Ok, I'm applying for fall 2013 PhD programs and one masters (at an institution that funds its MS students!) in astronomy, specifically planetary science. I'm a somewhat nontraditional applicant and need some perspective on my application. I majored in English and minored in Astrophysics, but took more Astro & Physics courses than the minor required - I would have graduated with 3 majors if not for the biannual rotation of certain courses (my undergrad institution was small, upper-division courses in Physics typically enrolled 2-7 students, even when taught biannually). This all started when I took Intro Astronomy to fulfill my "science is good for you" distributional requirement. Then I took the next course in sequence, and the next... and suddenly, there I was. My grades in most of my upper division courses aren't so hot - low Bs and Cs. Same for Calc I & II - I got a D in Calc III (not required, but I thought it would be good to take it). My grades in the fields where I ended up doing research - planetary astro & applied optics - are great, high Bs and As. Yes, I did research. A summer of astro, 12 months of experimental optics, two independent studies, one in each subject. Presented at conferences for all but the summer of astro (I was in a motor vehicle accident and my data was destroyed - LEARNED MY LESSON ABOUT BACKING EVERYTHING UP. I was less concerned about recovering my data than I was about recovering my ability to walk). Did quite a bit of public outreach & education during the 3 years I worked for the college's observatory. Directed a grant-funded optics outreach & ed extravaganza (I didn't write the grant, though). I also worked for 2 years as the instructor's assistant for intro astronomy lab classes - showing students how to set up telescopes, answering questions about the data analysis, operating the Really Big Telescope. The PI I was working for after graduation made a sudden departure and I had to find another job. I've spent the past year and a half working in a non-scientific field as a data analyst - I toodle around in Excel and Access all day and write scripts in Python and VBA. I'm hoping that work experience, even outside the sciences, will count for something. It sure cured me of my problem with meeting deadlines! Took the general GRE today and my insta-scores were 91st percentile verbal, 57th percentile quantitative. Taking the PGRE next saturday - my undergrad mentor warned me that students from liberal arts colleges tend to score poorly on the PGRE. For comparison, a peer of mine with better grades and equal amounts of research scored in the 40-something percentile on the PGRE and still got into Iowa with an assistantship. I have 3 recommenders, 2 of which I did research for and 1 who supervised my work in the observatory's public outreach program, who have all said that they'll give me strong recommendations. I'm confident that they'll have good things to say. I'm sort of lost on what to write in my personal statement. I know I need to talk about my unusual background and poor grades. I'm an English major who did some research, I've worked both in and out of the sciences, and I'm confident that this is what I want to do and that I can do it. Now how the hell do I convince someone to let me in? Oh yeah, I wrote a 30-page senior research thesis in English (on Alan Moore's use of Nietzschean philosophy in Watchmen). Should I mention that at all on my CV or statement? Will anyone care? I'm also female. Will anyone care about that? I asked for advice and perspective, so sock it to me. But if that perspective is "you are not qualified", I humbly request that you say it gently. Thanks!