As mentioned, this part of your application can be used to decide whether a school wants to invite you for an interview or not. Schools only accept students who have been invited for interviews, so getting to this step is a huge part of the process.
There are schools that require an applicant to submit a Statement of Purpose instead of a PS, the thrust of which is to present an applicant's goals in terms of what major to pursue, what research direction to take, and other specific study and career plans, if any. Therefore, in this case, you are required to submit a similar essay but with greater emphasis on your specific study and career plans. Most applicants are confused with the difference between a PS and a Statement of Purpose. This is not to say, however, that a PS cannot be a Statement of Purpose and vice versa, because as you will discover in the next section, these two can actually overlap depending on the outline you have created.