top choice (i.e. hep-ex). Thus all other schools at my list, except for one, are schools that I would go to rather than School A. I have little incentive to apply and waste my money on schools that I would not go to instead of School A. Thus my questions are more focused on: should I drop a few schools on my list, or should I focus on hep-ex more, not on whether my school choices are appropriate