This topic will relate to a major issue for PhD aspirants!
Post your ideas, queries, and suggestions about the places for Ph D in USA or even in other countries!
The top 3 places- Stanford/Harvard/Wharton - of which getting into stanford is considered most difficult because of its selctive intake- will receive good attention.
We invite alumni and current students from these and other good places to contribute the "inside stories" and enlighten the aspirants.
My starting point would be to contact departments and ask them what their research focus is going to be over the next 2 to 3 years. This will give you a good idea about which departments to apply. Even if you are brilliant and have an exceptional academic record, Departments will not admit you if your research interests do not match their research focus.
Once you know what the departments research focus is, you can easily match it with your research interests. This is POOL 1 of your university list.
Next stage is to find out whether your academic record is competitive in the universities in Pool 1. many a time, departments post the past average gmat scores, gpa etc. of admitted applicants. though meeting this criteria wont guarantee admission, it would certainly help you to narrow down your list your universities. This is POOL 2 of your universities list.
After that , give your best shot at GMAT/GRE . Depending on your GMAT/GRE score, you may want to add /reduce your university list. this would be your final list.
in case you feel lucky, you may want to add another one or two univs where you are not that competitive. Who knows what the applicant pool is going to be.