Graduate Studies > UVa and Charlottesville > The University of Virginia

The University of Virginia is distinctive among institutions of higher education. Founded by Thomas Jefferson in 1819, the University sustains the ideal of developing, through education, leaders who are well-prepared to help shape the future of the nation. The University is public, while nourished by the strong support of its alumni. It is also selective; the students who come here have been chosen because they show the exceptional promise Jefferson envisioned.

Thomas Jefferson set to work on building plans that would mirror his philosophical vision. For Jefferson, the college experience should take place within an “academical village,” a place where shared learning infused daily life. Plans were developed for ten Pavilions—stately faculty homes with living quarters upstairs and classrooms downstairs—attached to two rows of student rooms and connected by an inward-facing colonnade. Each Pavilion was identified with a subject to be studied and inhabited by the professor who taught that subject.

At the head of the shared lawn would stand the library (not, as in most other colleges and universities of the time, a chapel), its dome shape inspired by Rome’s Pantheon and symbolic of the enlightened human mind. The plans grew to include two more colonnades of student rooms facing outwards and attached to a set of “hotels” where private businessmen served food for the students.

jeffersonJefferson corresponded with scholars in America and Europe, seeking the best faculty to teach in the areas of philosophy, arts, foreign languages, science, law, and medicine. Construction and transatlantic travel delayed the date of opening, but in March 1825, the University of Virginia opened to serve its first 123 students.

poeFor more than its first year of operation, Thomas Jefferson was a living legacy among University students and faculty. Each Sunday, he hosted students for dinner at Monticello. Among those students was Edgar Allan Poe, a University student in 1826. Poe was among the students, too, who journeyed up the mountain to pay their respects at the funeral of their University’s founder, who died on July 4, 1826.

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