Any tips for the application process in general? I'm finishing up my GRE prep at the moment, but I need to write my statement still (will get on that ASAP after the GRE).
Get ready to take a hit financially. My schools ran between $50 and $90 per application, in addition to two GRE's; one general and one subject, I think those were around $100 each? I can't remember, because I've been trying not to, and I guess it's worked. Also, you'll likely move, unless you commit "academic inbreeding", i.e. getting your PhD from the same institution as your undergrad. Moving costs money too.
Find some clever way to deal with all of the passwords and usernames you're going to accrue. There're many different online application systems with varying degrees of brilliance, but most often, very little. PAY ATTENTION to mailing addresses, I sent two out of my five transcripts to the wrong address, and wasn't guaranteed that those two would be received. It's worth calling the office of every grad department you apply to for confirmation of the correct mailing address. In my case, transcripts from one of my undergrad schools cost money (ten bucks each!), while the other school sent them free of charge.
Take your GRE relatively early in the year (sounds like you're doing this). When I got my score back in late November and knew it was competitive, it was a whirlwind process of applying before the application deadline, which is typically around the year's end. And don't forget that the registrar's offices are totally dysfunctional after the students leave for winter break, for transcript sending.
For your statement, lay it all out there. Tell them what made you decide to go for your PhD. Give a brief history explaining what led you to this moment. Don't hesitate to brag about all the cool shit you've done so far. Was there a rough patch for you? I wasn't shy about my lack of focus and conviction for the first couple years, as reflected in my undergraduate grades. lil helped me a lot with my statement, and was "badged" accordingly, which was nowhere near compensation enough for the trouble of analyzing a clumsy 1.5 page wall of text and providing excellent feedback. If you want, I can PM you my statement of purpose as an example, even though it would still probably make lil cringe, were she to read it. Edit: Both caeli and lil have both said it, and I agree; if you tailor your letters to each individual school, that can be powerful. For example, "I have always been interested in ____, and Dr. ____'s work in that area fascinates me." That's actually a terrible template, and you should only target things that genuinely DO interest you, but you get the idea. If you have interests and especially come from a background aligned with something that their department excels at (or wants to excel at), that's a huge bonus in your favor.
Edit 2: Letters of Rec. Edition. You're going to need at least two people in academia and a third person who is of note in your community, or even involved in professional work related to your field. And as was noted elsewhere, the more the author is known in the
field you're interested in has serious sway.
Also, what made you decide to get your PhD? I am confident that I want to go for one, but I realize it's a big life decision.
The selfless component is that I passionately want to contribute to the knowledge base of our species. The selfish component is that I'll hit a glass ceiling in both salary and opportunity if I don't do this. The outcome is that I get smarter (good for me), and I become a greater asset to humanity (good for everyone).
There are some systemic problems with academia and the university system in every country, sure. But in its most simple expression, education/educated = good.