UK student to get into top-level graduate study?
I'm a UK student at a University of London college looking to go to the US for my graduate studies. I want to do an MA in English or Comparative Literature (German and American/English) and aiming to eventually be doing a PhD in Literature for a career in academia. I'm looking at really top-draw places - Columbia, UCLA, Stanford, Pennsylvania, Cornell - and I know rejection is VERY likely, but want to know if I have any kind of chance (as well as what I can be doing to improve my application - tips welcome!)
I've been on a 2:1 for most of my degree (roughly 3.5GPA I think?) and have clawed myself to a 1st (4.0 ish I suppose) for my last several assignments. I'm hoping to come out with a 1st overall but it's by no means guaranteed. I've worked full-time throughout my degree so am an experienced librarian. I was the editor of the magazine for a short while and I'm pretty friendly with my professors. I played bridge for another college. I am at an intermediate level at a modern language due to working diligently at it last year and this. I have a research proposal that's connected to my undergraduate dissertation.
On the other hand, I only found out about the existence of the GRE last week, so I've never even seen one of the tests (although I did order the book and can practise). I'm not particularly wealthy so will need some kind of funding.
I'm doing all the usual things - contacting professors at my ideal schools and reading their work, working on a personal essay, trying to volunteer in my current department etc. I may take a gap year to improve my language/qualify as a chartered librarian/study some more.
Can you a) chance me, and b) give me tips?