1. If you can afford it, apply to between 8 and 12 programs. The selection process is unpredictable. Keep your options open.
7. For your personal statements: Come across as formal and friendly. Come across as a serious writer and a dependable person. Discuss your life experience, your goals, and the reason you want to take this time. The letter should be no more than 1.5 pages.
Bonus: Once you've been accepted at (hopefully more than one) programs, get in touch with current students and ask them about the atmosphere there. You'll learn a lot by getting the ground's eye view.