Jefferson Scholars Foundation

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Jefferson Scholars Foundation
Established 1980[1]
Endowment US $ 359.3 million [2]
President James Wright
Logo of Jefferson Scholars Foundation

The Jefferson Scholars Foundation provides a full scholarship program benefiting select undergraduate and graduate students at The University of Virginia and has been named as one of the two leading scholarship programs in the country.[3] Named after Thomas Jefferson, the university's founder and visionary, the foundation aims to "identify, attract, and nurture individuals of extraordinary intellectual range and depth who possess the highest qualities of leadership, scholarship, and citizenship."[4] In addition to funding tuition and fees, the scholarship program provides undergraduates with extensive programming including an introductory outdoor weekend, international travel, a summer leadership and citizenship institute, internships and an extensive speaker series.

History and background

Founded in the 1980–1981 academic year by the board of managers of the University of Virginia Alumni Association, the Jefferson Scholars Foundation was a product of the "board’s desire to put in place a tangible program that would reflect the educational ideals of Thomas Jefferson."[5] The first class yielded twelve scholars who graduated in 1985.

In time, the foundation worked to increase the size of incoming Jefferson Scholar classes. The regional competitions increased from just a few to the 50 that presently exist. The number of nominees has grown to over 1,800 each year, and volunteer committee participation utilizes roughly 800 U.Va. alumni and faculty who participate in the nomination and selection process.[2]

Undergraduate selection process

For aspiring Jefferson Scholars, the selection process can be quite rigorous. Students attending one of the more than 4,000 eligible secondary schools in the US must be nominated by their respective institution. Each secondary school is assigned to one of 53 regional areas across the United States which serve to select finalists in the competition. The regional selection process, executed by committees of UVA alumni, varies and can include three levels of selection (an application and up to two interviews) to determine any finalists. These individuals are then brought to Charlottesville for the finalist selection weekend. Students not attending an eligible secondary school or students living outside one of the established regions (including international students) are automatically considered for the finalist weekend based on their UVA application and selected by a separate panel. All finalist expenses for the selection weekend, including travel, are paid for by the foundation.

In 2016, 1825 student nominations were made by secondary schools; 120 of these students were selected for the finalist weekend, and 34 were awarded Jefferson Scholarships.[6]

Usually taking place in March, the finalist weekend is actually an exhaustive four-day experience allowing students the opportunity to exhibit their strengths. While some time is dedicated to informative activities concerning UVA and a specialized tour of Thomas Jefferson's Monticello, the majority of the weekend is spent on activities where individual merits may be judged. Judges utilize a math & logic exam, a written essay, two sets of faculty moderated panel discussions based on readings provided before the weekend, and a final interview with a panel of judges to select a class. Of the finalists, a class of around 30 students is selected, representing less than 2% of those originally nominated.

The university has seen success in retaining students nominated for (but not awarded) the Jefferson Scholarship. In recent years, approximately nine percent of the incoming first year class were nominees from their respective secondary school.[7]


First year

The class spends three days at an outdoor/high-ropes course in Charlottesville. The event is utilized to encourage team building among the class as they camp, cook meals, and participate in numerous activities including high and low ropes courses.

Second year

Class participates in a Leadership and Citizenship Institute. Because leadership and citizenship are two pillars of the scholarship program, the foundation focuses on emphasizing these qualities through a specialized two-week program. Occurring in August before a scholar's second year, the class is housed on grounds at the university and participates in many different activities. These activities vary slightly by year but generally include numerous speakers and workshops, a service project, team building activities, and public speaking exercises. The weekend between weeks is left open for scholars to plan class activities.

Third year

The international travel experience occurs during the summer before third year. The international travel program is broken into structured and independent portions.

The structured program offers three different trips for third year scholars. The two oldest trips take place in Tuscany and London and have existed for many years. A trip taking students throughout the European Union existed previously but was replaced in 2007 by a new itinerary to focus on Asia. Scholars are asked to rank their trip preferences in December of their second year and the foundation then assigns scholars to one of the three trips.

Each trip focuses on a specific topic to appeal to the different interests of scholars.

Tuscany program

Entitled, "Civilization in Tuscany: A Case Study of Creativity, Continuity, and Change," this trip takes place at the Erasmus Institute [8] in Capitignano and is led by Michael Aeschlimann.[9] This trip focuses on art and architecture and takes students to many of the Tuscan towns and museums to study.

London Program

Entitled, “The Culture of London: Past and Present,” this trip takes place at Regent's College in London. This program's subject is the city of London itself and its interdisciplinary approach combines English literature, history, and urban culture. The program is taught by UVA English professors Michael Levenson and Clare Kinney.[9]

Asia Program

Entitled, "China: Four Corners," this trip takes place in one or more countries in Asia and is designed and led by a senior UVA faculty member. Started in 2007 and led by Economics professor Bruce Reynolds, the trip started in Osaka, Japan and included a several night stay in a Shingon Buddhist Temple atop Mount Koya. In addition, the group traveled to Kyoto, Japan and then to Beijing. After a night of camping and hiking on the Great Wall of China, students boarded the Lhasa Railway for the 48-hour trip to Tibet upon the highest altitude train track in the world. After a stay in Lhasa and seeing the Jokang Temple and Potala Palace, scholars camped and hiked to remote Tibetan Buddhist monasteries. The final stop for the trip was in Shanghai. Recently, the trip has been designed and overseen by UVA politics professor Brantly Womack. Since then the Japan portion of the trip has been removed and replaced with additional cities in China including Xi'an and Hong Kong, while many other portions of the trip in Beijing, Tibet, and Shanghai remain the same.[9]

Independent study

The second portion of the international travel program is an independent study. In the spring semester of a scholar's second year, each student proposes a project to the foundation for their study. The guidelines for these projects are purposefully flexible and state that each scholar must choose a topic that cannot be fully explored from a computer and requires that they leave the country.

Each project is unique; some scholars choose to focus on subjects diverting from strict academia while others choose to do academically significant research. While many scholars choose to do their independent in Europe as they are already there from their structured program, others have been known to do their studies in other parts of the world, including Africa, Asia and South America.


Early on, the Jefferson Scholars competition was overseen by the Alumni Association, with university clubs funding several of the scholars. By the mid-1980s, however, private support from individuals became the main focus of funding efforts.[10]

The foundation’s endowment in 2016 stood at just over $359 million.[2]

For the 2015–16 academic year, the in-state monetary award for scholars exceeded $31,000. The out-of-state award exceeded $61,000.[11] This money is used to cover the full cost of attending UVA which includes tuition, board, books, etc. The stipend for Jefferson Graduate Fellows is $30,000.[10]


  1. ^ Jefferson Scholars Foundation
  2. ^ a b c 2016 Jefferson Scholars Annual Report
  3. ^ The Provost's Forum
  4. ^ Jefferson Scholars Foundation Official Site.
  5. ^ Jefferson Scholars Foundation: About.
  6. ^ Jefferson Scholars Selection Process
  7. ^ [1]
  8. ^ Erasmus Institute/
  9. ^ a b c Jefferson Scholars Enrichment Program
  10. ^ a b Jefferson Scholars Foundation.
  11. ^ Jefferson Scholars Selection Process

External links

  • Jefferson Scholars Foundation
  • University of Virginia
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