I recently went through the grad school admissions process (starting here in the fall). While I am in a different field (mathematics), I think I can give you a couple pointers. Make sure to start early. The admissions process is very stressful, and takes deceptively more effort than it initially appears. Get good letters of reccomendation. From talking to professors at my university, every single one said that letters of reccomendation were the things that weighed most on an application. Ideally the people you would get a letter from would be known in the field you want to get into, know you outside of a classroom, and be familiar with things you have done recently. Pick a school based on what you want to learn. Since you already have a decent idea on the specialty you want, look at the faculty and their research interests. Make sure that if you would need access to specific equipment (such as lab equipment), see that the university has it, and would be accessible to grad students. Standardized testing is not terribly important. At least in math, many schools require you to have GRE scores only as a formality and don't put much weight into them. For instance my GRE subject score was terrible (I believe I got the rows mixed up on the test form), yet I still got accepted to my second choice (unfortunately without funding, but funding is very tight and competitive). This is not to say they are irrelevant, but it is not the end of the world if the scores aren't amazing. Overall the admissions process is pretty random. There is no one thing that will either get you into, or prevent you from getting into the school of your choice. You can't say that if you get rejected from a not so good school, that a very good school will reject you. The best you can do is make sure your application is thorough and complete, and be a little lucky. Make sure to apply to several schools. I only applied to four schools, which is on the low end. Most other people I know applied to at least 6, up to 15.