The glossy color brochures, each crammed with photos depicting a Chinese student’s high-achieving life from birth to young adulthood, pile up in the admissions office at Grinnell College here.

 “Hi Professors!” one young woman announced in her bound booklet, sometimes known in China as a “brag sheet,” which included a photo of herself as a baby. She characterized her childhood as “naïve and curious,” and described herself now as “sincere, kind and tough.”

The brochures, though they are almost never read by admissions officers, are a sign of Grinnell’s success marketing itself in China — a plan that has paid off in...

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staff and wire services reports