2023 Top Colleges in Tennessee

Published: September 1, 2022

By: Colleges of Distinction Staff

Jump to: Belmont University | Carson-Newman University | Johnson University | Lincoln Memorial University | Maryville College | Middle Tennessee State University | Rhodes College | Tennessee Technological University | The University of Tennessee, Knoxville | Frequently Asked Questions

Colleges of Distinction has hand-picked a selection of top schools that are well equipped to provide a personalized education catered to students’ interests. Through a rigorous vetting and interview process for the 2022-2023 academic year, we have refreshed and reaffirmed that these institutions strive for excellence in line with the four overarching distinctions—Student Engagement, Teaching, Community, and Outcomes.

These schools vary in size, cost, location, academic offerings, and more, but they are all distinguished by their commitment to the undergraduate experience. The diversity of the college list is intentional, giving students and parents a variety of public and private universities to consider. No matter what, they all exhibit the foundational qualities of a fulfilling undergraduate education.

Belmont University logo

Belmont University

Nashville, TN ‧ Christian ‧ 4-year

With a liberal arts and sciences focus and a mission based upon Christian ideals, Belmont develops well-rounded individuals who make significant contributions both domestically and abroad. Students can choose from over 95 diverse and challenging majors that encompass not only the arts and sciences, but pre-professional areas as well. On Belmont’s beautiful campus, students enjoy the comforts of quaint surroundings and the action and excitement of a vibrant city.

Belmont University is a four-year, co-educational, student-centered Christian community providing an academically challenging education that empowers men and women of diverse backgrounds to engage and transform the world with disciplined intelligence, compassion, courage, and faith. 

As an introduction and transition to college life, all first-time college students are required to take GND 1015: First-Year Seminar. The theme of this course is “ways of knowing,” which focuses the curriculum on the nature of knowledge, how it differs from mere belief, and the various ways in which human beings construct and evaluate knowledge claims. Individual faculty members choose sub-themes for their own sections, including such topics as Japanese culture, dreams, finding common ground, and voodoo. No matter the sub-theme, students are challenged and fascinated as they develop reading and critical thinking skills.

Acceptance rate 83%       •       Net price $34,368       •       SAT Range 1120-1300       •       Students submitting SAT scores 43%
Total Undergrad Population 8,204       •       Setting City: Large       •       Private 4-year
Graduation rate (6 year) 71%       •       Retention rate 82%       •       Student-to-faculty ratio 14:1

Click here for available majors

Carson-Newman University

Jefferson City, TN ‧ Christian ‧ 4-year

Carson-Newman University students experience what higher education can be at this nationally recognized university, founded in 1851. This liberal arts-based institution integrates faith and learning in a nurturing and rigorous teaching environment where students come first. Carson-Newman offers the resources necessary for the enrichment of each student’s education, from quality faculty and academic programs to state-of-the-art technology and facilities. Carson-Newman is preparing students everyday to compete on the world stage.

Carson-Newman’s exceptionally high placement rates in professional programs in medicine, law, business, education and theological study is a testimony to the excellence of its rigorous academic programs. Students leave the University prepared to enter the professional world, with skills that extend beyond their academic program. Carson-Newman alumni constantly demonstrate the value of a liberal arts education through their success both in the professional world and in their personal lives.

Acceptance rate 79%       •       Net price $19,172       •       SAT Range 950-1130       •       Students submitting SAT scores 19%
Total Undergrad Population 2,911       •       Setting Suburb       •       Private 4-year
Graduation rate (6 year) 52%       •       Retention rate 69%       •       Student-to-faculty ratio 14:1

Click here for available majors

Johnson University in Knoxville, Tennessee

Johnson University

Knoxville, TN ‧ Christian ‧ 4-year

Johnson University is a place where students build deep relationships, study important subjects, and grow into young adults who are ready for lives of leadership and service. Many faculty live on campus, attending sports events, eating meals in the cafeteria, and inviting students into their homes. The JU campus is on more than 400 acres of rolling Tennessee hills and right on the banks of the French Broad River, but it’s just a 20-minute drive from the fun of downtown Knoxville.

The unique curriculum includes a built-in double major: every student majors in Bible and Theology and then chooses a second major from more than 30 options, including communication, visual media, elementary education, psychology, life sciences, mathematics, intercultural commerce, missions, ministry, history, and more. 

Every student completes 15 hours of service-learning every semester, graduating with at least 120 total service hours. The Service and Learning Together (SALT) program enables students to apply classroom learning to real-life situations by providing service in the church and in the community. While the recipients benefit from the services of students, students also benefit from identifying their gifts and strengths, learning to work with others, developing skills in critical thinking and problem solving, confirming their career decisions, and gaining a lifelong commitment to community involvement and civic engagement.

Acceptance rate 55%       •       Net price $18,292       •       SAT Range 878-1070       •       Students submitting SAT scores 32%
Total Undergrad Population 1,039       •       Setting Rural       •       Private 4-year
Graduation rate (6 year) 65%       •       Retention rate 80%       •       Student-to-faculty ratio 8:1

Click here for available majors

LMU seal

Lincoln Memorial University

Harrogate, TN ‧ Private ‧ 4-year

Founded in 1897, Lincoln Memorial University is a private institution in Harrogate, Tennessee. Nearly 1,700 undergrads can get outside and explore 1000+ acres of campus and enjoy the small class experience with an average of 14 students.

Our nation’s beloved 16th president, Abraham Lincoln, envisioned “a great university for the people of this area” here in the Cumberland Gap. Lincoln Memorial University is the heir of that vision, and embraces his legacy with pride.  Nestled in the pristine Appalachian Mountain range, LMU’s main campus in Harrogate, Tennessee, is both scenic and historic. About 55 miles north of Knoxville, Tennessee, LMU is perfectly poised to offer a liberal arts education.

The LMU Office of Research, Grants, and Sponsored Programs (ORGSP) assists the institution in hosting opportunities for undergraduate students to partner with faculty and/or present their research. One opportunity is through the Blue Ridge Undergraduate Research Conference and another is at LMU’s own LMU Research Day. In addition, their website provides students with resources for research opportunities and partnerships

Acceptance rate 69%       •       Net price $22,251       •       SAT Range 1000-1220       •       Students submitting SAT scores 19%
Total Undergrad Population 4,885       •       Setting Town       •       Private 4-year
Graduation rate (6 year) 53%       •       Retention rate 76%       •       Student-to-faculty ratio 13:1

Click here for available majors

Maryville College

Maryville, TN ‧ Private ‧ 4-year

Perfectly situated between the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and the city of Knoxville, Tennessee, Maryville College is a place where you’ll experience the everyday comforts of a welcoming community and beautiful campus. You’ll also find the unexpected: the study of everything combined with extensive career preparation, an emphasis on self-exploration combined with a commitment to service, a values-based foundation combined with universal acceptance of difference. 

These elements will hone your thinking and decision-making skills, and help you discover what interests you, what drives you, and what your greater purpose is. You’ll be equipped to address the hard problems, connect with people all over the globe, and succeed in any career (including the ones that have yet to be imagined). And when you graduate, you’ll be a well-rounded scholar, a capable leader, and an understanding citizen — committed to doing good on the largest possible scale.

Since 1947, the Senior Study has been a distinctive part of every Maryville student’s experience. In this two-semester, faculty-supervised undergraduate research project, students choose a topic related to their major and explore their career goals and passions. Completed studies take many forms (traditional research, original compositions, field work, etc.) and are impressive additions to résumés and graduate school applications. Studies that are deemed “exemplary” by the Maryville College faculty are added to the College library’s permanent collection.

Acceptance rate 62%       •       Net price $19,548       •       SAT Range 880-1160       •       Students submitting SAT scores 17%
Total Undergrad Population 1,072       •       Setting Suburb       •       Private 4-year
Graduation rate (6 year) 45%       •       Retention rate 71%       •       Student-to-faculty ratio 12:1

Click here for available majors

Middle Tennessee State University wordmark

Middle Tennessee State University

Murfreesboro, TN ‧ Public ‧ 4-year

Middle Tennessee State University is consistently evolving its programs to ensure that students keep up with the fast-paced evolution of the global market. No matter their interest, MTSU students graduate with the tools they need to succeed.

Acceptance rate 94%       •       Net price $12,265       •       SAT Range 990-1200       •       Students submitting SAT scores 9%
Total Undergrad Population 22,080       •       Setting City: Midsize       •       Public 4-year
Graduation rate (6 year) 51%       •       Retention rate 79%       •       Student-to-faculty ratio 17:1

Click here for available majors

Rhodes College logo and seal

Rhodes College

Memphis, TN ‧ Private ‧ 4-year

Rhodes isn’t just about learning: it’s about learning to live, about putting ideas and ideals into practice, about making it real. Students looking for a classical liberal arts education with a practical edge should consider the Rhodes reality: a beautiful campus, challenging academics, caring faculty, personal development, and all the opportunities of a culturally rich and vibrant city.

Flexible independent and off-campus study is encouraged at Rhodes. Choices include pre-designed or self-designed interdisciplinary majors, individualized study options such as the honors program, directed inquiry projects, the tutorial plan, and study abroad. State-of-the-art technology is everywhere on the wireless campus at Rhodes. “Smart” classrooms, located throughout the campus, offer Internet access and computer and video displays. The college’s science facilities have recently been updated to offer students top-of-the-line technology and instruments.

Acceptance rate 51%       •       Net price $29,852       •       SAT Range 1220-1400       •       Students submitting SAT scores 40%
Total Undergrad Population 1,875       •       Setting City: Large       •       Private 4-year
Graduation rate (6 year) 82%       •       Retention rate 87%       •       Student-to-faculty ratio 9:1

Click here for available majors

Tennessee Technological University logo

Tennessee Technological University

Cookeville, TN ‧ Public ‧ 4-year

Tennessee Tech University is a public research university in Cookeville, Tennessee. Join an amazing network of nearly 10,000 student peers taking courses across 8 academic schools and colleges on campus.

Acceptance rate 80%       •       Net price $16,618       •       SAT Range 1030-1270       •       Students submitting SAT scores 6%
Total Undergrad Population 10,177       •       Setting Town       •       Public 4-year
Graduation rate (6 year) 57%       •       Retention rate 77%       •       Student-to-faculty ratio 18:1

Click here for available majors

University of Tennessee Knoxville logo

The University of Tennessee, Knoxville

Knoxville, TN ‧ Public ‧ 4-year

With over 360 available programs and majors, The University of Tennessee, Knoxville, invites students to embrace their potential. Students learn and lead in service to others, truly embracing their name as “Volunteers.” Research, service-learning, and independent projects embody the passionate spirit that Vols have brought to campus for over 225 years.

Acceptance rate 78%       •       Net price $21,133       •       SAT Range 1140-1303       •       Students submitting SAT scores 24%
Total Undergrad Population 30,559       •       Setting City: Midsize       •       Public 4-year
Graduation rate (6 year) 71%       •       Retention rate 89%       •       Student-to-faculty ratio 17:1

Click here for available majors

What it’s like to attend schools in Tennessee and other FAQ:

What are average tuition costs in Tennessee?

The average undergraduate tuition & fees for colleges in Tennessee is $5,715 for in-state students at public institutions, $16,601 for out-of-state students at public institutions, and $19,223 for students at private institutions.

Cheapest degree program in Tennessee

Middle Tennessee State University has an average net price of $12,265 making it the least expensive school in Tennessee that made our list.

Easiest degree program to get into in Tennessee

Middle Tennessee State University has an acceptance rate of 94%, with an SAT range of 990-1200, making it the least exclusive college in Tennessee on our list.

Degree program with lowest student debt in Tennessee

Tennessee Technological University has a median total debt after graduation of $16,144. This is the typical debt for a student who completed their undergraduate degree.

Best Tennessee Colleges by Award

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Best Colleges by State

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