Those who are thinking about going to college in Tennessee should be aware of the wide range of post-secondary options. In addition to two public university systems — the University of Tennessee system and the Tennessee Board of Regents (TBR) — there are also independent universities around the state. The TBR system is the larger of the two, comprising six universities, 13 community colleges and 27 colleges of applied technology. The UT system consists of a flagship campus in Knoxville, two satellite campuses in Martin and Chattanooga, a health science center in Memphis and statewide institutes of agriculture and public service.
If you're a Tennessee community college student hoping to finish your degree at a university campus, don't forget to look into the Tennessee Transfer Pathway (TTP) program. All TTP-eligible courses are guaranteed to transfer into degree plans at numerous universities in the state.
Best 4-Year Colleges in Tennessee
It takes top-notch student success rates, affordable tuition, flexible scheduling options and more to be considered one of the best colleges and universities in Tennessee. Tap the button below for some details of our methodology and read on to see which are the best Tennessee colleges. Then, read on to learn about the top community colleges in Tennessee.
Sitting on 910 acres near the Tennessee River in Knoxville, the University of Tennessee's flagship campus is home to the largest student body in the state. More than 22,000 undergraduates and 6,000 graduate and professional students were enrolled here in 2017.
UT consists of 11 accredited colleges that offer a massive variety of degree programs, particularly for advanced students. Of the more than 900 degrees and concentrations available to Volunteers, as UT students are called, upwards of 530 are administered by the institution's graduate school.
Academics aren't the only noteworthy aspect of this old-guard southern institution, which was founded as Blount College in the late 18th century. Volunteers athletic teams have enjoyed considerable success in the last few decades, capturing more than 20 NCAA championships since 1987.
Lipscomb University is a small, faith-based institution with total full-time enrollment of just over 4,200 students. Undergraduate degree plans here far outnumber their advanced counterparts. More than 170 bachelor's programs are available at Lipscomb, but master's degree and graduate certificate options are restricted to fewer than 25 apiece.
The Nashville school does, however, offer a few select terminal degrees. Six Education Specialist (Ed.S.) degree concentrations are available through the school's college of education, and doctoral programs in pharmacy (Pharm.D.) and ministry (D.Min.) can be found as well.
What's more, Lipscomb might be one of the best schools in Tennessee for students who have school-age children. The Lipscomb University campus also contains middle school and high school facilities, and an affiliated elementary school is located on a separate campus a few blocks away.
Named for Cornelius Vanderbilt, the 19th-century railroad magnate who provided its original endowment, Vanderbilt University has been educating students for more than 140 years. Total enrollment at Vanderbilt is close to 12,000, with around 6,800 of its students working toward undergraduate degrees.
Research is a significant part of the mission at Vanderbilt, for undergraduates as well as graduate students and faculty. Aspects of research are integrated into many academic courses, and research projects serve as the capstone experience in many of the university's majors.
Interdisciplinary work is encouraged here, particularly for research purposes. Regardless of the academic department where their major originates, students can form mentoring relationships with professors in just about any discipline to help their study reach across boundaries and generate ideas that may not have arisen from a single perspective alone.
Union University is a close-knit religious institution with a total student body around 3,400, so Christian students who prefer a fairly intimate learning environment might find the type of college experience they're looking for. The student-faculty ratio here is 10:1, also, which suggests that personalized assistance from professors won't be in short supply if you need it.
The university is affiliated with the Southern Baptist Convention and describes its mission and philosophy as Christ-centered. Christian faith is integrated into all of its programs of study, from nursing and politics to accounting and computer science.
Students on the main campus in Jackson have more than 100 programs of study to choose from. The catalog includes conventional study plans in subjects like psychology, education and the sciences, as well as decidedly faith-based degrees like family ministry, Biblical languages and church music.
The University of Memphis was founded over 100 years ago, but its approach to education is angled more toward the present and the future than the past. U of M has established itself as one of the top colleges and universities in Tennessee for online courses, thanks in part to the academic diversity of its distance education programs.
Online undergraduates at the University of Memphis have more than 20 degree programs to choose from. Graduate students can select their online degree from a catalog of nearly three dozen options, which includes some rare and interesting degrees.
A master's degree in sport commerce is available, for students looking to learn the business of athletics. If you're got your eye on public sector service as a vocation, look into the a graduate certificate in local government management.
Multi-disciplinary projects, student-faculty partnerships and a campus-wide intellectual community are just three of the high points at Tennessee Technological University, known as Tennessee Tech for short. The mission at this Cookeville campus of around 10,000 students is to deliver practical, cutting-edge, career-relevant education that prepares its graduates to excel.
As the only technological university among Tennessee colleges, Tennessee Tech features some degree programs that might be hard to find elsewhere. It offers four concentrations in the Earth sciences, degrees in cybersecurity and high-performance computing and a range of programs in agronomy, agriscience and human ecology.
Students looking to pursue professional degrees in graduate school are likely to find the undergraduate work they need here, as well. Tennessee Tech offers programs for pre-dentistry, pre-medicine, pre-pharmacy, pre-physical therapy, pre-optometry and more.
East Tennessee State University has changed its name four times since its founding in 1911, but its commitment to quality education has persisted. This mid-sized school at the northeastern tip of the state offers more than 150 undergraduate study plans, including nearly a dozen pre-professional programs.
If you're not sure what you want to study, the university advisement center at ETSU has a method to guide you through the decision process. Using open-ended questions and carefully chosen general education courses, they can help you refine your interests into a concrete academic plan.
ETSU may also be one of the top online schools in Tennessee, if its array of distance education degree plans is any indication. Nearly 90 degrees and concentrations are available as fully or mostly online courses, with graduate degrees and certificates making up about three-fourths of the catalog.
As another small, private Christian institution among accredited Tennessee universities, Carson-Newman aims to create a tight-knit, faith-based education community where students and professors develop the kind of relationships that lead to lifelong learning. The student body is relatively small -- under 2,500 at last count -- and the student-faculty ratio is a comfortable 11:1.
Undergraduate education is the focus at C-N. The academic catalog lists more than 100 bachelor's degree programs, including a wide range of music specialties and more than 20 areas of licensure for aspiring teachers.
C-N is also a Tennessee Promise school, which might mean additional financial aid during a student's first two years. Any tuition and mandatory fee expenses not covered by other financial aid will be paid for through Tennessee Promise, provided the student maintains a GPA over 2.0 and completes a community service requirement.
Johnson University in Knoxville is a multi-state institution that operates in Florida, Indiana and Arizona as well as Tennessee. Its dedication to the Christian tradition is one of the sternest among Tennessee colleges -- the stated mission here is to educate students "for Christian ministries . . . in order to extend the kingdom of God among all nations."
Degrees at Johnson University all contain some component of ecclesiastical training. Many of the more than 50 campus-based degrees and certificates cover subjects such as strategic ministry, youth ministry, biblical interpretation, preaching and church leadership.
To accommodate students who can't fit a traditional education into their schedules, Johnson University makes all of its study plans available in the virtual classroom. Individual courses are also available as online courses, for students not yet ready to commit to a full-fledged degree.
Enrollment at Belmont University is just over 8,000 students, with around 6,500 in undergrad programs and 1,500 pursuing graduate degrees. The stated purpose of this ecumenical Christian institution in Nashville is to help students discover their talents and learn how to use them to help meet the world's needs.
Undergraduates at Belmont have a catalog of more than 90 degree programs to choose from, including a few rarities like a songwriting degree and a dance education partnership with the Nashville Ballet. Graduate and post-graduate students have close to 20 master's programs and five doctorates available.
Belmont welcomes students of any faith, but the general education curriculum does contain a religion requirement that entails an academic encounter with the Christian Bible. Military veterans on campus can take advantage of the Bruin Vets Center, a student lounge that holds veteran-focused events and other programming.
Most Popular Degree Programs in Tennessee
Whether you want to see how the academic choices of your classmates stack up or you want to find out which majors give you the greatest number of potential study partners to choose from, here's a list of the top degree programs in Tennessee by enrollment.
In-demand Careers in Tennessee
Not everyone enters college with their sights set on a certain segment of the job market, but lining up your study plan with regional employment demand might just make it easier to transition into a career after graduation. Check out these hot jobs in Tennessee and see if one might be a good goal as your future career.
|Career Title||Projected Job Growth||Total Employment||Annual Salary|
|Software Developers and Software Quality Assurance Analysts and Testers||52.5%||12,030||$90,670|
|Home Health and Personal Care Aides||49.5%||27,380||$22,140|
|Computer Hardware Engineers||49.2%||330||$76,770|
|Operations Research Analysts||45.6%||1,270||$69,980|
|Material Moving Workers, All Other||40.6%||1,720||$33,280|
|Information Security Analysts||37.4%||1,920||$86,190|
|Geoscientists, Except Hydrologists and Geographers||35.9%||190||$75,990|
|Physical Therapist Assistants||35.7%||3,290||$56,470|
|Computer Network Architects||35.4%||2,210||$98,550|
|Physical Therapist Aides||35.2%||1,540||$26,230|
|Market Research Analysts and Marketing Specialists||34.7%||8,970||$60,690|
|Medical Appliance Technicians||34.1%||390||$42,660|
|Marriage and Family Therapists||33.1%||850||$40,520|
|Veterinary Assistants and Laboratory Animal Caretakers||32.3%||2,720||$25,110|
|Occupational Therapy Assistants||32.3%||1,020||$60,970|
|Computer User Support Specialists||31.9%||9,600||$48,710|
|Veterinary Technologists and Technicians||31.4%||1,950||$31,920|
|Computer and Information Research Scientists||30.8%||210||$103,800|
Financial Aid and Scholarships in Tennessee
Tennessee residents may qualify for these and other state-based financial aid programs:
- The Tennessee Student Assistance Award Program (TSAA) provides grant aid to in-state undergraduate students who meet financial need requirements.
- HOPE Scholarships and Access Grants award aid each semester to qualifying students who graduate from eligible high schools in Tennessee and certain surrounding out-of-state counties.
- The Helping Heroes Grant awards $1,000 per semester to qualifying military veterans and members or reserves of the Tennessee National Guard who were called into active service.
MAX. AWARD AMOUNT
Recipient must maintain institutional satisfactory progress at least half-time enrollment.
MAX. AWARD AMOUNT
Recipient must maintain a 3.2 GPA and full-time enrollment.
MAX. AWARD AMOUNT
Recipient must maintain institutional satisfactory progress and full-time enrollment.
MAX. AWARD AMOUNT
- Tennessee Board of Regents
- The University of Tennessee System
- Tennessee Transfer Pathways
- Tennessee Promise
- Tennessee Reconnect
- College for TN -
- Tennessee Higher Education Commission
- Tennessee Student Assistance Corporation Aid Programs
To get our list of the best colleges, we ranked 1,383 4-year colleges and universities in the U.S. Each school was scored on a 100-point scale, using the following data points and the weights specified. In order to be included in the ranking, schools had to report data for each of the following data points:
- The in-state tuition and fees for full-time undergraduates, National Center for Education Statistics, 2016-17
- The average amount of institutional grant aid awarded to full-time, first-time undergraduate students as a percentage of in-state tuition and fees, National Center for Education Statistics, 2015-16
- Percent of full-time first-time undergraduates awarded any financial aid, National Center for Education Statistics, 2015-16
- Median debt of graduates, College Scorecard, 2015-16
- 3-year student loan repayment rate of graduates, College Scorecard, 2015-16
- No. of degree and certificate programs offered on campus, National Center for Education Statistics, 2015-16
- No. of degree and certificate programs offered via distance education, National Center for Education Statistics, 2015-16
- Percent of students enrolled in any distance education classes, National Center for Education Statistics, Fall 2016
- Full-time student retention rate, National Center for Education Statistics, Fall 2016
- Graduation rate within six years, National Center for Education Statistics, 2016-17
- Percent of students working and not enrolled 6 years after entry, College Scorecard, 2013-14
- Flexibility and student services, based on whether the school offers the following services, National Center for Education Statistics, 2016-17
- Dual credit
- Credit for life experience
- Advanced Placement credit
- Programs of study that can be completed entirely on weekends or in the evening
- Remedial services
- Academic and career counseling
- Job placement services for graduates
- Guaranteed tuition plan
- Tuition payment plan
- Any other alternative tuition plan
Note:Tuition prices are based on data for the 2016-17 academic year reported to the National Center for Education Statistics. The actual cost of tuition may vary.
All of the National Center for Education Statistics data came from IPEDS:
Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS) 2016-17, National Center for Education Statistics, http://nces.ed.gov/ipeds/
Most Recent Cohorts (All Data Elements): 2015-16, College Scorecard, U.S. Department of Education, https://collegescorecard.ed.gov/data/
- School pages, accessed March 29, 2018: Quick Facts, The University of Tennessee, Knoxville, https://www.utk.edu/aboutut/numbers/; Online Programs, The University of Tennessee, Knoxville, https://volsonline.utk.edu/online-programs/; Fast Facts, Lipscomb University, https://www.lipscomb.edu/about/fast-facts; About Lipscomb, Lipscomb University, https://www.lipscomb.edu/about; Elementary School, Lipscomb University, https://www.lipscomb.edu/elementary; Middle School, Lipscomb University, https://www.lipscomb.edu/middleschool; High School, Lipscomb University, https://www.lipscomb.edu/highschool; Graduate Programs, Lipscomb University, https://www.lipscomb.edu/admissions/graduate/graduate-programs; Quick Facts, Vanderbilt University, https://www.vanderbilt.edu/about/facts/#schools; Undergraduate Research, Vanderbilt University, https://www.vanderbilt.edu/undergraduate-research/; About, Union University, http://www.uu.edu/about/; Programs of Study, Union University, http://www.uu.edu/academics/programs-of-study/; UofM Facts at a Glance, University of Memphis, http://www.memphis.edu/about/facts.php; About UofM, University of Memphis, http://www.memphis.edu/about/; Graduate Online Degree Programs, University of Memphis, http://www.memphis.edu/uofmglobal/degrees/graduate/graduate-programs.php; About, Tennessee Tech, https://www.tntech.edu/about/; Majors/Concentrations, Tennessee Tech, https://www.tntech.edu/admissions/undergraduates/majors; Our Mission and Vision, Tennessee Tech, https://www.tntech.edu/about/mission; ETSU Facts & History, East Tennessee State University, https://www.etsu.edu/fachistory/; ETSU Mission, Vision, Values, East Tennessee State University, https://www.etsu.edu/president/mission.php; Undergrad Programs, East Tennessee State University, https://www.etsu.edu/online/undergraduate/; Graduate Online Programs, East Tennessee State University, https://www.etsu.edu/online/graduate/; C-N Facts, Carson-Newman University, https://www.cn.edu/about-c-n/c-n-facts; Majors and Emphases, Carson-Newman University, https://www.cn.edu/undergraduate/majors-and-emphases; Licensure Areas, Carson-Newman University, https://www.cn.edu/undergraduate/undergraduate-studies/education-undergraduate/licensure-areas; Statement of Faith, Johnson University, https://johnsonu.edu/About/Statement-of-Faith; Mission Statement, Johnson University, https://johnsonu.edu/About/Mission-Statement; Undergraduate Degrees, Johnson University, https://www.johnsonu.edu/Tennessee/Academics/Bachelor-s/Undergraduate-Degrees.aspxOnline Degree Programs, Johnson University, https://www.johnsonu.edu/Online/Programs.aspx; ExtendEd Degree Programs, Johnson University, https://johnsonu.edu/ExtendEd/Programs.aspx; Master's Degrees, Johnson University, https://www.johnsonu.edu/Tennessee/Academics/Graduate-PhD/Masters-Degrees.aspx; Fast Facts, Johnson University, http://www.johnsonu.edu/JohnsonUniversity/media/Tennessee/Media%20Relations/PDF/FAST-FACTS.pdf; Belmont at a Glance, Belmont University, http://www.belmont.edu/about/index.html; Office of Spiritual Development, Belmont University, http://www.belmont.edu/sd/index.html; Undergraduate Programs, Belmont University, http://www.belmont.edu/academics/undergraduate-programs.html; Graduate & Professional Programs, Belmont University, http://www.belmont.edu/graduate/index.html; Current Sequence and Key Course Descriptions, Belmont University, http://www.belmont.edu/bellcore/courses.html ; Bruin Vets Center, Belmont University, http://www.belmont.edu/military/bruin_vets_center.html;
- About, Tennessee Promise, accessed March 29, 2018, http://tennesseepromise.gov/about.shtml
- University of Tennessee System, accessed April 24, 2017, http://tennessee.edu/
- Tennessee Board of Regents, accessed April 24, 2017: Our Institutions, https://www.tbr.edu/institutions/our-institutions; Tennessee Transfer Pathway, https://www.tbr.edu/initiatives/tennessee-transfer-pathway;
- Visit Johnson City, accessed April 24, 2017, http://visitjohnsoncitytn.com/
- University of Memphis, Best Graduate Schools, Top Law Schools, U.S. News and World Report, accessed April 24, 2017, https://www.usnews.com/best-graduate-schools/top-law-schools/university-of-memphis-humphreys-03145
- Money For College, Tennessee Student Assistance Corporation, accessed April 24, 2017, https://www.tn.gov/collegepays/section/money-for-college
- Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS) 2016-17, National Center for Education Statistics, http://nces.ed.gov/ipeds/
- Most Recent Cohorts (All Data Elements): 2016-17, College Scorecard, U.S. Department of Education, https://collegescorecard.ed.gov/data/