Hi, I'm a non-traditional student in the process of applying to physics PhD programs and would like any advice about what schools to add to my list. I've been given the advice to apply to 2 or 3 "top" schools, 4 or 5 "next level" and 2 - 3 "safety" schools - schools that I can feel very confident of being accepted to (no perjoritive intended). I'm mainly looking at larger schools, since I don't know what I want to specialize in. I'd prefer to be in the midwest, in a less-expensive city. The schools on my list right now are: MIT Berkely Illinois (*) Maryland University of Washington Washington University of St Louis (*) Colorado (Boulder) (*) Penn State (*) Purdue University Of Florida Those with (*) I will *definitely* be applying to. Others are still undecided. I'm mainly worried that I'm setting my sights too high - that I need to add more "pedestrian" schools, but ones that will still give me a good education! A little background on myself - I am one of those going back to physics after working for 11 years in the software industry. My undergrad degree was Civil Engineering, not physics. But I took two years of physics courses in school, and had a 3.8 GPA overall (Rice University). I took a quantum course at at my local state university last spring, got an A, and am currently taking computational physics - an A so far. No other physics coursework beyond sophomore year. I've taught myself analytical mechanics, basic quantum (the course last spring was QM II, I had to place into it), some general relativity, but not sure how to demonstrate this for the applications. General GRE 800/800/5.0, physics GRE unknown, but probably around 800 based on practice tests. No research experience. I will only have two reference letters from professors. Clearly I've got some good highlights, but am missing some points too. Any insight is appreciated. Thanks in advance!