When reading some example personal statements, I felt incredibly sorry for the admissions tutor. Firstly because of the clear difficulty of having to select applicants, especially in my first choice university where there are 1 in 20 places awarded (yikes!) But also because of the incredible drivel that I'm sure they must go through.
The previous quote was just one example, I read statements of people beginning with "Hello, I am --- from --- and am applying for a --- course." My pastoral head's answer was that you're studying at a university, not a convenience shop. Others begin with "dear sir or madam", to which we're told it's not a letter, it's a statement of excellence. YOUR excellence.
TIP #1 - Passions and dreams do not belong at university.
E.g "it has always been my dream to come to your university, to advance my passion in ---". EGH EGH.
Or at least, not on personal statements. Imagine you're an admissions tutor from a university that spends millions a year on supplies, professors, food and accommodation. They're an institution, a place of learning, but they're also a business. Your tutors may want you to succeed because they care about you, the university want you to succeed to add to the grade average and give them a good reputation. In England, they're also fleecing £9,000 a year from you, even more depending on where you go, so they want your grades, and they want your money.
Coming to terms with this took some of the romance of university away for me, but I can see the sense in it, especially given the economic sticky situation at the moment.
Now, think about who you would rather take. A student who wants to study because they've dreamed about it from a young age, or a student who wants to make the conscientious effort to improve themselves and succeed in a subject that they find both personally and intellectually stimulating.
Writing is my passion, becoming an author is my dream, but I'm not putting that in my statement because it uses up valuable characters on something that a tutor finds uninteresting and irrelevant. The word passion cropped up in my statement, but that was when I was talking about the "vivid and passionate images of Christian sin I found when reading Inferno."
There's a difference. As far as universities are concerned, passion can fade, dreams are fanciful and fleeting. Not a good basis for choosing a student. Now, having determination, a solid belief in the subject and a clear path, I'd say that's a good student.