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Ireland's Trinity College sees record number of applications after success of TV show 'Normal People'

Daisy Edgar-Jones and Paul Mescal, who play Marianne and Connell, speak onstage during the Hulu Panel at Winter TCA 2020 at The Langham Huntington, Pasadena on January 17, 2020 in Pasadena, California.
Erik Voake/Getty Images

Hit TV show "Normal People" appears to have helped boost the number of applications to Trinity College Dublin, where part of the series was set.

The prestigious Irish college in the country's capital city received 42,972 applications over the course of the past year, up 11% on 2019 and the highest number of applications on record.  

Kevin Mitchell, a senior lecturer at Trinity, told CNBC on Friday that 10% of this increase came after February when the initial period for college applications had closed.

He explained it was unusual for the college to see such a significant uptick in the number of people applying for places from March through to July. 

Mitchell said it was "quite possible" that "Normal People," based on the best-selling novel of the same name by Sally Rooney, could have had some part to play in the increase of applications to Trinity. 

The story follows the love story of Marianne Sheridan and Connell Waldron, from attending the same high school in a fictional small town in County Sligo, Ireland to them both going to Trinity College Dublin. 

According to Ireland's Central Application Office, which oversees college applications, there is a window when students can alter their course choices for free, known as the "change of mind" period, running from May until the beginning of July. 

This was at the same time "Normal People" aired, drawing in record viewing figures in the U.K. and Ireland, and receiving global acclaim. 

In addition to Trinity's picturesque campus, Mitchell said there was the appeal of the "lively social scene" depicted in the show but, added there was also the "growth and the educational journey" of the characters as students. 

Connell, in particular, who comes from a working-class background finds it hard to feel like he fits in at Trinity, which has "an unfortunate reputation of being elitist in a social kind of way." 

Mitchell said Connell's character goes from being "shy … lacking in confidence" to becoming more confident and finding "his own voice as a writer," eventually being offered a place on a writing course in New York. 

"It is a little regrettable I think that we don't get typically as many applications from students outside of the Dublin area, as I would like," said Mitchell, adding there could be a self-fulfilling prophecy of students from the capital going to the college and so potential students from outside the city might not see themselves there. 

However, Mitchell added that the uptick in applications could also be due to the cancellation of final-year high school exams in Ireland due to the coronavirus pandemic, which was decided in May. 

Instead, predicted calculated grades have been used for college admissions, which he said could have encouraged some students to put down courses at Trinity they might not have otherwise gotten the grades for.

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