Appealing to the Reader's Senses: Writing A College Admissions Essays that Gets Noticed


When you’re writing a narrative or telling a story in your personal statement, using sensory details is one of the most effective ways to captivate the reader which makes your essay more likely to stand out. Sensory details help the reader figuratively see, hear, feel, smell, and taste your words.

If you haven’t started writing yet, but you have an event or story in mind, you can create a chart like the one below as a way to draft and organize the sensory details you want to include.

Here’s a paragraph from Wright State University that offers a good example text:

Grandmother Workman lurched over and grabbed the pale skin of my thin forearm with her leathery hand. The folds and creases beneath her skin coiled themselves out like electrical wiring, like the bloated, roughly-textured relief map of the world that his mother just posted above his bedside table. I looked ahead toward the winding spiral staircase, fidgeted with a small hole in my baseball jersey, and bit my lip. My mouth filled with the sweet, coppery taste of blood as she leaned in closely toward me, breathing her hot breath on the damp hair at the base of my neck. She smelled of wet cigarettes and bacon. As we slowly climbed the long, steep staircase, the only sound was my grandmothers’ labored breathing and the mournful creak of the wooden stairs.

And here’s the table I would use to write about this story during the pre-writing phase of my essay:


If you’ve already written your personal statement or essay, go back through it and underline all the places you use sensory details. If you find that you don’t have many spots underlined, I recommend revising your text to include more sensory details.

You can use the shorthand below to quickly mark the sensory details you underline during your intial review:

See – S

Hear – H

Feel – F

Smell – Sm

Touch – T

No matter if you’re writing about a specific event or a personal narrative that includes details from your entire life, you should include sensory details. It’s one of the most effective ways to ensure the people reading your essay and engaged in what you wrote.


Need help with your personal statement or college admissions essay - Contact me for expert help brainstorming, writing and revising. You can also submit a question about any topic related to college admissions and I might answer it in a future blog post.