So some brief backstory about why I’m asking this question: I’m applying to grad schools next fall, and everything on my CV looks great (2 REUs, I know four professors I can get a great research letter from, I’m doing honors at a top 10 university for physics, etc.) except my gpa, which is around 3.3 after this last semester. I took way too much for me to handle and things ended up being pretty disastrous (in one year I went from a 3.65 to 3.3). The bad grades were in math and CS courses though (my physics grades were still A’s and B’s, and I technically showed an uptrend). I definitely learned my lesson with the courses, and will be taking a very light load in the fall, but obviously I’m concerned about getting into grad school with bad grades on my transcript. Anyway, I went from looking at places like MIT and Illinois to wondering if I can even get into my local state schools. I asked my current PI for places to apply to just based on advisors (barring my CV), and according to him there are good advisors at places that I’ve never really heard of, like UT-Arlington. I trust his opinion, but I honestly started stressing out when I looked up these schools, because some are not even ranked on US News! (Usually a red flag when I was selecting places for undergrad.) I realize that I may have been falsely trained to put this artificial emphasis on rankings throughout my life (e.g., it makes my school look better if I get into a prestigious grad school, regardless of if I do well there or not), but I’ve also heard some professors say that to be a leader in your field you must go to a top school; the better the ranking, the more it may help you; etc. My dream is to continue doing research as a career. I’ve had so much experience with it already, I absolutely love it, and I’m sure I don’t want to do anything else as a career. So, I'm really worried about having thrown away chances at being a leader at what I do just because of some immaturity with course selection in undergrad. I guess I’m looking for reassurance and/or advice on how to approach the application process in my position... For example, will it really weigh against me heavily career-wise if I go to an unranked school that has a "good advisor?" Edit: Btw, just for clarity, I'm going into experimental high energy physics, so I will likely work on a collaboration/experiment.