Grad school applications are very different from applying to college. It is nearly always the case that in ecology and evolution, you only get admitted if there is an adviser who will take you. This is true even if there is a rotation system. It is true even if nowhere on the application are you required to do this. It may be less true in other areas of biology, but follow this essential next piece of advice.
IF ANYWHERE IN YOUR APPLICATION YOU NAME A PROFESSOR AT THE INSTITUTION THAT MIGHT BE A POSSIBLE RESEARCH MENTOR, YOU MUST CONTACT THAT PERSON AND SEE IF THEY ARE TAKING STUDENTS AND IF YOU MIGHT BE LIKELY TO BE ONE OF THEM!
I do not know how much more strongly I can convey this. I suppose anyone reading this blog already knows this. It pains me to see otherwise strong looking students name people who are not taking students, who are not still research active, or are not even at the institution any more. THIS CAN KILL YOUR CHANCE OF GETTING IN NO MATTER HOW GOOD YOU ARE!!! The thing is, we admit students that are excellent themselves and are also a good fit. If we don’t have what you want, you probably won’t choose to come here, and if you do, you might not be happy.
It is too late for you if you applied to Wash U because our deadline has passed. But many other schools have later deadlines. Make sure you are not choosing a zombie adviser, a full adviser, a missing adviser, or bugs bunny.