5 Best Colleges in Tennessee – 2024

May 14, 2024

best colleges in Tennessee

From Vanderbilt with its 5% acceptance rate to Belmont with its 96% acceptance rate, our list of the Best Colleges in Tennessee spans the selectivity gamut. Within the Volunteer State, you’ll find highly-selective private schools as well as an increasingly picky flagship public institution. The following list of the 5 best colleges in Tennessee is meant to give you a sense of the array of wonderful higher education options in the state. The data in each profile card is intended to give a better sense of the academic offerings and outcomes at each institution. If you happen to be a resident, you have public options with the University of Tennessee system that represent a superb value to higher education consumers.


Click here to read our methodology for the Best Colleges in Tennessee. As you’ll see, some schools with spectacular (and deserved) reputations simply do not happen to fare well on metrics such as student-to-faculty ratio or spending per student. We understand that a list based solely on prestige/general reputation would look different than what you will find below.

Best Colleges in Tennessee

Here’s a quick preview of the 5 Tennessee-based institutions that made our list. Detailed profiles and stats can be found when you scroll below.

1) Vanderbilt University

2) Rhodes College

3) The University of the South

4) The University of Tennessee-Knoxville

5) Belmont University

All of the schools profiled below have a history of sending graduates to the most desirable employers and graduate schools in the country. College Transitions will provide you with—when available—each school’s:

  • Enrollment
  • Cost of Attendance
  • Acceptance Rate
  • Median SAT
  • Median ACT
  • Retention Rate
  • Graduation Rate

We will also include a longer write-up of each college’s:

  • Academic Highlights – Includes facts like student-to-faculty ratio, average class size, number of majors offered, and most popular majors.
  • Professional Outcomes – Includes info on the rate of positive outcomes, companies employing alumni, and graduate school acceptances.
#1 Best College in Tennessee
Vanderbilt University

Vanderbilt University

  • Nashville, TN

Academic Highlights: Four of Vandy’s ten schools cater to undergrads: the College of Arts and Sciences, the Blair School of Music, the Peabody College of Education and Human Development, and the School of Engineering. In the 2022-23 school year, 87% of course sections contained 19 or fewer students. Of the 70 undergraduate majors, economics, politics and government, and neuroscience are the most popular. The School of Engineering has a strong national reputation as do offerings in biology, economics, education, and music.

Professional Outcomes: Six months after graduating, 96% of the Class of 2021 were employed or in graduate school. The most commonly entered industry was finance followed by technology, consulting, education, and engineering. Alumni can be found in droves at Capital One, Goldman Sachs, Bain & Company, JP Morgan Chase, Citi, and Meta. Among 2022 alumni who directly pursued advanced degrees, the majority enrolled at Vanderbilt followed by Columbia, Harvard, Penn, NYU, and Northwestern.

  • Enrollment: 7,151 (undergraduate); 6,559 (graduate)
  • Cost of Attendance: $89,590
  • Median SAT: 1530
  • Median ACT: 35
  • Acceptance Rate: 7%
  • Retention Rate: 96%
  • Graduation Rate: 93%

#2 Best College in Tennessee
Rhodes College

Rhodes College

  • Memphis, TN

Academic Highlights: The school offers 50 majors and minors and a great deal of academic autonomy along the way. A 9:1 student-to-faculty ratio leads to an amazingly intimate average class size of only 14 students, and 75% of the students conduct undergraduate research. While the sciences may be the area for which Rhodes receives the greatest recognition, business, psychology, and international studies are also strong and attract large numbers of undergrads.

Professional Outcomes: Within one year of receiving their diplomas, 98% of Rhodes grads have found their way into the world of employment or are pursuing an advanced degree program. Among the companies employing the largest number of alumni are St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital, Deloitte, EY, FedEx, Raymond James, and PwC. Close to 90% of those applying to graduate school get into their top-choice institution, and Rhodes ultimately produces an incredible number of PhDs in the sciences, economics, political science, and psychology.

  • Enrollment: 1,996 (undergraduate); 12 (graduate)
  • Cost of Attendance: $67,802
  • Median SAT: 1380
  • Median ACT: 30
  • Acceptance Rate: 48%
  • Retention Rate: 91%
  • Graduation Rate: 85%

#3 Best College in Tennessee
Sewanee — The University of the South

Sewanee — The University of the South

  • Sewanee, TN

Academic Highlights: Offering 37 majors and 42 minors, Sewanee exposes undergrads to a wide scope of liberal arts study. Undergraduate teaching is the primary focus; the average class size is 17 students, and 66% of course sections have an enrollment under 20. The degrees most commonly conferred are in economics (12%), psychology (11%), political science (10%), biology (10%), and English (9%). All are strong, but the English Department has a leading national reputation; accomplished authors from around the globe come to teach at Sewanee.

Professional Outcomes: Within six months of graduating, 95% of 2022 grads had found some form of employment or begun their graduate studies. 68% entered the workforce, with the highest numbers in business/finance (97); health care (51); and government, politics, and law (36). The largest number of total alumni can be found at Wells Fargo, Deloitte, Regions Bank, and Vanderbilt University Medical Center. For 2022 grads who pursued advanced degrees, the majority entered master’s programs, followed by medical, law, and PhD programs.

  • Enrollment: 1,613 (undergraduate); 91 (graduate)
  • Cost of Attendance: $74,698
  • Median SAT: 1280
  • Median ACT: 29
  • Acceptance Rate: 52%
  • Retention Rate: 89%
  • Graduation Rate: 82%

#4 Best College in Tennessee
University of Tennessee – Knoxville

University of Tennessee – Knoxville

  • Knoxville, TN

Academic Highlights: With 360 undergraduate programs, 14 degree-granting colleges and schools, 500 study abroad programs, and 1,700 instructional faculty, nothing is small at the University of Tennessee. With an 18:1 student-to-faculty ratio, this university offers 28% of courses in a more intimate setting of fewer than 20 students; the bulk of courses enroll 20-49 students (57%). Business (24%) is easily the most popular major with engineering (11%), biology (7%), the social sciences (7%), and parks and recreation (7%) next in line.

Professional Outcomes: Six months after receiving their diplomas, 64% of UT-Knoxville alumni have found jobs and 27% have started their graduate school careers. The top employers of the Class of 2023 were the UT Medical Center, PepsiCo, and Axle Logistics. Among those headed to graduate/professional school, the five most commonly attended institutions were the University of Tennessee, UT Health Science Center, Lincoln Memorial University, East Tennessee University, and Belmont University.

  • Enrollment: 27,039
  • Cost of Attendance: $33,910 (In-State); $52,400 (Out-of-State)
  • Median SAT: 1235
  • Median ACT: 28
  • Acceptance Rate: 68%
  • Retention Rate: 89%
  • Graduation Rate: 73%

#5 Best College in Tennessee
Belmont University

Belmont University

  • Nashville, TN

Academic Highlights: Over 150 undergraduate majors are offered across 12 colleges, including the highly regarded College of Business, College of Nursing, College of Entertainment & Music Business, and College of Music & Performing Arts. Programs in performing arts and music business are particularly strong. The most degrees are conferred in visual and performing arts (38%), health professions (13%), business/management/marketing (12%), and communications technologies (7%). 51% of classes have fewer than 20 students.

Professional Outcomes: 97% of the Class of 2023 experienced positive outcomes, with 85% employed, 11% heading to graduate/professional school, and 1% pursuing volunteer or military service. 82% elect to stay in the Southeast. Top employers vary—for College of Business grads, popular destinations included Deloitte, EY, HCA Healthcare, and S&P Global. Meanwhile, College of Music & Performing Arts grads headed to Metropolitan Nashville Public Schools, Nashville Children’s Theatre, and Bach to Rock, among others.

  • Enrollment: 7,376 (undergraduate); 1,526 (graduate)
  • Cost of Attendance: $57,590
  • Median SAT: 1230
  • Median ACT: 27
  • Acceptance Rate: 96%
  • Retention Rate: 84%
  • Graduation Rate: 72%

We hope you have found our list of the Best Colleges in Tennessee to be useful and informative as you continue your college search process. We also invite you to check out some of our other resources and tools including: