Hello to everyone, I know there is a barrage of these sort of threads at this time of year, so please bear with me. I am from the UK, and planning to do a PhD in HEP-th. This is a long story, so might aswell start at the beginning....I got straight A's at A-level (highest in my college for Math/Phys) and think I would have had a good shot getting into Cambridge/Oxford, however I didn't apply because my gf at the time was going somewhere else and we applied to exactly the same unis (I know, what an idiotic thing to do). Anyway, we at least both applied to Durham, I got accepted, she however didn't, and I turned Durham down and went to Univ of Manchester to stay with her (rolls eyes). I've never really regretted it (Manchester is a good uni, and in terms of what I learnt I don't think I would have learnt anymore if I had been in Cambridge) until now , when I've come to apply for a PhD. Despite getting First class degree and being in the top 3 of my year/having a HEP-phenom publication I'm struggling like hell to get a PhD place in stringy things or QG. I'm not sure if it's Manchester's reputation that is the issue, or if it's just that it's more of a phenom place, than string etc. Anyway I've almost universally been rejected by various string theory/QG groups, Nottingham (Despite what I thought was a great interview :( ), Imperial (Rejection without even an interview invite), Oxford Maths Inst (Rejection without interview again), Oxford Physics (admittedly this was my fault, I wasnt prepared and interview went badly). I also applied to some places in the US: Stanford/UCLA/UCSD all rejected (My PGRE was around 840, so maybe this was just too low for an international I don't know). All I was accepted to was USC (ranked 48th in the US), and I am waiting on Edinburgh Math Phys group (this could easily be another rejection given Nottingham was). I'm really ****** with myself, because I can't help but feel if I had gone to Cambridge/Oxford or even Durham, I would have had no trouble. If Cambridge I could have naturally led onto part III->DAMTP/Imperial/Top 10 US. If Durham/Oxford then similarly this could have led to string PhD's at either of those or high ranked US perhaps. Not just because of their reputations but because they have strong String groups, so my recommenders would be well known string theorists, and I would have string research instead of phenom research to back me up etc. I now wonder what my prospects are if I end up going to USC for gradschool, I can't find any alumni stats to find out if they go postdocs and where at etc. But just looking at department webpages and faculty profiles, seems to imply that the ones who "made it", that finally got tenure after multiple post doc near enough all went to top 20 US schools, or Imperial/Oxbridge/Durham or some prestigious European university. Ulitmatley my connections are going to come from who my advisor knows, how much respect he has in the community, and I fear that I may have no chance beating people from Caltech or somewhere to a very competitive postdoc shot, and going hear I am going to be the underdog from the start of my career. I want to study Physics, but can't help feel I've threw away my potential shot at a realistic chance to make it, and what if after 4-6years of PhD graft, I just end up spat back out looking for the same job I could get right now, but prob in debt and obviously 6 years older! I'm considering doing the Imperial MSc in Quant fields, and reapplying after that to try at somewhere more prestigious, and retake the PGRE to try and hit high 900's....but of course there's no guarantee that I will get in anywhere better even then, and no guarantee I wont mess up the PGRE.