First, you’ll need to make a list of schools to apply to. A good place to start is the US News & World Report’s Graduate School Rankings for the physical sciences. Definitely take a look at the physics list, and if you know which subfield you’d like to specialize in, check out the appropriate sub-list.
Another useful website is graduate school shopper, a site totally devoted to physics graduate schools. You can search through the schools using criteria such as location, size, student-to-faculty ratio, etc.
Here is a table of information about where Rutgers professors obtained their Ph.D.s, based on the outdated information on the physics website. Once you have made a rough list, think about talking to professors who have gone to the schools on your list. Beware that things may have changed significantly since those professors were in school!
|Princeton||9||N. Andrei, Bronzan, Coleman, Goldin, Kiryukhin, Kotliar, Matilsky, Wu, Yuzbashyan|
|Berkeley||7||Abrahams, Cohen, Devlin, Friedan, Garfunkel, Gawiser, Schnetzer|
|Harvard||7||Case, Jha, Keeton, Levy, Moore, Pryor, Thomson|
|MIT||6||Banks, Lath, Murnick, Rabe, Vanderbilt, Zamick|
|Rutgers||5||E. Andrei, Diaconescu, Feldman, Halkiadakis, Podzorov|
|Columbia||4||Hughes, Kalelkar, Koller, Lindenfeld|
|Cornell||4||Bhanot, Shapiro, Zapolsky, Zimmermann|
|Caltech||3||Baker, Douglas, Williams|
|Colorado||2||Joseph, Van Heuvelen|
My advice when choosing your schools: DEFINITELY don’t apply to more than twelve. It’s true that the applications are all very similar and that you won’t have to do any extensive essay rewriting between schools, but it’s also true that they are all slightly different. This means that you’re going to have to read every single word on every single admissions page to figure out the tiny differences in procedure. You’re going to need to make a new account for each one, send a transcript somewhere, follow strange document upload rules, etc. I applied to twelve and was pulling my hair out by the end of the semester, and I have the constant worry that I must have done at least one of them incorrectly. Also, Rutgers now charges $7 per transcript, ETS charges $23 to send your GRE scores, and application fees can be up to $125. All in all, my schools averaged out to cost almost $100 each. It’s a small price to pay to ensure that you have a good future, but it can make you very unhappy in the present.
The internet is full of advice on the physics graduate school application process. One of the best sources is the Cosmic Variance blog at Discover magazine. In particular, they have articles about how to get into graduate school, choosing a graduate school, and how to be a good graduate student.
Here are a few other assorted advice pages: