Various suggestions- disregard them as you wish, because everyone’s situation is different.
Since you have a year to think about it, I’m sure you can get an idea of what you want to do. Once you’ve figured out WHAT you want a degree in, the hardest part is the damn statement of purpose section of the Apps. This is always the most stressful part for me (I’m in the midst of this myself for the third damn time, now) because other than that I want to teach somewhere I’m pretty unsure of where I’m headed. So when they ask “what do you want to do” I start making things up and then playing out the next two years like I meant it (ok, I really only did that the first time for my MA program; now I have a clue, although now they are asking questions about my methodology and scary things of that sort). The feeling like you are suddenly forcing yourself to make life-changing decisions is natural.
Apply to school based on real criteria, not just because they’re located where they are or you hate the thought of living in New Jersey or whetever. College towns to a great extent are all the same, relatively-- even if they are in a creepy part of the country they will tend to be oases of reason. You will also probably hate yourself when you realize that, when the fellowship offers arrive, you are considering money an issue. You will consider money an issue in the end. Try not to be too self-loathing about it.
Have you taken the GRE? Do it NOW.
Also, I have recently learned that people who read the essays on the apps hate essays where the student explains how they always loved X and knew they wanted to be a Y when they grew up, because their dad, who was a small town barber, once told them etc, etc. I think this approach must be acceptable for Law and business schools or something, as on the ‘suggestions’ that prep services give they include that sort of clever anecdotal essay. For an academic field, though, they don’t want it to be cute. “But how do I make myself stand out from the crowd?” I ask my advisor. “If you sound serious about things and don’t have a “cute” essay, you WILL stand out,” he explains.
Also, (and this might sound snotty or elitist to some, but it’s reality) apply to the best schools that you can. I used to assume that I couldn’t get into/ wasn’t cut out for the more competitive programs, but now I’m coming into my own and I regret not aiming higher (a current project is fixing this situation). Many people apply to good schools and one school they know they can get into; do the opposite as well and apply to a school that you think is perfect for you but you could never dream of getting into. After a BA, or an MA it’s possible to move upwardly, but after you’ve chosen to get a PhD at a very safe school that you were certain you would be accepted by, there’s no going back and re-doing the same degree in the same field at a better school after you’ve realized you were capable of it and had more motivation than you thought you did.
Also make sure the department you decide to enter is stable. I have been abandoned by two advisors now and left in crumbing departments-- departments that were good when I entered but underwent a sudden exodus of the best staff for various reasons. If the advisor you want to work for is 64 years old and looking at houses on Thera, beware.
Good luck! Where ya’ going in the PC?