Why This Matters


    According to College Navigator, there are 10 public universities, 34 private non-profits, and 10 for-profit institutions in Tennessee.


    For the 2021-22 school year, the average in-state tuition at a Tennessee public university was $10,570, according to College Board.


    The average amount of financial aid in the United States for an undergraduate degree during the 2020-21 school year was $14,800.

Our Research

This list features some of the best brick-and-mortar schools in Tennessee. Each school featured is a nonprofit, accredited institution — either public or private — with a high standard of academic quality for post-secondary institutions. We included liberal arts colleges and research universities as well as small, midsize, and large institutions. Next, we compared this comprehensive list to a list of aggregated college rankings from reputable publications like the U.S. News & World Report among others to simplify a student’s college search. We pored through these rankings so students don’t have to.

The colleges on our list are accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC), a reputable organization that examines the objectives, quality, and overall effectiveness of education programs in the southern United States.

We evaluated each school on tuition costs, admission, retention and graduation rates, faculty, and reputation as well as the student resources provided for on-campus students. Then we calculated the Intelligent Score on a scale of 0 to 100. Read more about our ranking methodology.

The Top 50 Colleges in Tennessee

Best Colleges In Tennessee
Intelligent Pick
Vanderbilt University
Best Public University
University of Tennessee at Knoxville
Best Christian Institution
Union University
Best for Music Majors
Belmont University
Best for Adult Learners
Lipscomb University
Best Honors Program
Tennessee Tech University
Best Student-to-Faculty Ratio
Lincoln Memorial University
Best Career Services
Rhodes College
Best for Out-of-State Students
University of Memphis
Most Affordable
Middle Tennessee State University

East Tennessee State University

The University of the South

Milligan University

Fisk University

Maryville College

Welch College

Tennessee Wesleyan University

Christian Brothers University

Bryan College

Lee University

University of Tennessee at Martin

Johnson University


What You Should Know About Graduating From College in Tennessee

If you’re considering attending college in Tennessee, it’s important to know where you’ll find job opportunities. As of October 2021, the top industries in the state include trade, transportation, and utilities; goods-producing; professional and business services; government; and education and health services.

For recent college graduates looking for a job, the fastest growing occupations in Tennessee are software developers, logisticians, information security analysts, medical and health services managers, and coaches and scouts.

Once you graduate from college in Tennessee, you can begin your job search with some of the top employers in the state. This includes HCA Healthcare Inc., which employs over 35,000 people, and FedEx, which employs 30,000. Other top employers in Tennessee include Knox County Schools, which employs around 8,500, Eastman Chemical Company, with around 8,000 employees, and Gaylord Opryland Resort and Convention Center, which has an employee base of more than 6,000.

What’s Next?

As a prospective student, learning how you’ll pay for college is a top priority. There are a variety of resources available to assist you in paying for an undergraduate degree in Tennessee. This includes loans, scholarships, and grants provided by both the federal and state governments.

  • Tennessee Higher Education Commission (THEC). The THEC is the coordinating board for higher education in Tennessee. It helps students locate available financial aid resources specific to the state, including contact information, how to apply, and comprehensive details.
  • Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). Provided by the U.S. Department of Education, Federal Student Aid provides billions of dollars each year to individuals seeking higher education. Awards come from work-study programs, grants, scholarships, and loans. Learn whether you are eligible at FAFSA4caster, or apply using the online form at FAFSA.
  • CareerOneStop. Sponsored by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, CareerOneStop has information on grants, scholarships, and available loan opportunities in each state. You can filter this information by degree and find out the monetary amount of each award as well as the qualifications, application deadlines, and contact information for each financial aid opportunity listed.