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Laoki

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I had pretty average/bad grades in my first year. I took classes lower than my actual level but got bored and unmotivated. I got mostly B's, a couple of A-'s, one A, and one C+. Not great.

I started this year taking graduate classical mechanics and managed to get an A (along with an A- in an honors real analysis course). Last trimester, I continued in analysis and took undergrad quantum in addition to graduate electrodynamics and math methods (group theory for physics, also grad). I got an A in grad math methods and quantum... but a B in E&M and an A- in analysis. I'm not feeling great about myself, but am determined to get an A in electrodynamics this trimester since I find the material much more interesting. I'm also taking a graduate particle physics course and hope to do well in that as well. Right now, my GPA is pretty bad compared to what I expect top programs in HEP to accept. My CGPA is 3.62, my math GPA is 3.63, and my physics GPA is 3.67. On top of that, I had to take a year-long leave of absence in the middle of my very first term for medical reasons. So I have three withdrawals on my transcript from that.

Ideally, I can get my GPA up to the 3.8s. I'm set on taking grad courses in QFT, GR, and algebraic topology (and many other maths and physics courses, ofc). I'm working with a HEP theorist at my uni and will hopefully publish at least one cool and meaningful theory paper in addition to my bachelor's thesis. I'll also take string theory and CFT from big names in my last two trimesters, but those are after applications are due. I should have around 10 graduate courses by the time I apply.

There are a handful of profs at my school with strong connections to Princeton, Caltech, and Harvard. Ideally, I'd like to go there and study HEP theory. But everyone I see who gets accepted to those programs has near-perfect grades in all of their physics classes and at least two papers to their names. I know I'm clever enough. But due to arrogance and laziness, I'm off to a pretty bad start.

Do you think I have a shot at top HEP-th programs or should I look into HEP-ph and/or other schools?