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Best Colleges in Tennessee

by Bold Org Editorial Team
May 21, 2024
12 min read
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Perhaps one of the most culturally exciting states in the American South, Tennessee is home to a rich history, beautiful nature, energetic cities, and an exciting music scene. With such an invigorating landscape, it’s no surprise that every year, thousands of students choose to attend the many colleges and universities that Tennessee has to offer.

This article aims to simplify the process of choosing a college in Tennessee by providing a comprehensive guide to the best colleges in Tennessee.

From schools like Vanderbilt University to East Tennessee State University, there is no shortage of colleges in Tennessee where students can get a great education. Whether you are looking at only community colleges, undergraduate colleges to get a bachelor’s degree, or graduate programs, there are many accredited universities in Tennessee that offer students access to a quality education.

Our selection of top colleges leans heavily on three primary aspects - academic excellence, supportive student resources, and thriving campus life. These elements are integral to a rewarding college experience and significantly contribute to our Tennessee college rankings.

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tennessee colleges

Best Public Colleges in Tennessee

When it comes to public universities, Tennessee is home to a selection of institutions renowned for their commitment to academic rigor, student resources, student-to-faculty ratio, and campus life. Among these, three particularly stand out among the best colleges in Tennessee due to their diverse offerings and robust academic support.

1. East Tennessee State University

East Tennessee State University sits prominently as one of the best colleges in Tennessee. The university stands proud with a plethora of programs that cater to a wide range of interests and career paths. These include disciplines in Business, Pscyology, Health Sciences, and more.

Beyond its academic offerings, the university shines with its dedication to student support and community service. From tutoring centers to career development services, students at East Tennessee State University are well-equipped for success during their time at college and improving the quality of life for people in the region.

2. The University of Tennessee Knoxville

Another distinguished public institution here is The University of Tennessee Knoxville. What sets this university apart is not just its high-quality academic programs but also its impressive emphasis on research opportunities and community engagement.

Students here are encouraged to delve deeper into their fields of study through research while also being urged to connect with the local community through various outreach programs. This approach ensures an enriching educational experience that extends beyond the classroom walls.

3. Tennessee Tech University

Tennessee Tech University, nestled in Cookeville, Tennessee, is renowned for its focus on STEM education and hands-on learning. Offering diverse programs in engineering, business, education, arts and sciences, nursing, and agriculture, the university provides a comprehensive education with strong faculty support.

With a commitment to student success through research opportunities and experiential learning, Tennessee Tech prepares graduates for fulfilling careers in a supportive and inclusive environment. Additionally, Tennessee Tech’s strong ties to industry partners create valuable networking opportunities for students, enhancing their professional development and future prospects.

Each of these public colleges in Tennessee offers distinctive strengths that cater to different student needs and aspirations. Whether it’s the breadth of programs at East Tennessee State University, the research-intensive environment at The University of Tennessee Knoxville, or the focus on experiential learning at Tennessee Tech University, students are presented with a multitude of pathways to achieve their academic and career goals.

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Best Private Colleges in Tennessee

When considering private colleges in Tennessee, there are several institutions that stand out for their academic excellence, research opportunities, and unique campus experiences. Three of these outstanding colleges include Vanderbilt University, Rhodes College, and The University of the South.

1. Vanderbilt University

Vanderbilt, located in the heart of Nashville, is a prestigious private college renowned for its rigorous academic programs and cutting-edge research opportunities. Students have access to a wide array of undergraduate and graduate degrees across various disciplines, including engineering, education, music, and medicine.

  • Academic Excellence: Ranked #1 among the best colleges in Tennessee, #18 among the top universities nationally, and #7 for best value schools in the US. These stats come from the US News and World Report.
  • Research Opportunities: One of the best research universities in the country with significant contributions to various fields.
  • Community Involvement: Students are encouraged to engage with the local community through service learning.
Vanderbilt's commitment to inclusivity and diversity also plays a pivotal role in creating an enriching environment that fosters personal and intellectual growth.

Vanderbilt also offers many strong doctoral programs such as a doctoral degree in Leadership and Public Policy in its Peabody College of Education and Human Development. At a renowned private institution such as Vanderbilt, students who want to pursue degrees beyond bachelor’s and master’s degrees will find quality resources and support here.

colleges in the state of tennessee

2. Rhodes College

Rhodes College offers students a comprehensive liberal arts education with an emphasis on personalized learning experiences. Nestled in Memphis, this Christian institution prides itself on fostering student engagement both inside and outside the classroom.

  • Student-Centered Education: Small class sizes ensure individual attention from faculty.
  • Internship Connections: Proximity to downtown Memphis offers abundant internship opportunities.
  • Campus Life: A thriving campus life includes numerous clubs, organizations, and Greek life.
Students at Rhodes benefit from a holistic education that prepares them not only academically but also as active citizens equipped with critical thinking skills.

3. The University of the South (Sewanee)

Known affectionately as Sewanee by its students and alumni, The University of the South boasts one of the most picturesque campuses in the country. The sense of community and collaboration here is palpable, and its Christian learning community is especially notable.

  • Idyllic Setting: The 13,000-acre campus atop the Cumberland Plateau offers an immersive natural environment.
  • Community Engagement: A commitment to community service is integral to student life.
  • Cultural Richness: Sewanee’s literary tradition enriches its cultural offerings for students.
At Sewanee, students immerse themselves in a robust liberal arts curriculum while living in a close-knit community that values tradition, honor, and intellectual engagement.

These private colleges in Tennessee offer diverse pathways for students seeking an exceptional educational journey. Each private institution upholds its own set of values and traditions, but they all share a commitment to providing high-quality education that equips the student body for future success.

Private institutions, while they may have higher quality facilities and resources, also tend to cost more and do not differentiate between Tennessee residents and out-of-state students. Start reducing college costs with these merit-based scholarships!

Best Community Colleges in Tennessee

When it comes to community colleges, Tennessee College of Applied Technology and Dyersburg State Community College stand out among the pack in Tennessee, each for their unique offerings.

1. Tennessee College of Applied Technology

The Tennessee College of Applied Technology (TCAT) is a leader in providing technical education for work-ready skills. TCAT’s commitment to hands-on training prepares students for in-demand careers with a range of technical programs.

  • For those seeking careers in the medical field, TCAT offers certificates in Practical Nursing and Surgical Technology.
  • Students drawn to the world of IT can pursue programs like Computer Information Technology or Cyber Defense.
  • An automotive technology program caters to those interested in mechanics.

These are just examples; TCAT’s extensive catalog caters to a myriad of interests and career paths.

2. Dyersburg State Community College

Dyersburg State Community College (DSCC) focuses on making higher education accessible and affordable without compromising quality. DSCC’s flexible class schedules and online learning options cater to students juggling work or other commitments alongside their studies.

  • DSCC’s online offerings range from associate degrees in business administration to criminal justice.
  • For those preferring face-to-face interaction, night classes are available at all three campuses: Dyersburg, Covington, and Trenton.
  • To further ease financial pressure, DSCC provides numerous scholarship opportunities.

Both TCAT and DSCC offer transfer pathways to four-year universities for undergraduate students looking to continue their education journey.

The Value of Community Colleges

Community colleges have an essential place within the realm of higher education. They offer a practical stepping stone whether you’re seeking immediate entry into the workforce or planning to transfer credits toward a bachelor’s or master’s degree later on. An associate degree may also help you save on college costs, depending on your future career.

In Tennessee, community colleges provide:

  1. A broad array of academic programs. Not only are there on campus programs, community colleges tend to offer a broader range of online programs for online students or working adults. Sometimes, a high school diploma is not needed to gain access to these on campus or online programs.
  2. A more affordable education option. Community colleges tend to attract students who are worried about school tuition cost. The acceptance rate of a community college will also be lower so less resources may have to be poured into getting accepted.
  3. Accessible learning with flexible schedules. As mentioned previously, students seeking an online program or hybrid program will be pleased with the variety offered at community colleges. These institutions are especially accommodating towards working adults or parents.
  4. The opportunity to gain college experience closer to home. Especially if you are one of many Tennessee residents, community colleges make it easier to maintain connections with family and friends at home.

Choosing a community college is an important decision, and Tennessee’s offerings ensure prospective students can find a fit that aligns with their goals and needs.

If you’ve got a passion for community service, you might find a match with these community service scholarships tailored toward your interest in helping those around you.

what makes a college stand out

What Makes a College Stand Out?

Academic Excellence: Focuses on the quality of education provided by the institution. This includes factors such as:

  • Faculty expertise and dedication
  • Robust curriculum
  • Innovative teaching methods
  • Research opportunities

Student Resources: Encompasses support services available on campus, such as:

  • Tutoring programs
  • Counseling services
  • Career services
  • Libraries
  • Technological resources that aid in a student’s overall development

Campus Life: Evaluates the extracurricular opportunities available to students, including:

  • Vibrant student clubs
  • Engaging events
  • Sports teams
  • Recreational facilities
  • A sense of community

These three aspects serve as our guiding principles when selecting the best colleges in Tennessee.

Why Choose a Top College in Tennessee?

Beyond academics, attending a reputable college enhances career prospects enormously in Tennessee’s dynamic job market. The state boasts an ever-evolving economy with opportunities spanning various industries, from rural medicine and manufacturing to music production and technology startups.

With this guide to the best colleges in Tennessee at hand, prospective students can confidently embark on their journey toward achieving their academic goals in The Volunteer State.

Have a specific interest in medicine? Check out our top medical schools in Tennessee!

academic programs in tennessee

Exploring Academic Programs and Campus Life in Tennessee Colleges

When you step onto a Tennessee college campus, you enter a world of academic variety and lively social scenes. The degree programs in Tennessee are designed to meet a wide range of interests and career goals for incoming students. Let’s explore what sets the academic and campus experience in Tennessee colleges apart.

Degree Programs Tailored to Your Dreams

  • Wide Range: From fine arts to engineering, criminal justice administration to technology, the variety of degree programs in Tennessee colleges ensures you can pursue your passion. There is also a wide range of higher education levels you’d like to achieve. From an associate degree to a doctoral degree, universities in Tennessee have something to fit your career aspirations.
  • Specialized Studies: Colleges offer unique focuses and interdisciplinary studies, giving you the opportunity to customize your education to specific interests.
  • Industry Connections: Programs often have strong partnerships with industries, giving students an advantage through hands-on experiences.

Campus Experience: Beyond the Classroom

  • Nashville’s Melody: In Nashville, music and creativity are woven into the educational experience, with events that transform campuses into centers of cultural exchange. Nashville is especially known for its dynamic country music scene.
  • Memphis’s Rich History: Memphis colleges immerse students in a music city known for its significant role in the musical arts and the civil rights movement, broadening their educational horizons.
  • Knoxville’s Volunteer Spirit: Knoxville is home to institutions where community involvement and volunteering are just as important as academics.

Recreational Opportunities Galore

  • Outdoor Adventures: Being close to mountains, rivers, and trails means that outdoor enthusiasts can balance their studies with exploring nature.
  • Cultural Events: Students have access to a variety of cultural events within their college communities, ensuring that learning goes beyond the classroom.

By offering both challenging academic programs and engaging campus life, colleges in Tennessee provide an education that shapes well-rounded individuals prepared for the future.

Tennessee has a beautiful natural landscape, and if you’re interested in the flora and fauna or the environment, these environmental science scholarships may be a perfect match for you!

economic outlook

Economic Outlook and Employment Opportunities for Tennessee Graduates

When it comes to the Tennessee economy and employment outlook, several key industries are driving growth and creating ample job prospects for college graduates in Tennessee. These include healthcare, manufacturing, information technology, and entertainment.

Key Industries Driving Growth


Healthcare stands as a significant contributor to the state’s economy, with renowned institutions like Vanderbilt University Medical Center and St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital offering a myriad of opportunities.


Manufacturing is another major player, with companies such as Nissan North America and Eastman Chemical Company contributing substantially to employment figures.


Entertainment, particularly music and film production, also offers unique career paths, especially in music cities like Nashville and Memphis.

Practical Experience Through Internships

Recognizing the importance of gaining practical experience, many Tennessee colleges offer robust internship and co-op programs. These programs partner with local businesses and multinational corporations alike to provide students with invaluable hands-on experience in their chosen fields.

For example, companies such as FedEx Corporation, headquartered in Memphis, HCA Healthcare, based in Nashville, or the Oak Ridge National Laboratory near Knoxville, often open their doors to interns seeking real-world experience. Thus, students can apply their academic knowledge while establishing professional connections that could lead to future employment opportunities.

Understanding the economic landscape of Tennessee along with the practical experience offered through internships sets a solid foundation for a prosperous career post-graduation.


Stepping into the college application process in Tennessee might seem overwhelming, but remember, we’ve got your back! Let’s break down the process:

1. Researching Schools

Start by exploring various schools to find ones that match your academic and personal interests. Use online resources, attend virtual open houses, and reach out to admissions offices for more information.

2. Submitting Applications

Each school has specific requirements for their application, which often include items such as transcripts, letters of recommendation, personal essays, and standardized test scores. Always double-check these requirements on the school’s website.

3. Financial Aid Forms

Don’t forget about financial aid! Complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) as soon as possible to increase your chances of receiving aid. Also, consider applying for scholarships and grants on platforms like

If you’d like more insight into any other aspects of college applications, look at our complete guide to the college admissions process!

When it comes to selecting a college in Tennessee, consider these factors:

  1. Academic Fit: Look at the courses offered, the faculty-to-student ratio, and the opportunities for research or internships in your field of interest.
  2. Campus Culture: Visit the campus if possible or take a virtual tour to get a sense of student life. Look into extracurricular activities and clubs that match your interests.
  3. Financial Affordability: Consider tuition costs, living expenses, and potential financial aid packages. Tools like net price calculators can help you estimate your total cost of attendance. Outside of institutional, scholarships can further reduce costs.

Remember, selecting a college is a significant decision that should reflect both your academic goals and personal values. Make an informed choice that will set you up for success in your higher education journey!

map of tennessee

Frequently Asked Questions About the Best Colleges in Tennessee

Is Lincoln Memorial University a top-ranked college in Tennessee?

Lincoln Memorial University is not ranked among the top colleges in Tennessee. However, according to the school rankings by US News and World Report, it is ranked #2 in Tennessee for “Top Performers in Social Mobility” and #65 nationwide.

Notable colleges in Tennessee include public institutions such as Tennessee Tech University, and the University of Tennessee Knoxville. For private universities, Vanderbilt University is not just Tennessee’s #1 school but #18 in national universities.

What are some other top colleges in Tennessee?

Here are some top public colleges:

  • Middle Tennessee State University
  • University of Tennessee at Chattanooga

Here are some of the best private institutions in Tennessee:

  • Belmont University
  • Lipscomb University
  • Union University
  • Tennessee Wesleyan University

Here are additional top community colleges in Tennessee:

  • Nashville State Community College
  • Chattanooga State Community College

Are there any notable scholarships or financial aid options available for students at these colleges?

Absolutely! Many scholarships and financial aid opportunities exist for students pursuing higher education in Tennessee. Some notable options include:

If you have more questions about anything financial aid, school search, or college life, check out our blog, written for and by students!

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