I'm in the United States. When I went through the undergraduate applications process, I really wished that I had known, years ago, what I should have been doing to get into the college of my choice (developing a list of novel yet easily understood extracurriculars that demonstrate "leadership", apparently.) I'm starting my undergrad studies this fall (at a terrific school, but nonetheless my fifth choice), and somewhere between two and four years from now, I'm going to apply for grad school in some branch of physics. I'd like to know what factors are considered in your grad school application. I'd like to know what I should do to optimize the probability that I will be admitted to my first-choice graduate school. The more blunt and honest the advice, the better. So far, I'm aware that they consider your grade point average, teacher recommendations, GRE scores, and some sort of essay. I don't know what other factors are considered in addition to that (I assume at least gender, minority, and legacy status?) I don't know which part matters the most. Who reads grad school applications? Are the readers well educated in the field you're applying to? Do they consider the rigor of the classes you took? If so, is it considered relative to the school you're coming from or applying to? Do they care at all whether you're involved in clubs or community service? et cetera, et cetera. I appreciate your assistance in dispelling my naive ignorance.