With the benefit of hindsight, this is what I would do, were I to apply again (thankfully, not necessary!)
a) apply only to schools you want to attend, and do research to be sure
I realized (too late) that 40% of my apps were to schools that didn't really care for anyway. This situation could have been easily avoided, saving me both money (well, probably not money...) and hassle, as well as giving me a better chance of going somewhere I want to go.
regardless of stats, do not only look to top-this-or-that schools; play the entire field
I applied, basically, to top 20 programs this year, and I basically consider myself very lucky that it worked out. If I were to do it again, I would have shopped around more and not be as fixated on the rankings -- whatever those mean.
c) leave no stone unturned
I know that quant is not that important for us, but I really regret not putting at least some effort into it -- I focused on the verbal and got a good score there, but with not so much work I could easily have added 100-150 points to GRE total through the quant. This is one of the things that annoy me the most about my application cycle. I could have done it, but I didn't. Stupid.
d) know what you want to do
I've been asked by adcoms what general era I want to focus on -- yes, it's true, it wasn't clear from my SOP. The reason was, of course, that I wasn't sure myself. But I should have been. Things may change, of course, but at least for the application cycle, try to present a focused interest.
e) don't freak out about the GREs
High scores are all well and fine, but unless you tank completely, just work on the other parts of your application package! Were I to apply again, I would not retake the GREs -- that's my opinion at least, but c) applies.
f) if at all possible, try to find a mentor from the "inside"
But I don't know that much -- you should check this out, I think: http://community.liv...2010/31395.html
and keep an eye out for circumfession's upcoming post on re-applying.
Edited by p7389, 05 March 2010 - 03:02 PM.