Hello! I am a junior level physics major at a state university (first semester here, 1.5 years to go). I am the first in my family to attend college beyond a two year degree and I myself have recently transferred from a community college. With that said I suppose it is no surprise that I don't know much about academic culture and/or what ways I can improve my chances of getting into a decent graduate program and otherwise optimize my career path. I have some ideas of things to do but as I've found in the past there are simply things that I don't know that I don't know... ya know? I'm not sure of the best way to proceed so perhaps I will create a brief list of what I think I need to do and then open the floor for any advice and suggestions. I definitely plan on attending graduate school and doing so as soon as possible but I am working two jobs and have a wife and 4.5 month old daughter that come first. I say that because there are many opportunities such as summer internships and research opportunities out of state that make less sense for me than a typical undergrad unless I find that it's the only way (or a drastically better way) to proceed. On the other hand my wife and I are looking forward to leaving the state so moving is an option if necessary. Also one of my jobs is working as a physics TA in the physics helproom which I hear looks good. Lastly, although I am going to attend graduate school, I plan on working in industry instead of academia. (I beg forgiveness!) There are a number of really 'hot' companies that would be great to work for that seem to be popular around here such as space-x, planetary resources, etc. Beyond that I am really not too picky about how I apply my degree for the first several years after which I hope to run my own gig. Even non-physics applications would be fun as long as I get my physics fix one way or another. Summer 2014: Take GRE Prep for physics GRE (when is latest it is advisable to take?) Hopefully find work in a lab (is it rare to find payed work without lab experience even if student has lengthy professional experience outside a lab?) Fall 2014: Quantum I E&M I (I seem to be taking these late which is why I am worried about taking the physics GRE...) Misc. required courses Spring 2015: Quantum II Thermal & Statistical A Physics mathematics course Nuclear & Elementary Particle Physics (this semester is going to be interesting...) Fall 2015: Advanced Lab Atomic/Molecular/Condensed Matter I should probably squeeze my tier two classes in there such as E&M II, Classical Mechanics II, etc. They're not required but I'm not sure I can take E&M II on top of what I already have in spring 2015 while still working... Here are a few more things I am wondering about that I will look for answers to in specific outside this thread but I thought I would bring them in provided the context of this thread: When do I apply for graduate school? Is it normal to take the physics GRE more than once? Is that looked down upon? Participation in extracurriculars seems to be a way to improve your academic resume. Is being employed outside academia in any way beneficial also? Is it in any way a replacement for extracurriculars? Beyond lab work, a professional resume, some letters of recommendation, and decent grades what can I do to improve my chances? How difficult is it to get into tier 1 schools? (What a question, right?) Okay, sorry for the wall of text. Thank you for your time and advice!