Best Value Colleges and Universities in Tennessee 2021

Updated December 5, 2022

Now is a great time to apply to colleges and universities in Tennessee. We list the best programs for 2021 here. is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.

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Colleges in Tennessee offer in-state learners numerous opportunities to advance their education and career. Application requirements vary by school but often include a high school diploma, recommendation letters, and an essay. Some schools also require admission interviews and additional application materials.

Tennessee programs include options for professionals with a bachelor's degree. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), top career fields for college graduates in the state include healthcare, management, and education. Median salaries for Tennessee workers in these fields range from $50,660 to $101,490 per year, according to the BLS. These salaries exceed the cost of living in many of the state's rural, suburban, and urban areas.

Featured Online Programs

Figuring out where to apply? These top, accredited schools offer a variety of online degrees. Consider one of these accredited programs, and discover their value today.

Top 10 Best Value Colleges and Universities in Tennessee

#1 Vanderbilt University Nashville, TN
#2 Rhodes College Memphis, TN
#3 The University of the South Sewanee, TN
#4 Union University Jackson, TN
#5 Lipscomb University Nashville, TN
#6 Belmont University Nashville, TN
#7 Christian Brothers University Memphis, TN
#8 The University of Tennessee-Knoxville Knoxville, TN
#9 Southern Adventist University Collegedale, TN
#10 Maryville College Maryville, TN

In addition to earning potential, degree-seekers should consider Tennessee's fastest-expanding industries when selecting a college program. In 2018, the Tennessean reported that Davidson County's fastest-growing industries included professional and business services, financial activities, and education and health services. These industries grew 11-41% between 2012 and 2017, according to federal workforce data.

Accreditation for Schools in Tennessee

Reputable colleges and universities in Tennessee are accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC). The U.S. Department of Education charters SACSCOC to evaluate postsecondary schools in Tennessee and other southern states. Many employers and graduate programs only recognize credits and degrees from regionally accredited institutions.

Universities in Tennessee that offer online programs should hold both regional and national accreditation. The Distance Education Accrediting Commission (DEAC) awards national accreditation to schools that provide online programs. DEAC accreditation demonstrates that online learners receive the same high-quality academic experience as on-campus students.

Prospective students should also look for programmatic accreditation. Programmatic accrediting agencies specialize in one academic field and grant accreditation to the best programs in the discipline. The Council for Higher Education Accreditation maintains an online list of approved programmatic accrediting agencies.


Question Answer
How long do you have to live in Tennessee to get in-state tuition? Individuals who live in Tennessee for at least one year can qualify for in-state tuition rates. Public schools may also charge in-state tuition rates to out-of-state students in specific situations.
Is there free college in Tennessee? Residents who recently graduated high school or who passed the GED can qualify for the Tennessee Promise. The scholarship covers full tuition at two-year schools and some tuition at four-year schools.
How many colleges and universities are located in Tennessee? More than 100 colleges and universities exist in Tennessee. Approximately 25% of these schools are state-run public colleges and universities.
What is the average cost of college in Tennessee?

The average cost of in-state tuition at public colleges and universities in Tennessee is about $15,640 per year, according to CollegeCalc. This figure does not account for financial aid.

What Are the Requirements for a Degree in Tennessee?

Most Tennessee college programs use similar admission requirements. The top colleges in Tennessee admit high school graduates who excelled academically and participated in extracurricular activities. Positive recommendation letters can also help applicants stand out. Applicants to bachelor's degree-completion programs typically need an associate degree and a strong GPA.

Undergraduate graduation requirements vary by school and major. However, learners at colleges in Tennessee must typically maintain a minimum GPA. Students may also need to complete a capstone project or thesis, which graduates often use as part of their professional portfolio.

Certifications and Licensure for Students in Tennessee

Some careers require credentials beyond a college degree. Professionals in certain fields need a state-issued license or a certification to practice. Private organizations issue certifications to individuals who meet specific requirements, which may include a degree, professional experience, and passing scores on one or more exams. Additionally, licensed or certified professionals must usually complete professional development courses to renew their credential.

Certified Public Accountant

To obtain the CPA credential, Tennessee accountants need a master's degree. They must also pass the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants Exam with a score of 90% or higher and possess at least one year of professional experience. CPAs must complete at least 80 professional development credits every two years to qualify for renewal.

Citrix Certified Associate - Networking

The CCA-N certification signifies that the holder possesses expert knowledge of the Citrix NetScaler 10 networking system. Candidates take one of two exams, which cover NetScaler platforms, classic and default pathways, and optimization. Certified information technology professionals renew the credential by taking one professional development course or passing another exam.

Teaching License

K-12 educators need a license to teach at Tennessee public schools. Licensure requirements include a bachelor's degree and completion of a teacher-preparation program that involves student teaching. Candidates must pass one or more PRAXIS exams, and educators need 60 or more professional development points to renew their license.

Professional Organizations for Students in Tennessee

Many professional organizations accept student members. These organizations often provide networking events, mentorship programs, and the latest information regarding industry and hiring trends. Some professional associations also award scholarships. Learners can contact their school's career center for information about organizations in their field.

Founded in 1884, IEEE represents more than 400,000 members who work in the electrical and electronics fields. Membership benefits for undergraduate students include professional publications, scholarship opportunities, and networking tools. Learners can enhance their resume by completing IEEE continuing education courses.

Undergraduate and graduate students in teacher-preparation programs can join NEA. Members receive liability insurance, which all K-12 educators need. Benefits for students include reduced membership dues, discounts on private insurance, and retirement planning resources. NEA advocates for public school teachers at the local, state, and federal levels.

NSBE accepts African American undergraduate and graduate students majoring in STEM fields. Resources for degree-seekers include exclusive scholarship opportunities and regional competitions. Learners also receive a subscription to the BSBE Magazine and access to the society's job board. Professional members can explore the organization's networking events and leadership training workshops.

The Phi Beta Kappa honor society dates back to the nation's founding in 1776. Membership requirements include a liberal arts major and excellent grades. Candidates must attend a college that hosts a PBK chapter and must receive an invitation to join. Membership benefits include extensive networking resources and a mentorship program.

Scholarships can help Tennessee learners minimize student debt. Unlike loans, scholarships do not require repayment. Additionally, some scholarships renew annually if the recipient remains in good standing. See below for a few of the many awards available to students in Tennessee programs.

Christa McAuliffe Scholarship

Who Can Apply: The Tennessee General Assembly awards this scholarship to undergraduate upperclassmen majoring in education. Applicants must be enrolled in a Tennessee college or university, have a minimum 3.5 undergraduate GPA, and score well on the ACT or SAT. Students must apply by April 1.
Amount: $500

Stegall Charitable Educational Foundation Scholarship

Who Can Apply: Tennessee high school seniors planning to attend an in-state public or private college can apply. Candidates need a minimum 2.8 high school GPA or an ACT score of at least 18. Current college students with a minimum 3.0 undergraduate GPA can also apply. The scholarship program accepts applications twice per year.
Amount: $500

Tennessee Teaching Scholars Program

Who Can Apply: The Tennessee Higher Education Commission awards this scholarship to in-state undergraduate and graduate students preparing for careers in education. The award renews annually as long as recipients maintain a minimum 2.75 GPA. Scholarship recipients must teach at a public K-12 school in Tennessee for at least one year after graduation.
Amount: Varies

Best Value Colleges and Universities in Tennessee 2021

  1. Vanderbilt University

    Nashville, TN



    Vanderbilt's prestigious reputation and multiple academic programs set the institution apart from other colleges in Tennessee. Bachelor's degrees include biochemistry and chemical biology, child development, and musical arts. The university also features numerous master's programs that lead to in-demand careers in areas such as biomedical sciences and nursing.

    The Vanderbilt Career Center (CC) provides coaching appointments, virtual recruitment sessions, and the DoreWays mobile app. CC also offers specialized advice regarding admission into graduate programs and the fellowship application process. Learners can download the Vanderbilt Student Handbook to review the university's other resources.

    Undergraduate applicants submit the Common Application and two recommendation letters. Applicants to the Graduate School submit GRE scores. Vanderbilt waives tuition and fees for learners whose family earns less than $40,000 per year.

  2. Rhodes College

    Memphis, TN



    Many prospective undergraduates consider Rhodes for the school's numerous majors and minors. Interdisciplinary majors include urban studies, political economy, and psychology. Learners planning to enter a STEM career select from options such as mathematics and molecular biology.

    Students who need help maintaining their GPA turn to the Office of Academic and Learning Resources to review time-management skills, meet with a peer tutor, or sign up for a success workshop. Workshop topics cover semester planning and research tools. Enrollees can enhance their resume by registering for QuadJobs, an online database of local jobs that allow degree-seekers to earn money while still excelling in school.

    Admission requirements for freshman applicants include high school transcripts and two recommendation letters. The college does not require but recommends standardized test scores and a 90-second elevator pitch video. Many Shelby County residents who excelled in high school apply for the $35,000 Clarence Day Scholarship.

  3. The University of the South

    Sewanee, TN



    Sewanee's unique undergraduate program in natural resources and the environment attracts prospective students who want to enter the sustainability field. Other undergraduate majors include religious studies, theater arts, and biology. Ambitious degree-seekers supplement their education and enhance their resume by earning a certificate in civic and global leadership.

    The Sewanee Career Center (CC) helps students interested in graduate school research other colleges in Tennessee. CC also provides learners with an exclusive job board and maintains an extensive alumni network. Sewanee's student academic resources include free tutoring sessions and study skills classes.

    Sewanee uses a four-step application process that involves submitting the Common Application and FAFSA results. Transfer students need a minimum 3.0 undergraduate GPA. New learners need not submit a separate scholarship application. Awards range from $4,000 to full tuition. Many degree-seekers qualify for need-based aid.

  4. Union University

    Jackson, TN



    Located in Jackson, Union University educates students from a Christian worldview. Undergraduate majors include ancient languages, family studies, and social work. The university also features numerous pre-professional health programs in areas such as chiropractics and cytotechnology.

    Counselors at the school's Center for Academic Success (CAS) help students meet their potential by offering study labs, supplemental instruction, and academic counseling. CAS also runs programs that help freshmen choose a major and assist learners on academic probation. Union University's numerous career resources result in approximately 95% of alumni finding a job or entering graduate school soon after graduation.

    Admission requirements resemble those of most universities in Tennessee, including official high school or undergraduate transcripts, FAFSA results, and standardized test scores. Union University uses a minimum 2.3 undergraduate GPA cutoff for transfer credit. The university considers incoming students' high school GPA and standardized test scores when awarding institutional scholarships.

  5. Lipscomb University

    Nashville, TN



    Located in Nashville, Lipscomb offers undergraduate academic programs including pre-professional degrees in law and healthcare. A Christian university, Lipscomb requires undergraduates to complete six credits in the Bible, faith, or a similar topic. Graduate students select from multiple options, including business, computing and technology, and leadership and public service.

    Lipscomb's Academic Success Center (ASC) extends the same services to on-campus and online learners, including tutors, feedback on essays, and guidance for students with disabilities. ASC also provides psychological counseling services at no additional charge. The university's career advisors specialize in specific job fields, such as technology and management.

    Freshman applicants submit one recommendation letter and need not provide standardized test scores. However, prospective graduate students must take the GRE. Scholarships for incoming first-year degree-seekers award $7,000-$15,000 per year, and some transfer learners qualify for up to $17,500 per year.

  6. Belmont University

    Nashville, TN



    Nashville hosts numerous top colleges, including Belmont. The university's undergraduate programs include chemistry, church administration and leadership, and international economics. Belmont's graduate degrees train the next generation of nurses, occupational therapists, and teachers.

    Belmont's Towering Traditions orientation week activities introduce freshmen to student life and the university's many academic resources, such as advisors and a service-learning program. Learners who need academic assistance visit Growth and Purpose for Students (GPS) for a one-on-one advising session. GPS advisors provide advice about entering the job market and applying to graduate school.

    Application materials for first-year students include high school transcripts and a counselor recommendation. Belmont no longer requires ACT or SAT scores. Each graduate program uses different admissions criteria. The university does not require a separate scholarship application. Most undergraduate scholarships award $3,000-$10,000 per year.

  7. Christian Brothers University

    Memphis, TN



    Located in Memphis, CBU features an undergraduate experience emphasizing experiential learning and interdisciplinary studies. Majors include English for corporate communications, cognitive neuroscience, and applied psychology. The university's graduate programs feature a master of business administration with an optional concentration in healthcare management, as well as numerous degrees for educators.

    Counselors who work at CBU's Office of Academic Services (OAS) assist freshmen and transfer students with creating an academic plan, finding peer mentors, and selecting a major. OAS also runs the Academic Alert Reporting system, through which professors recommend struggling learners for academic interventions. Other resources include Career Services' internship opportunities and the Career Toolbox.

    Like other colleges in Tennessee, CBU accepts the Common Application. Some majors require standardized test scores. Prospective transfer students research course equivalencies on the CBU website. The university awards institutional aid to full-time degree-seekers, and learners who earned a 30 or above on the ACT receive an automatic full-tuition scholarship.

  8. The University of Tennessee-Knoxville

    Knoxville, TN



    The largest public college in Tennessee, UT Knoxville enrolls nearly 31,000 undergraduate and graduate students. The school's numerous undergraduate majors include civil engineering, secondary education, and music. UT Knoxville also features graduate degrees in aerospace engineering and plant sciences.

    UT Knoxville's Division of Student Success website connects learners with supplemental instruction, success tips, and orientation sessions. The university also offers online and in-person tutoring sessions. Learners prepare for life after graduation by making an appointment with a Center for Career Development counselor.

    Undergraduate admissions criteria include the Common Application. Prospective students submit recommendation letters and standardized test scores. All graduate programs use a minimum 2.7 undergraduate GPA cutoff, and some majors require standardized test scores. Many students qualify for institutional scholarships if they submit FAFSA results by Dec. 15.

  9. Southern Adventist University

    Collegedale, TN



    Like many private colleges in Tennessee, Southern Adventist University educates students from a Christian perspective. Areas of study for undergraduates include biblical studies, physics, and finance. The university also offers multiple associate degrees that learners use to transfer to a bachelor's-completion program or attain an entry-level job.

    Many new students consult Southern's Academic Advising Guide to learn how to make a counseling appointment, review graduation requirements, and fulfill the university's Christian service requirement. Southern's academic counselors specialize in only 1-2 majors, allowing them to provide expert advice to undergraduates.

    General admission requirements for prospective undergraduates include a minimum 18 ACT or 960 SAT score. Southern accepts freshman applicants who passed the GED exam and uses a 2.0 GPA cutoff for transfer credit. The university also awards numerous undergraduate scholarships, and many incoming learners qualify for up to $80,000 or more over four years.

  10. Maryville College

    Maryville, TN



    Maryville offers on-campus learners dozens of undergraduate majors, including business, design, and English. The college also emphasizes experiential learning. Interested students sign up for an internship or community engagement project. Learners who study abroad select from more than 300 international colleges and universities.

    In addition to offering multiple Tennessee academic programs, Maryville provides learners with student services, such as the Learning Center (LC). The LC works with degree-seekers to improve writing and study skills, and some advisors assist students with disabilities. Degree-seekers create a Handshake account to sign up for a career counseling appointment and explore local jobs.

    Maryville recommends but does not require a recommendation letter. Freshman applicants submit ACT or SAT scores. All transfer credit must reflect a minimum C grade. Financial aid opportunities include merit-based scholarships that award up to $23,000 per year.

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