2016 Most Affordable Colleges in Tennessee

Scroll down to see our top-ranked colleges in Tennessee, loans and scholarships for Tennessee students, and advice on how to save money going to college in Tennessee.

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Tennessee is a pretty good place to go hunting for an affordable college education. With a bit of luck, you can have your pick of the University of Tennessee Knoxville (UTK), public schools and a smattering of smaller colleges. Need-based and merit-based state financial aid is available for Tennessee residents, including the well-known HOPE Scholarship. Generous loan forgiveness programs for teachers and nurses are also up for grabs. Start planning a cheaper degree now!

How to Transfer College Credits in Tennessee

Tennessee college students typically don’t have any trouble transferring college credits between public institutions in the state. Tennessee has a transferable general education core with common course numbering, as well as statewide guaranteed transfer of associate’s degrees. There’s also a statewide articulation guide, the Tennessee Transfer Pathway, that highlights guaranteed transfer pathways for Tennessee college students. Students may also earn an associate’s degree through reverse transfer.

Tennessee has a common transferable core. This core has 41 hours of general education that applies to any course of study, as well as 19 hours of pre-major instruction, or courses that can count as elective. The 41 hour lower division core can transfer as a block and fully satisfy the general education core requirements for public colleges and universities in Tennessee. Courses in this block will have common course numbering to facilitate transfer.

Students with an associate of science or an associate of arts from a Tennessee community college will be able to transfer their coursework to a four year university degree. With an associate’s degree, students will have met all general education core requirements and will transfer in with junior status.

Tennessee students can find transfer pathways to facilitate planning. These pathways are available by campus or by major, and can help students plan their degree coursework prior to transferring. Additionally, students participating in a Tennessee transfer pathway will typically be guaranteed admission, except for some specific universities and programs.

Students who have not yet completed an associate’s degree, but who began their courses at a two year institution in Tennessee may be eligible for a reverse transfer pathway. With a reverse transfer, students can apply credits from both a two year and four year institution to earn an associate’s degree.

State Financial Aid for Tennessee Students

The Tennessee Higher Education Commission (THEC) is the state’s coordinating agency for higher education. However, like many agencies, it has created a separate resource for students and parents called the Tennessee Student Assistance Corporation (TSAC).

THEC has general info on affordable higher education programs (e.g. fee waivers, veterans education, P-16 initiatives, the Academic Common Market, etc.). TSAC has targeted info on financial aid, including applications for state grants and scholarships, a guide to the FAFSA, helpful financial aid links and access to the TSAC Student Portal. We recommend a visit to both websites.

While you’re in the planning stage, you can also have a look at CollegeforTN.org. Run by THEC, this website is stuffed with free college and career exploration tools. Adult learners can check out Tennessee Reconnect. It has advice on going to college for the first time, applying as a veteran and/or returning to school to finish a degree.

Need one-on-one assistance? GEAR UP TN runs a variety of Path to College Events. These events guide parents and students through the entire college application process. A huge amount of Tennessee state financial aid relies on FAFSA info, so make sure you file it as early as possible.

Tennessee Student Grants

Community College Reconnect Grant

Summary: This grant is intended to help Tennessee residents (i.e. independent students) who want to finish an associate degree at a Tennessee community college.

Annual award amounts vary. The total depends on available funds and the amount of remaining tuition & mandatory fees after gift aid (e.g. scholarships & grants) has been applied.

Eligibility: You must:

  • Be a U.S. citizen or eligible non-citizen
  • Be a Tennessee resident
  • Have previously earned 30 hours toward an associate’s degree
  • Pursue the completion of an associate’s degree (at least nine hours) at a Tennessee community college
  • Maintain a minimum 2.0 GPA and satisfactory academic progress

See the Community College Reconnect Grant webpage for more details.

How to Apply: File your FAFSA. You must be classified as an independent student on the form.

Dual Enrollment Grant

Summary: This grant is intended for 11th grade and 12th grade TN high school students who are also enrolled in college credit courses at eligible two-year and four-year postsecondary institutions. Applicants may receive funding for one course per semester. (To receive funding for one additional course per semester, applicants must meet the minimum HOPE Scholarship academic requirements.)

For the first two college courses, students can receive up to $500. For Course #3, students can receive up to $200. There is no award for Course #4. For Courses #5-8, students can receive up to $100 per credit hour.

Eligibility: Most importantly, you must:

  • Be a Tennessee resident for one year prior to enrollment
  • Have completed the 10th grade and be classified as an 11th or 12th grader
  • Be enrolled in an eligible high school and admitted to/enrolled in an eligible postsecondary institution

There are further requirements regarding home school, selective service, loan defaults, the HOPE Scholarship and admissions criteria. See the Dual Enrollment Grant webpage for more details.

How to Apply: Complete the online Dual Enrollment Grant Application through the TSAC Student Portal.

Tennessee HOPE Access Grant

Summary: This is a need-based and merit-based grant awarded to Tennessee residents who do not meet the minimum HOPE Scholarship requirements. Students must be enrolled in an eligible public or private institution.

At four-year institutions, applicants can receive up to $1,250 per full-time semester (including summer). At two-year institutions, applicants can receive up to $875 per full-time semester (including summer).

Eligibility: Most importantly, you must:

  • Be a Tennessee resident for one year prior to enrollment
  • Have at least a weighted 2.75 GPA in high school and an 18-20 ACT (860-970 SAT) score
  • Have an adjusted gross income of $36,000 or less on an IRS tax form (unless you are an independent student who is single or married, this requirement applies to your parents)
  • Be enrolled at an eligible public or private institution

There are further requirements regarding TN eligible high schools and the ACT exam. See the Tennessee HOPE Access Grant webpage for more details.

How to Apply: File your FAFSA as soon as possible and list an eligible institution as your first choice.

Tennessee HOPE Foster Child Tuition Grant

Summary: This grant is available to Tennessee foster children attending an eligible two-year or four-year postsecondary institution. That list includes both public and independent institutions. Students can apply for the grant up to four years after the date of high school graduation (or equivalent).

The grant covers the cost of attendance (COA) less any gift aid (e.g. scholarship & grants) for up to six years. However, the total grant cannot exceed the cost of tuition and mandatory fees for a public institution.

Eligibility: Most importantly, you must:

See the Tennessee HOPE Foster Child Tuition Grant webpage for more details.

How to Apply: File your FAFSA and list an eligible institution as your first choice. You’ll also need to provide TSAC with official certification from the Department of Children’s Services that proves you meet the foster child eligibility requirements. Contact TSAC for more information.

Tennessee Student Assistance Award (TSAA)

Summary: TSAA is a need-based grant awarded to Tennessee residents enrolled in an undergraduate program (at least half-time) at a public or eligible non-public postsecondary institution in Tennessee. Browse the list of TSAA Eligible Institutions.

Award amounts vary depending on the institution and your FAFSA information. The maximum annual grant is $4,000 for a private university, $2,000 for a four-year public university, $1,300 for a two-year public, $2,000 for a career school and $1,000 for a TN College of Applied Technology.

Eligibility: Most importantly, you must:

  • Be a Tennessee resident (if a dependent student, the parent must also be a Tennessee resident)
  • Have an Expected Family Contribution (EFC) of 2100 or less on the FAFSA
  • Be enrolled at least half-time in an undergraduate program at a TSAA Eligible Institution

There are further requirements regarding academic progress and loan defaults. See the TSAA webpage for more details.

How to Apply: File your FAFSA as soon as possible (grants are awarded on a first-come, first-served basis) and list a TSAA eligible institution as your first choice.

Wilder-Naifeh Technical Skills Grant

Summary: All Tennessee residents enrolled in a certificate or diploma program at a Tennessee College of Applied Technology are eligible for this grant. However, applicants must file a FAFSA in order to be considered.

The maximum award amount is $2,000 (i.e. no more than the cost of attendance).

Eligibility: Most importantly, you must:

  • Be a Tennessee resident for one year prior to enrollment
  • Enroll in a certificate or diploma program at a Tennessee College of Applied Technology and maintain satisfactory academic progress and continuous enrollment

Students who complete a diploma (at least 900 clock hours) may also be eligible to receive a HOPE Scholarship.

How to Apply: File your FAFSA and list an eligible institution as your first choice.

Tennessee Student Scholarships

Aspire Award

Summary: This need-based award is intended to help low-income students supplement funds they receive from the HOPE Scholarship.

At four-year institutions, the maximum award amount is $750 per semester, including summer. At two-year institutions, it’s $250 per semester, including summer.

Eligibility: You must:

  • Meet all the Tennessee HOPE Scholarship requirements
  • Have an adjusted gross income of $36,000 or less on an IRS tax form (unless you are an independent student who is single or married, this requirement applies to your parents)

How to Apply: File your FAFSA and list an eligible HOPE Scholarship institution as your first choice.

Christa McAulliffe Scholarship Program

Summary: This one-time scholarship is available to rising college juniors enrolled full-time in a teacher education program at an accredited Tennessee postsecondary institution.

The scholarship is $500 and is not renewable.

Eligibility: You must:

  • Be a Tennessee resident
  • Be enrolled full-time in a teacher education program at an accredited Tennessee postsecondary institution
  • Have completed at least the first semester of your junior year
  • Have a cumulative 3.5 GPA
  • Have an ACT or SAT score that meets or exceeds the national norm

How to Apply: Complete the Christa McAulliffe Scholarship Application through the TSAC Student Portal. You’ll need to submit your official college transcript and ACT/SAT score.

Dependent Children Scholarship Program

Summary: This scholarship is awarded to dependents of a Tennessee law enforcement officer, fireman, or an emergency medical service technician who has been killed or totally and permanently disabled while performing his/her duties. It can be used for full-time undergraduate study or vocational studies at an eligible Tennessee institution.

Award amounts are based on financial need and are renewable for a total of four years. Students must maintain satisfactory academic progress to remain eligible.

Eligibility: You must:

  • Be a Tennessee resident (your parent must also have been or be a Tennessee resident when the incident occurred)
  • Be the dependent of a Tennessee law enforcement officer, fireman, or an emergency medical service technician at the time of the incident
  • Enroll in a full-time program at an eligible Tennessee institution (i.e. approved by TSAC to enroll students receiving Tennessee Student Assistance Awards)

How to Apply: File your FAFSA and complete the Dependent Children Scholarship Program Application through the TSAC Student Portal. You’ll have to provide documentation that proves your parents was killed or permanently disabled while performing his/her duties.

General Assembly Merit Scholarship (GAMS)

Summary: GAMS is a merit-based award that helps extremely high achievers supplement funds they receive from the HOPE scholarship. Applicants can only apply directly after high school. If students are eligible for both GAMS and the Aspire Award, they’ll receive the Aspire Award.

The maximum award amount is $1,500 divided evenly between fall, spring and summer semesters. Awards for part-time students are prorated.

Eligibility: You must:

  • Meet all the Tennessee HOPE Scholarship requirements
  • Graduate from a Tennessee public high school or a category 1,2,3 private school with at least a weighted 3.75 GPA and 29 ACT (1280 SAT) score

If you’re a home school graduate or a student of a non-category 1,2,3 school, you must:

  • Meet all the Tennessee HOPE Scholarship requirements
  • Complete 12 college credit courses with a minimum 3.0 GPA at a Tennessee college or university while you are enrolled in a home school program

How to Apply: File your FAFSA and list an eligible HOPE Scholarship institution as your first choice. Because schools don’t report a final high school GPA until June, GAMSs are typically awarded in July.

Ned McWherter Scholars Program

Summary: This merit-based scholarship is awarded to high-achieving Tennessee residents who plan to pursue full-time undergraduate studies in Tennessee. Only seniors starting their last semester in high school may apply.

The award is $6,000 per academic year—$3,000 from the State of Tennessee and $3,000 from the college or university attended. Awards are renewable for a total of four years, but students maintain a cumulative 3.2 GPA during college to remain eligible.

Eligibility: You must:

  • Be a U.S. citizen or permanent resident
  • Be a Tennessee resident
  • Attend an eligible Tennessee college or university full-time
  • Have at least a cumulative 3.5 GPA in high school
  • Have a minimum 29 ACT (1280 SAT) score

How to Apply: Complete the Ned McWherter Scholars Program Application through the TSAC Student Portal

TCAT Reconnect Scholarship

Summary: Like the Community College Reconnect Grant, this scholarship is targeted at independent students. However, this scholarship is for applicants who wish to pursue a certificate or diploma at a Tennessee College of Applied Technology (TCAT).

The scholarship helps pay for tuition & mandatory fees at a TCAT. The award amount varies based on amount of remaining after all other gift aid has first been applied.

Eligibility: You must:

  • Be a Tennessee resident
  • Have a FAFSA dependency status of “independent”
  • Enroll full-time in a certificate or diploma program at a Tennessee College of Applied Technology (TCAT)
  • Maintain continuous enrollment and satisfactory academic progress

How to Apply: File your FAFSA and list a TCAT as your first choice. You must be classified as an independent student on the form.

Tennessee HOPE Scholarship

Summary: This merit-based scholarship is available to high-achieving Tennessee residents who wish to pursue undergraduate programs at an eligible two-year or four-year institution. The scholarship is renewable for up to five years provided that students meet GPA benchmarks.

The maximum award amount for four-year institutions and two-year institutions with on-campus housing is $1,750 per full-time semester (freshmen and sophomore years) and $2,250 per full-time semester (junior and senior years). The maximum for two-year institutions with no campus housing is $1,500 per full-time semester.

Eligibility: Most importantly, you must:

There are various criteria for renewal and termination, and further requirements regarding TN eligible high schools, home school graduates, GED & HiSET recipients and the ACT exam. See the Tennessee HOPE Scholarship webpage for more details.

How to Apply: File your FAFSA and list an eligible institution as your first choice.

Tennessee HOPE Scholarship – Nontraditional

Summary: Since the HOPE Scholarship is only available to recent high school graduates, Tennessee also offers a merit-based and need-based scholarship to nontraditional students (i.e. adult learners). Eligible applicants must be pursuing an undergraduate program at an eligible two-year or four-year institution and meet certain GPA benchmarks.

The maximum award amount for four-year institutions and two-year institutions with on-campus housing is $1,750 per full-time semester (freshmen and sophomore years) and $2,250 per full-time semester (junior and senior years). The maximum for two-year institutions with no campus housing is $1,500 per full-time semester.

Eligibility: Most importantly, you must:

  • Be a Tennessee resident for one year prior to the application date
  • Be age 25 or older
  • Have an adjusted gross income of $36,000 or less on an IRS tax form (this includes your spouse’s income, if you are married)
  • Be an entering freshman in an eligible postsecondary institution or re-enrolling after a two-year hiatus or more
  • Maintain a minimum cumulative 2.75 GPA after 12 attempted semester hours or the required GPA at a subsequent benchmark

There are various criteria for renewal and termination. See the Tennessee HOPE Scholarship – Nontraditional webpage for more details.

How to Apply: File your FAFSA and list an eligible institution as your first choice.

Tennessee Promise Scholarship

Summary: This scholarship provides two years of full-time, tuition-free attendance at a postsecondary institution in Tennessee. Eligible institutions include 13 state community colleges, 27 colleges of applied technology and a number of other schools offering associate degree programs.

The scholarship pays for tuition & fees that are not covered by the Pell Grant, HOPE Scholarship or state student assistance funds. Mentoring is also included.

Eligibility: You must:

  • Be a U.S. citizen or eligible non-citizen
  • Be a Tennessee resident
  • Have graduated from an eligible high school or homeschool or have earned a GED/HiSET prior to your 19th birthday
  • Enroll in a full-time undergraduate program at an eligible institution
  • Participate in a mentoring program and attend mandatory meetings in your senior year of high school
  • Complete eight hours of community service per term
  • Maintain a 2.0 GPA

How to Apply: File your FAFSA and complete the Tennessee Promise Application through the TSAC Student Portal.

Tennessee STEP UP Scholarship

Summary: STEP UP is awarded to students with intellectual disabilities who have completed high school and plan to pursue an individualized program of study of up to four years at an eligible postsecondary institution. The program goes by different names at different universities (e.g. TigerLIFE, UT FUTURE, etc.).

The scholarship awards students up to $1,750 per semester. The award is renewable until the student completes the program.

Eligibility: You must:

  • Be a Tennessee resident for at least one year prior the application
  • Receive a high school diploma, occupational diploma or certificate, special education diploma, transition certificate or IEP certificate from a Tennessee high school
  • Be admitted to and enroll in an eligible postsecondary program at an eligible postsecondary institution no later than 16 months after completing high school

How to Apply: File your FAFSA and complete the separate STEP UP Scholarship Application.

Tennessee Student Loans & Repayment Programs

Graduate Nursing Loan Forgiveness Program

Summary: This program is aimed at registered nurses who wish to become nursing teachers and administrators in Tennessee. Participants must be Tennessee residents enrolled in an NLNAC- or CCNE-approved graduate program at an eligible Tennessee institution. To have the loan forgiven, students must work in a nursing education program (faculty or administration) at a Tennessee college or university—one year of full-time work for each year of the award.

Students can receive up to $7,000 per academic year for up to four years. If they fail to complete their degree or don’t fulfill their promise of employment the award converts to a loan. Interest accrues at 9% from the date of each disbursement.

Eligibility: You must:

  • Be a U.S. citizen
  • Be a Tennessee resident
  • Have an unencumbered Tennessee nursing license
  • Be enrolled in an eligible master’s degree or post-master’s degree in a nursing educational program at an eligible institution (see under Professional Nursing Schools)

How to Apply: Complete the Graduate Nursing Loan Forgiveness Program Application through the TSAC Student Portal.

Minority Teaching Fellows Program

Summary: This program is available to minority high school seniors and continuing college students who wish to gain teacher certification at an eligible Tennessee institution. In return for an annual education award, students must agree to teach PreK-12 in a Tennessee public school—one year of full-time work for each year of the award.

Students are eligible to receive $5,000 per year for up to four years of full-time study. If they fail to complete their degree or don’t fulfill their promise to teach, the award converts to a loan. Interest accrues at 9% from the date of each disbursement.

Eligibility: You must:

  • Be a U.S. citizen
  • Be a minority Tennessee resident
  • Have a cumulative 2.75 high school GPA and a minimum 18 ACT (860 SAT) score or be a continuing college student with at least a cumulative 2.5 GPA
  • Maintain a cumulative 2.5 GPA and attend classes full-time

How to Apply: Complete the Minority Teaching Fellows Program Application through the TSAC Student Portal. As well as transcripts, you will need recommendations from a school official and from a person in your community.

Tennessee Math and Science Teacher Loan Forgiveness Program

Summary: This program is targeted at Tennessee public school teachers seeking an advanced degree in a math or a science or a certification to teach a math or a science at an eligible institution. In return for an annual education award, students must agree to teach in a Tennessee public school—two years of teaching for each year of the award.

Students are eligible to receive $2,000 per academic year; the total amount of an award cannot exceed $10,000. If they fail to complete their degree or don’t fulfill their promise to teach, the award converts to a loan, with interest, that must be repaid.

Eligibility: You must:

  • Be a U.S. citizen
  • Be a Tennessee resident
  • Be a current public school teacher
  • Complete an advanced degree program in math or science or a certification program to teach math or science at an eligible institution
  • Complete the program of study within five years
  • Not break your enrollment at an eligible institution for more than one year (if the break exceeds one year, you enter a grace period followed by loan repayment)

This loan forgiveness program does not include re-certification courses.

How to Apply: Complete the Tennessee Math and Science Teacher Loan Forgiveness Program Application through the TSAC Student Portal

Tennessee Teaching Scholars Program

Summary: This forgivable loan program is available to college juniors, seniors and post-baccalaureate candidates admitted to a teacher education program in a Tennessee college or university. In return for an annual education award, students must agree to teach PreK-12 in a Tennessee public school—one year of full-time work for each year of the award.

Students are eligible to receive $5,000 per year. If they fail to complete their degree or don’t fulfill their promise to teach, the award converts to a loan. Interest accrues at 9% from the date of each disbursement.

Eligibility: You must:

  • Be a U.S. citizen
  • Be a Tennessee resident
  • Earn at least a cumulative 2.75 GPA (or higher, if required) for the teacher education program at your school
  • Be enrolled full-time (if an undergraduate) or at least half-time (if a graduate) in a program at an eligible Tennessee institution
  • Not be a licensed teacher
  • Not be employed or previously employed in a teaching position

How to Apply: Complete the Tennessee Teaching Scholars Program Application through the TSAC Student Portal. As well as transcripts and test score documentation, you will need a letter of recommendation from an official of a state-approved teaching education program.

Education Assistance for Tennessee Military & Veterans

Helping Heroes Grant

Summary: This grant is awarded to Tennessee veterans of the U.S. Armed Forces or former/current members of a reserve or Tennessee National Guard unit who were called into active military service for the U.S. Eligible applicants can receive money for undergraduate studies at an eligible two-year or four-year institution.

The maximum award amount is $1,000 per semester for students who complete twelve or more semester hours with no failing grades. Students who complete six to eleven semester hours can receive $500.

Eligibility: Most importantly, you must:

  • Be a Tennessee resident for one year preceding the date of grant application
  • Be an honorably discharged veteran of the U.S. Armed Forces or a former/current member of a reserve or Tennessee National Guard unit who was called into active military service for the U.S.
  • Have been awarded an Iraq Campaign Medal, Afghanistan Campaign Medal or Global War of Terrorism Expeditionary Medal (on or after September 11, 2001)
  • Enroll in an undergraduate program at an eligible two-year or four-year institution
  • Have not already earned a bachelor’s degree

There are further requirements regarding loans, incarceration and financial aid. See the Helping Heroes Grant webpage for more details.

How to Apply: Complete the Helping Heroes Grant Application through the TSAC Student Portal. You will also need to mail or fax your DD-214 to TSAC. Contact TSAC for more information.

Contact the Tennessee Department of Veterans Services (DVS) for more info on federal programs (e.g. GI Bill, Vocational Rehabilitation, etc.) and help with applying for college. THEC also has a useful section on Veterans Education.

Cheaper College Living in Tennessee

College is seldom cheap, especially for working class households. If you’re wrestling with basic bills, Tennessee’s Department of Human Services (DHS) may be able to help. You probably already know about programs like SNAP (food stamps), but the DHS can also assist with child care and education. For example, the DHS’s Families First program offers transportation, child care assistance, education, job training, employment activities and other support services to needy families.

In need of a roof over your head? The Tennessee Housing Development Agency (THDA) works with various partners to provide housing for low-income families, funding for immediate energy needs (LIHEAP), services for residents who currently homeless or at risk of becoming homeless (ESG Program) and more. The Memphis Housing Authority (MHA) also supplies low-income housing.

Don’t qualify for any state programs? Call 2-1-1 or visit the website of 211 Tennessee. 211 is a free community service helpline. 211 operators will listen to your issue (e.g. utility assistance, transportation, food, rent assistance, etc.) and give you contact information for helpful agencies and non-profit organizations in your area. Another option is to talk to someone at your local Community Action Agency (CAA). CAAs provide both short-term and long-term assistance to residents.

On-Campus Housing

On-campus housing is a personal choice. On the plus side, you’re not paying for commuting costs or utilities, rooms are usually furnished and buildings are up-to-code (i.e. the plumbing works). On the downside, you may be locked into hefty prices. Housing rates at Vanderbilt’s residence halls hover around $5,000 per semester. To get a better sense of the total cost, try the budget calculators on Yahoo.com and CalcXML.com. These let you compare on-campus prices (meal plans, dorm fees, etc.) with off-campus bills (groceries, utilities, etc.).

It also pays to remember that some Tennessee schools have limited off-campus options (e.g. Sewanee) and others have a housing requirement. For example, both Belmont University and Union University require all unmarried, full-time, undergraduate students to live on campus. Check with your school for info on current rates & requirements. To save money, a lot of low-income students share a dorm room with multiple roommates and opt for the lowest price meal plan.

Worried that your financial aid package doesn’t cover room & board? Talk to your high school guidance counselor, someone at your college’s Financial Aid Office and/or your university’s housing coordinator about your options. You may be eligible for work-study programs (e.g. Tennessee Wesleyan Work Scholarship) and grants that cover housing. UTK, Bryan College and Sewanee offer freshman scholarships that cover room & board; Tennessee Tech’s Vice Presidents’ Scholarship (Residential Scholarship) provides $3,000 per year for housing over four years.

Off-Campus Housing

Once you start investigating affordable Tennessee colleges, you may discover that some of them are viewed as commuter schools—universities with little or no campus housing. For example, according to U.S. News & World Report, 87% of UM students and 73% of MTSU students lived off campus in 2016. So make sure you look up rent prices in neighborhoods around these kinds of schools.

Believe it or not, one place to start searching for a cheap apartment is the housing section of your university’s website. Many schools do their best to help commuter students find a place. For example, UTK and UM have teamed up with Off Campus Partners to provide separate housing websites. ETSU has an Off-Campus Housing Service in the A.C.T.S. Office. When in doubt, talk to the housing coordinator.

And you can explore Craigslist postings and local rental sites (just beware of scams, especially on Craigslist). Some sites (e.g. RentUTK.com) are focused on one university. Other sites (e.g. CampusRent.com, ApartmentGuide.com and MyApartmentMap.com) will allow you to target affordable housing listings around your specific school. If you run out of options, HUD.gov has contact info for organizations in Tennessee that offer shelter and emergency housing to the homeless; you can cross-check this list with the Tennessee Homeless Shelter Directory from HomelessShelterDirectory.org.

Utilities

Before you put your signature on any lease, find out what utilities you need to cover (e.g. electricity, heat, water, etc.). If don’t know how much to set aside for utilities, ask your prospective landlord for a monthly estimate. You may also want to talk to former renters. Also, be sure you have a written agreement with your roommates about paying for expenses —you don’t want to have late payments on a utility bill in your name.

Struggling with bill payments? Not eligible for state & federal programs (e.g. LIHEAP) from THDA and its partners? Many Tennessee utility companies have their own support networks for low-income customers.  For instance, Memphis Light, Gas and Water has a long list of assistance programs, including staggered billing. Appalachian Power has a Neighbor-to-Neighbor fund to help customers pay for electric bills. Don’t be afraid to call the company for details. The closest branch of the Salvation Army will also have information on utility assistance programs in your neighborhood.

Medical & Dental

Practically all Tennessee schools, even community colleges, have an on-campus medical center that provides free or low-cost healthcare. This is funded by mandatory fees, so you should feel free to use it! Big schools tend to have more services—UTK’s Student Health Center has a radiology department, a surgery clinic, a physical therapy center and more—but even the smallest college can usually help with things like immunizations, contraceptives, STDs and basic primary care. A lot of centers now deal with mental health issues.

If you can’t get care at your student health center, HUD.gov has a list of Tennessee organizations that can help you find free or low-cost healthcare. FreeClinicDirectory.org and NeedyMeds.org also have directories of affordable community clinics and healthcare centers. Many of these clinics are willing to treat mental health problems, but you can also search for Mental Health Services on the DMHSAS website. When you need help now, the Mental Health Crisis/Suicide hotline is 1-800-273-8255.

Locating cheap dental care requires a bit more research. One popular tactic is to try a dental school. Because schools are training student dentists, they’re usually willing to offer lower rates to patients. For example, fees at the UTHSC College of Dentistry in Memphis and the Meharry School of Dentistry are typically less than private practice. Meanwhile, the TSU Dental Hygiene Clinic offers free dental screenings and cheap basic cleanings. Alternatively, you can search for free or low-cost dental clinics on FreeDentalCare.us: Tennessee.

Child Care

Affordable child care is often the #1 barrier to college. A number of Tennessee schools—including state universities, community colleges and UT campuses—have campus daycare facilities, but it pays to apply early. While you’re there, ask if your university offers financial assistance to low-income student parents. For instance, MTSU has an AAIA Displaced Homemaker Scholarship, with funds that can be used to assist with child care, transportation and basic living expenses.

Nothing on campus? The DHS has online Child Care Locator tools and a list of helpful resources for parents. You may also wish to see if you qualify for the DHS’s Child Care Certificate Program. This provides child care subsidies to (very) low-income families involved in the DHS’s Families First program.

Transportation

Transportation costs will depend on your personal situation. If you’re dealing with kids, working multiple jobs, or commuting to a rural campus, a car is obviously going to be a given. Having said that, we still advise every student to have a quick look at the transportation/transit section of the university website.

That’s because most schools offer alternative transport programs that could save you lot of money. Examples include free campus shuttles, carpools/vanpools, rideshares, Zipcars, cheap bike rentals and major discounts on local transit passes. For example, a validated UTC ID card gives students unlimited free access on any citywide CARTA bus route. Many state and national carriers (e.g. Greyhound) also have deals for local college students. Always ask before you pay for your ticket.

Food

Everyone has the right to eat. In the past decade, campus food pantries have sprung up throughout Tennessee, including food banks at UTK, UTC, Tennessee Tech, APSU, Lee University and more. Some universities will even offer needy students free meal vouchers or leftovers from dining services. If you’re locked into campus housing, talk to someone at your Financial Aid Office—there may be ways to reduce your meal plan costs.

When there’s nothing on campus, try your community. Both FoodPantries.org and HomelessShelterDirectory.org have directories of local food banks, and HUD.gov has contact information for Tennessee organizations that provide Meals, Food & Clothing. You can also see if you qualify for state benefits such as SNAP (food stamps) or the Tennessee WIC Program for new moms and moms-to-be.

SEE ALSO: our Encyclopedic Guide to Saving Money as a College Student.

Find Support in Your Area

College in Memphis on a Budget

Memphis is the most affordable of the 3 big cities in Tennessee. In 2016, Sperling’s Best Places noted that the overall cost of living was significantly below the national average. Utilities were affordable and housing costs were dirt cheap. However, low rents tend to come with massive crime rates, including violent crime. Public transport is provided by MATA, but UM students will tell you that buses are slow and bike lanes are hard to find. On the other hand, you’ll have plenty of low-cost entertainment options, including some fabulous music. General info for residents can be found on the City of Memphis website.

Where to Go for Help in Memphis

If you’re looking for local scholarship funds or help with day-to-day challenges (e.g. GED prep, part-time jobs, etc.), here are a few Memphis organizations to explore:

  • Each year, the Community Foundation of Greater Memphis (CFGM) offers more than $115,000 in 25+ categories of college scholarship funds to students from the Memphis area. You’re welcome to apply for more than one, but you must submit a separate application and attachments for each scholarship fund.
  • The Goodwill Excel Center is a free center that helps Shelby County adults 18 and older earn a high school diploma and create a career for themselves. Its partner, the Goodwill Job Center, offers job training programs, career assessments and free employment classes.
  • DeNeuville Learning Center was created to support Memphis women. It offers classes in GED preparation, computers, ESL, job readiness and search assistance, money management and more. It also can also assist with child care support and emergency needs.

Looking for a specific social service? The Shelby County Community Services Department has a list of helpful programs throughout the area. The United Way of Shelby County has a similar directory of local organizations (including low-cost daycare providers).

College in Nashville on a Budget

Thanks to its music scene and bright reputation, Nashville is the most expensive city on our list of 3 cities. The overall cost of living in 2016 was around the national average. Housing and groceries were the priciest categories; utilities were relatively affordable. As the city becomes more popular with graduates and millennials, rents are going up. Bike lanes are plentiful, but public transport is pretty much limited to MTA buses. TSU is on the outskirts of town, so you may need to budget for commuting costs. General info for residents can be found on the City of Nashville website.

Where to Go for Help in Nashville

Nashville is awash with community organizations that offer education preparation, scholarships, job development and social service programs. Here are a few examples:

Looking for a specific social service? The United Way of Metropolitan Nashville has a long list of Nashville partner agencies (e.g. Goodwill, The Salvation Army, etc.). Nashville’s Metro Action Commission (MAC) can also connect Davidson County residents to community programs, resources and information.

College in Knoxville on a Budget

Home to UTK, Knoxville is a fairly affordable college town. The overall cost of living in 2016 was below the national average, and all the categories—utilities, housing, grocery, transportation—were under the norm. To cover the city, Knoxville Area Transit (KAT) has more than 80 buses and road trolleys; downtown and UTK campus areas have bike lanes. Downtown is experiencing a resurgence, and there are plenty of cheap entertainment options. General info for residents can be found on the City of Knoxville website.

Where to Go for Help in Knoxville

Knoxville has a number of non-profit organizations and programs targeted at residents who wish to go to college, including:

  • The East Tennessee Foundation (ETF) administers 50+ college scholarship funds. Scholarships are available for all kinds of categories: specific schools and counties, extracurricular activities, potential/motivation and specific fields (e.g. business). You can apply for more than one scholarship, but you must complete and submit an individual scholarship application for each.
  • The Centro Hispano de East Tennessee provides bilingual classes (e.g. ESL, GED test preparation, etc.), legal advice, information & referral services, financial education and more to local Hispanic families.
  • UTK’s Pre-College Upward Bound (PCUB) project is designed to help low-income, first-generation college students graduate from high school and to enroll in a postsecondary institution. Services include tutoring, ACT preparation, college and career information, instruction in academics, cultural enrichment and one-on-one social counseling. Project GRAD runs a similar K-16 program for students from kindergarten through college and beyond.

Looking for a specific social service? The United Way of Greater Knoxville has a directory of useful partner agencies. The City of Knoxville has a similar social services directory.

School Rankings

1

Middle Tennessee State University

Founded in 1911 as a teacher's training college, Middle Tennessee State University in Murfreesboro, Tennessee currently offers more than 80 degree programs. Incoming freshmen are automatically considered for MTSU Freshman Academic Merit Scholarships, including the $6,000 per year National Merit/Achievement/Hispanic Scholarship, the $5,000 per year Chancellor Scholarship, the $4,000 per year Presidential Scholarship and the $3,000 per year True Blue Scholarship. Students admitted into the MTSU Honors College are eligible for the Buchanan Fellowship, which provides a full-tuition scholarship, among other benefits. Transfer students are automatically considered for MTSU Transfer Academic Scholarships, which range from $1,000 to $3,000 per year. Transfer students can also apply for other scholarship opportunities, including the $7,000 per year Honors Transfer Fellowship.

Accreditation: Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, Commission on Colleges

CAG Score 95.3

  • Advanced Placement Credit
  • DSST Credit
  • CLEP Credit
  • ROTC Program

22,729 Students

2

Sewanee-The University of the South

Founded more than 150 years ago and located on 13,000 acres of forested land, Sewanee offers 36 academic majors and pre-professional programs in medicine, nursing, law, and business. Each year, the university provides more than $26 million in institutional aid, with 81 percent of students receiving some type of gift aid. In 2015, 40 percent of freshmen received need-based aid, with the average financial assistance package amounting to $28,000. Scholarships and grants comprise up to 85 percent of non-freshman, undergraduate aid, with loans and job opportunities making up only 15 percent. Academically outstanding freshmen are considered for the Benedict Scholarship, which covers full tuition, fees, and room and board. Other scholarship opportunities include the Wilkins Scholarship ($15,000/year) and the Fairbanks Award ($10,000/year).

Accreditation: Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, Commission on Colleges

CAG Score 95.2

  • Advanced Placement Credit
  • DSST Credit
  • CLEP Credit
  • ROTC Program

1,714 Students

3

Tennessee Technological University

More than 10,000 students at the Tennessee Technological University have the option of pursuing one of 40 undergraduate and 20 graduate degrees across six academic disciplines. Qualified freshmen are considered for the University Academic Service Scholarship program, which awards $3,500 to $6,000 per year. Recipients have to complete 75 hours of university service. Beginning in-state students may be eligible for the Vice-President's Scholarship ($3,000 per year) or the Admissions Academic Scholarship ($1,000 to $1,500 per year). Out-of-state freshmen may be considered for the Soaring Eagle Scholarship ($8,000 per year). Students from under-represented groups may be eligible for the Golden Eagle Excellence Scholarship ($2,500 per year). Thirty-eight percent of students received an average Pell Grant award of $4,140 for the 2013-2014 academic year.

Accreditation: Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, Commission on Colleges

CAG Score 94.8

  • Advanced Placement Credit
  • DSST Credit
  • CLEP Credit
  • ROTC Program

11,339 Students

4

Christian Brothers University

Home to approximately 1,670 students from 30 states and 25 countries, Christian Brothers University is a four-year, private university located on a 75-acre campus in midtown Memphis. Ninety-six percent of full-time undergraduate students receive some type of financial assistance, with the average award amounting to $15,808. Academically outstanding freshmen are considered for the Trustee Scholarship and the Leadership Scholarship. Both cover the cost of tuition and fees. Eligible students may also be considered for the following merit scholarships: Maurelian Scholarship ($14,000 to $15,000 per year), Presidential Scholarship ($13,000 to $14,000 per year), Dean's Scholarship ($12,000 to $13,000 per year), University Scholarship ($11,000 to $12,000 per year), and the Lasallian Scholarship ($9,000 to $10,000 per year).

Accreditation: Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, Commission on Colleges

CAG Score 94.8

  • Advanced Placement Credit
  • DSST Credit
  • CLEP Credit
  • ROTC Program

1,667 Students

5

The University of Tennessee

By helping to manage the U.S. Department of Energy's Oak Ridge National Laboratory, the University of Tennessee Knoxville continues to strengthen its long-term commitment to education and research. Entering freshmen with outstanding academic record are eligible for the Volunteer Scholarship. Award amounts range from $3,000 to $8,000 each year for in-state freshmen and from $10,000 to $18,000 each year for out-of-state students. Entering in-state freshmen with a family income of less than $40,000/year may be considered for the Tennessee Pledge Scholarship, which covers a student's direct costs for attending UTK - tuition, fees, and on-campus room and board. Finalists in the National Merit and National Achievement competitions who name UTK as their first-choice university may qualify for the Provost Scholarship ($2,000/year).

Accreditation: Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, Commission on Colleges

CAG Score 94.5

  • Advanced Placement Credit
  • DSST Credit
  • CLEP Credit
  • ROTC Program

30,386 Students

6

East Tennessee State University

East Tennessee State University in Johnson City, Tennessee is the fourth largest university in Tennessee, with an enrollment of over 15,000 students. East Tennessee State provides institutional grants or scholarships to 17% of full-time beginning undergraduates, with several academic performance scholarships available to freshmen, including the Presidential Scholarship, which provides $5,000 per year to eligible students from Tennessee and certain Virginia and North Carolina counties. Additionally, University Honors Scholars at ETSU receive scholarship packages that cover most tuition and fees, a book allowance and an on-campus housing and meal program. The school also offers the ETSU Promise Grant, which provides $1,000 per year to students from middle-income families that meet certain academic qualifications.

Accreditation: Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, Commission on Colleges

CAG Score 94.5

  • Advanced Placement Credit
  • DSST Credit
  • CLEP Credit
  • ROTC Program

14,434 Students

7

University of Memphis

Originally established in 1912 as the West Tennessee Normal School, the University of Memphis is the flagship institution of the Tennessee Board of Regents system, and is home to 21,000 students from all 50 states and 87 foreign countries. Incoming freshmen who are the first in their family to attend college may be eligible for the First Scholars Program ($5,000/year). The Memphis Advantage Scholarship ($4,000 per year) supports well-performing freshmen who come from an under-represented minority population, an economically-disadvantage background or are first-generation college students. Transfer students may qualify for the University Transfer Scholarship Program ($3,000 per year). In-state and out-of-state adult students may be considered for the Adult Scholarship Program ($5,500 per year for full-time students, $2,750 per year for part-time students).

Accreditation: Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, Commission on Colleges

CAG Score 94.3

  • Advanced Placement Credit
  • DSST Credit
  • CLEP Credit
  • ROTC Program

21,059 Students

8

Bryan College-Dayton

Bryan College-Dayton is a Christian college that offers 25 undergraduate majors and three graduate programs. The College provides financial aid to 95% of its students, including scholarships, grants, loans, and work-study opportunities. Incoming freshmen are eligible for the Presidential Scholarship ($12,000 to $14,000 per year), the Dean's Scholarship ($6,000 to $10,000 per year), the Director's Scholarship ($4,000 per year) and the Difference Maker Scholarship ($500 to $5,000 per year). Transfer students are eligible for the Transfer Scholarship ($2,000 to $12,000 per year), the Word of Life Scholarship ($15,000 per year) and the Phi Theta Kappa Scholarship ($2,000 per year). Need-based grant opportunities are also available, such as the Bryan Opportunity Program (full-tuition, room and board) and the Bryan Need-Based Grant.

Accreditation: Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, Commission on Colleges

CAG Score 94.2

  • Advanced Placement Credit
  • DSST Credit
  • CLEP Credit
  • ROTC Program

1,599 Students

9

Milligan College

U.S. News & World Report places Milligan College at the No.6 spot in its 2016 list of best regional colleges in the South. Each year, the college offers more than $10 million in financial aid to its students. The Jeanes Honors Scholarship awards two full tuition scholarships annually to academically outstanding freshmen. This program requires a special application process. Qualified students are automatically considered for other academic scholarships with awards ranging from $5,000 to $15,000 each year. Scholarships are available for transfer students who meet the academic criteria of the program. Award amounts range from $5,000 to $9,000 per year. Students can also apply for talent scholarships (fine arts or music). Award amounts for talent scholarships vary from year to year.

Accreditation: Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, Commission on Colleges

CAG Score 94.1

  • Advanced Placement Credit
  • DSST Credit
  • CLEP Credit
  • ROTC Program

1,164 Students

10

Austin Peay State University

Austin Peay State University in Clarkesville, Tennessee, is a public university that awards bachelor's and master's degrees in more than 50 subject areas. Merit scholarships are available for qualifying freshmen based on their high school GPA and ACT scores and range in value from $1,000 to $6,000 annually. Full-time graduate students from an underrepresented group may qualify for a Diversity Fellowship Grant (up to $6,000). The college also offers the 250R Reduced Rate Tuition program that essentially covers the out-of-state fee for qualifying students who graduate from an out-of-state high school within a 250-mile radius of Austin Peay. Need-based financial aid available through Austin Peay includes federal and state grants and federal work-study jobs.

Accreditation: Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, Commission on Colleges

CAG Score 94.0

  • Advanced Placement Credit
  • DSST Credit
  • CLEP Credit
  • ROTC Program

10,111 Students

11

Tennessee State University

Tennessee State University is a state-funded historically black university located in Nashville, Tennessee, and it offers undergraduate and graduate programs. There are several TRIO Programs available to support students with disadvantaged backgrounds such as the Upward Bound Program, Student Support Services, and the Educational Talent Search Program. There are many university and foundation scholarships available to TSU students, and many students choose to pursue external scholarships. Many students choose to participate in the On-Campus Student Employment Program as part of the Federal Work Study Program to assist with their financial needs.

Accreditation: Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, Commission on Colleges

CAG Score 93.3

  • Advanced Placement Credit
  • DSST Credit
  • CLEP Credit
  • ROTC Program

9,027 Students

12

Freed-Hardeman University

Freed-Hardeman University is a Christian institution that grants both undergraduate and graduate degrees. The University provides institutional aid in the form of grants or scholarships to 100% of full-time beginning undergraduates. Institutional scholarships for undergraduates include Merit Scholarships (up to $14,000 per year), the Trustees' Scholarship ($17,500 per year) and the Honors Scholarship (stackable with the Trustees' Scholarship for a total award of $21,500 per year). The University also offers tuition discounts of up to $5,000 to students from certain school districts and students who are children of full-time Church of Christ pulpit or youth ministers. Additionally, the University will match any scholarship awarded by a Church of Christ, with a limit up to $5,000. Graduate students are eligible for federal loans and can participate in the University's interest-free monthly tuition payment plan.

Accreditation: Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, Commission on Colleges

CAG Score 92.7

  • Advanced Placement Credit
  • DSST Credit
  • CLEP Credit
  • ROTC Program

1,867 Students

13

Lee University

The following academic scholarships are offered to qualified incoming Lee University freshmen: Centennial Scholarship (full tuition), Presidential Scholarship ($10,000), and the Dean's Scholarship ($7,000). These award amounts are for a recipient's freshman year only. Succeeding award amounts will depend on the recipient's GPA. The Lettie Pate Whitehead Scholarship program awards scholarships of $2,500 each to eligible female students with demonstrable financial need from the following states: Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Virginia. The Poiema Ministry Scholarship considers first-year students who are preparing for full-time vocational ministry after graduation. Eight $5,000 scholarships are given out each year. Transfer students are automatically considered for the Transfer Encouragement Grant, which awards $2,000 for one year only.

Accreditation: Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, Commission on Colleges

CAG Score 92.6

  • Advanced Placement Credit
  • DSST Credit
  • CLEP Credit
  • ROTC Program

4,965 Students

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