Hello PhysForums! New poster here. I hope some of you will have experiences, or advice for my situation. I've searched a lot of threads here and on physicsgre or gradcafe, and haven't gotten quite the information I'd like. Here's the facts: - Senior at elite LAC in USA, Physics and Math double major, top grades and good research in string theory - Applied to PhD physics programs, mostly top but some backups as well - Accepted to Caltech, UChicago but rejected everywhere else Both these schools are amazing for strings, but I am also thinking about switching to condensed matter theory, which these schools are not very good at, for my particular interests. I would really love to go to a school like UC Berkeley, UCSB, Stanford or Harvard, where condensed matter is being worked on more, in the case that I don't like strings... While I know HEP-theory is really competitive, I don't frankly know why I was rejected so much. I'll contact admissions people to ask for suggestions, but I would like your opinion on the following two options: Option 1: - Take a year off and re-apply to PhD programs, as well as terminal masters, just in case Option 2: - Go to Chicago (perhaps with a year off, to prepare and do more research), and if i don't like strings, transfer to a school like UCB after 2 years. What are the typical issues with these options? I do think my application next year will be a bit stronger (didn't contact any professors at schools of interest before submitting admissions - maybe this is the issue? also, i'll have a paper or two), but I'm not sure how much stigma there is against re-applicants. Will I have a higher chance (at UCB for example) if I reapply, or transfer generally?