But the schools with competitive admissions processes (i.e. the ones who get a lot of applicants but don't have enough seats for everyone) will use recommendation letters, in part, to determine whether or not you are a fit for their school. (Schools also use other factors, such as your undergraduate transcripts, standardized test scores, essays, etc.)
In many ways, your statement of purpose is like a much longer cover letter, written in essay form. The format of the personal statement will vary according to school, academic discipline, and program type. You may be asked about your reasons for applying to the program, your professional goals, experiences that have influenced your development, or role models that have had an impact on your life. Regardless of the question, your personal statement should reflect some knowledge of the particular school and department that you are applying for. This is where all your research really starts to pay off; a statement that shows familiarity with the goals of the program and the interests of the faculty will stand out from a sea of generic statements.
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Graduate school applications often require a letter of intent, personal statement, or similar essay. These may highlight your personality, interests, accomplishments, and goals, as they relate to what you want to study and why you want to attend that school to do it.
Today, grad school admissions essays are much more important than they used to be. Unlike impersonal parts of your application such as test scores and GPAs, your essay is intimately connected to you and you alone. That’s why they call it a graduate school personal statement: because it needs to be personal! Without this vital part of your packet, how will you stand out to the admissions officer who reads your application? How will you communicate what makes you a uniquely qualified applicant who is more than just a collection of numbers? What will convince the person who reads your application that you deserve to be admitted over the thousands of others competing for that same spot?