How to choose a graduate school
There are a lot of great resources to give you guidance, such as the following:
APS webinar: Choosing a graduate school
From the American Association of Physics Teachers: Planning for Graduate Studies
Narrowing down the choices: Grad School Shopper (from the American Institute of Physics)
A place to discuss applying to grad schools: Grad Cafe Forum
A list of Physics grad programs and their GRE requirements: google doc
More advice can be found here.
Many of you may look to rankings as the first way to pick a school. While not the least important factor, I wouldn’t put it even in the top five (okay, maybe #5). Here are the US News rankings. They further sub-divide into a few disciplines, although their choices are bizarre – what does “quantum” even mean here? Many areas of research use quantum mechanics!
Based on their own ranking methodology, grad school rankings are solely determined by surveys of department chairs (and others in a similar position), who rank schools on a scale of 1-5. US News sent 178 surveys with a response rate of 29%, i.e., ~50 people decided the best Physics programs in the country! (Biology faired the worst, with ~23 people deciding). Finally, surveys are only sent every few years. They become self-fulfilling – people rank certain schools highly because they have always been ranked highly.