Hi, I'm in my second year of underrgad in Canada, but I'm trying to look ahead to grad school applications so that I'm adequately prepared. Like many keen undergrads, I really want to go to Harvard/MIT/Caltech/etc for grad school. Of course, actually getting in is a different story. I'm wondering if anyone could give me some brutally honest feedback on how I'm doing so far in terms of making myself "competitive" or "qualified" for big name grad schools, and if there are any steps I should be taking that I have overlooked. And in particular, I'm curious to know if you think I have some chance of getting in at these schools if I keep doing as I do, or if it's just out of my league. So far, I've published two papers, one in a Canadian peer-reviewed journal and another in a very small local undergrad journal. I have another paper that's kinda waiting to be written (data analysis has kinda ground to a halt since the school year started), and I'll be submitting it with my advisor to Geochimica et Cosmochimica Acta probably mid-2012. I'm trying to keep my GPA at 4.0 - which at my university, is defined as an 85%+ average. Will American universities distinguish between something like, say, an 87 average opposed to a 92 average, or will they only look at the 4.0-scale conversion? I'm guessing that the best time to write the GRE is after third year, so I have plenty of time to study for that I think. I'm trying to study extra math and physics outside of my required courses to help prepare. I also do extracurricular science outreach stuff - I help run this science conference for highschoolers in Canada. I guess in terms of "non-science" stuff I do martial arts. But yes, the reason that I'm a little worried is that I looked at the entrance stats for Applied Physics for Harvard. They typically accept less than 10% of applicants per year. So, what is it that makes those 10% better than the rest? Should I be pushing to do more research (e.g. trying to publish more during the school year)? Should I do more extracurriculars outside of science, to make myself more "well-rounded"? Should I push for trying to get a mid-90s cumulative average and be at the top of all my classes (i.e. be the very best instead of just top 5-10%)?