Top Tennessee Colleges

Learn About 11 of the Top-Ranked Colleges and Universities in Tennessee

Tennessee has excellent higher education options for both public and private institutions.  From a large public university like the University of Tennessee to tiny Fisk University, Tennessee has schools to match a wide range of student personalities and interests. Many of the stronger colleges in the state have religious affiliations. The 11 top Tennessee colleges listed below represent such diverse school types and missions that I have simply listed them alphabetically rather than force them into any sort of artificial ranking. That said, Vanderbilt University is the most selective and prestigious institution on the list.

The schools were chosen based on factors such as academic reputation, curricular innovations, first-year retention rates, six-year graduation rates, selectivity, financial aid and student engagement. Keep in mind, however, that these selection criteria may have little to do with the features that will make a college the perfect match for your personality and professional goals.

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Belmont University

The Johnson Center at Belmont University
The Johnson Center at Belmont University. Getty Images for NMAAM / Getty Images

Fisk University

Jubilee Hall at Fisk University
Jubilee Hall at Fisk University. Maureen / Flickr / CC BY 2.0
  • Location: Nashville, Tennessee
  • Enrollment: 761 (723 undergraduates)
  • Type of Institution: private historically black university
  • Distinctions: rich history dating to 1866; highly ranked historically black university; many notable alumni including W.E.B. Du Bois; chapter of Phi Beta Kappa Honor Society for strengths in the liberal arts and sciences
  • For acceptance rate, test scores, costs and other information, visit the Fisk University profile

Lipscomb University

Lipscomb University
Lipscomb University. EVula / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY 3.0
  • Location: Nashville, Tennessee
  • Enrollment: 4,632 (2,986 undergraduates)
  • Type of Institution: private university affiliated with the Churches of Christ
  • Distinctions: 12 to 1 student / faculty ratio; strong grant aid; strong Christian identity and belief in the interconnectedness of faith and learning; 130 programs of study; member of the NCAA Division I Atlantic Sun Conference
  • For acceptance rate, test scores, costs and other information, visit the Lipscomb University profile

Maryville College

Carnegie Hall at Maryville College
Carnegie Hall at Maryville College. Notneb82 / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 3.0
  • Location: Maryville, Tennessee
  • Enrollment: 1,196 (all undergraduate)
  • Type of Institution: private college affiliated with the Presbyterian Church
  • Distinctions: 12 to 1 student / faculty ratio; average class size of 17; located less than 30 minutes from Knoxville; rich history going back to 1819; generous financial aid
  • For acceptance rate, test scores, costs and other information, visit the Maryville College profile

Milligan College

Seeger Chapel at Milligan College
Seeger Chapel at Milligan College. SteampunkGypsy / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 4.0
  • Location: Milligan College, Tennessee
  • Enrollment: 1,195 (880 undergraduates)
  • Type of Institution: private Christian liberal arts college
  • Distinctions: 10 to 1 student / faculty ratio; strong Christian identity; attractive campus in the Appalachian Mountains; good graduation rate in relation to student profile; generous grant aid
  • For acceptance rate, test scores, costs and other information, visit the Milligan College profile

Rhodes College

Barret Library at Rhodes College
Barret Library at Rhodes College. Ed Utham / Flickr / CC BY 2.0
  • Location: Memphis, Tennessee
  • Enrollment: 2,029 (1,999 undergraduates)
  • Type of Institution: private college affiliated with the Presbyterian Church
  • Explore campus in the Rhodes College photo tour
  • Distinctions: attractive 100-acre park-like campus; 10 to 1 student / faculty ratio; average class size of 13; students from 46 states and 15 countries; chapter of the Phi Beta Kappa for strong liberal arts and sciences
  • For acceptance rate, test scores, costs and other information, visit the Rhodes College Profile

Sewanee: The University of the South

All Saints' Chapel at Sewanee, The University of the South
All Saints' Chapel at Sewanee, The University of the South. Amanda / Flickr / CC BY 2.0
  • Location: Sewanee, Tennessee
  • Enrollment: 1,815 (1,731 undergraduates)
  • Type of Institution: private liberal arts college affiliated with the Episcopal Church
  • Distinctions: 10 to 1 student / faculty ratio; average class size of 18 the first year, 13 in later years; 13,000-acre campus on the Cumberland Plateau; strong English program and home of The Sewanee Review
  • For acceptance rate, test scores, costs and other information, visit the Sewanee profile

Tennessee Tech

Tennessee Technological University
Tennessee Technological University. Brian Stansberry / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY 3.0
  • Location: Cookeville, Tennessee
  • Enrollment: 10,493 (9,438 undergraduates)
  • Type of Institution: public university with technological focus
  • Distinctions: strong professional fields in nursing, business and engineering; good grant aid and overall value; competes in the NCAA Division I Ohio Valley Conference
  • For acceptance rate, test scores, costs and other information, visit the Tennessee Tech profile

Union University

The Bell Tower at Union University
The Bell Tower at Union University. ask / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY 3.0
  • Location: Jackson, Tennessee
  • Enrollment: 3,466 (2,286 undergraduates)
  • Type of Institution: private university affiliated with the Southern Baptist Church
  • Distinctions: 9 to 1 student / faculty ratio; Christ-centered identity; students from 45 states and 30 countries; mostly new residence halls built in 2008 after tornado damage
  • For acceptance rate, test scores, costs and other information, visit the Union University profile

University of Tennessee at Knoxville

University of Tennessee Knoxville
University of Tennessee Knoxville. Ethan Gruber / Flickr
  • Location: Knoxville, Tennessee
  • Enrollment: 28,052 (22,139 undergraduates)
  • Type of Institution: public research university
  • Distinctions: flagship campus of Tennessee's state university system; strong business programs; chapter of Phi Beta Kappa for strong programs in the liberal arts and sciences; member of the NCAA Division I Southeastern Conference
  • For acceptance rate, test scores, costs and other information, visit the University of Tennessee profile

Vanderbilt University

Tolman Hall at Vanderbilt University
Tolman Hall at Vanderbilt University. Photo Credit: Amy Jacobson
  • Location: Nashville, Tennessee
  • Enrollment: 12,587 (6,871 undergraduates)
  • Type of Institution: private research university
  • Distinctions: most selective and prestigious university in Tennessee; 8 to 1 student / faculty ratio; many high ranking programs including education, law, medicine and business; chapter of Phi Beta Kappa for strengths in the liberal arts and sciences; member of the Association of American Universities for strong research programs; member of the NCAA Division I Southeastern Conference
  • Explore the Campus: Vanderbilt University Photo Tour
  • For acceptance rate, test scores, costs and other information, visit the Vanderbilt University profile

Calculate Your Chances

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