A part of the typical graduate school application is the “essay” or personal statement
I also did this, when I were a wee lad.
I came from Europe, but for obscure historical reasons was mostly applying to universities in the US.
Upon reading the application forms, I found a small box which said something to the effect of “tell us why you want to go to grad school”.
It was, typically, a very small box.
Because US application deadlines were, much to my surprise, much earlier than typical European deadlines, I was in a bit of a rush.
So I wrote, in #2 pencil of course: “I like physics. I have a lot more physics to learn.”
Bit verbose, but I managed to fit it in the boxes and it was more or less legible.
– I think one university form had a Box of Unusual Size, so I added on that one only “It seems like Institute X is a good place to learn physics”, the other forms did not leave enough room for that.
A bit later a friend of mine asked to see one of my applications, so I showed her, and after she stopped screaming, she explained that this was meant to be an 1-2 page essay, explaining my motivation and interests and passion.
Oh, said I.
Well, write one and attach, how many applications do you have.
Well, a few, but I already mailed them. This one (to Prestigious Fancy Pants University) is the last one.
Argh. Well write one for that.
So I did.
They rejected me. That they then rejected me twice more for postdoc is a coincidence I am sure (they had no openings as I recall when I was applying for faculty).
All the other US universities I had applied to admitted me.
I don’t know if those ever read my “essay”. I am sure the Fancy Pants University people did.
I don’t think I mentioned Bob Dylan though.
This is a true story though.
In the meantime, if you seek effective and pragmatic advice on the issue, go read the Female Science Professor
Ok, I don’t actually advocate writing what I did. If nothing else it’d be plagiarism, and I suspect that this is like the “No” as an answer to an essay question, it amuses once and after that it just annoys people. But, if in doubt, err on the terse and to the point side and go light on the poetry, childhood memories or defining moment.
We want to know how you did in advanced E&M, whether you took enough serious math classes, and whether you will pull all-nighters to get a project finished and a paper written, and then stick with it despite having to do crap like that. . That is what you need to convey.
And that you liked it.