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In the past six years, North­eastern Uni­ver­sity has vaulted 42 spots in the pow­erful U.S. News & World Report col­lege rank­ings. And not merely because it added pro­grams, hired super­star fac­ulty or built fancy facilities.

The pri­vate school in Boston also has made an all-​​out effort to increase the number of appli­cants for admis­sion, dis­patching its 30-​​person recruiting staff across the country and sending hun­dreds of thou­sands of per­son­al­ized let­ters and emails to high-​​school stu­dents. It per­suaded more than 44,000 stu­dents to apply for one of the 2,800 spots in its fall 2012 freshman class—up from about 30,000 in 2007—a move that boosted the school’s selec­tivity, illus­trating a growing trend in col­lege marketing.


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