Should I consider applying to mid-tier schools? Or will I have better long-term success by working or doing research for a year and re-applying to top-tier schools? I don't want to be a professor, I just want to be an expert in my field and then do research in industry. How much does the institution you attend actually matter?
Details about my situation: I am a senior at Worcester Polytechnic Institute currently applying to PhD programs in machine learning and robots. 3.98 GPA, two grad classes, a few research projects with professors, one publication as first author at a tiny workshop, and some solid internship experiences. I am planning to apply to MIT, Stanford, Berkeley, Georgia Tech, and CMU. I think I am a competitive applicant, but I also know that those schools are insanely hard to get in to in my field. I'm planning for the event I don't get into one of these top schools.
Clarification: If I end up taking a year before grad school, I would be doing research at a company (Uber) or getting a research internship at a university lab somewhere (not sure how or where).