The Best Private Colleges in Tennessee and Tennessee State Colleges

Tennessee stretches from the Smoky Mountains in the East, with cities like Knoxville (home to the University of Tennessee), all the way to Memphis, which is on the Mississippi River. This southern state is known for being a beautiful tourist destination, and it also has many excellent Tennessee colleges.

Best Colleges in Tennesse Red Award Emblem

Award Emblem: Top 6 Best Colleges in Tennessee

The following ranking and review focuses on the top colleges in Tennessee, including private colleges in Tennessee. The focus is on small colleges in Tennessee, but there are some large Tennessee state colleges included as well.

Each review of the best colleges in Tennessee highlights some of the unique features of the school that led to its inclusion on this list.

See Also: Top Interior Design Schools | Ranking | Interior Design Colleges

AdvisoryHQ’s List of the Top 6 Best Colleges in Tennessee

List is sorted alphabetically (click any of the names below to go directly to the detailed review section for that college or university):

Top 6 Best Colleges in Tennessee | Brief Comparison

Top Colleges in Tennessee

Key Feature

Key Benefit

Maryville CollegeOne of the best private colleges in Tennessee97% of students at Maryville receive some kind of financial aid
Middle Tennessee State UniversityMore than 240 study areas availableThe Department of Recording Industry is one of the best in the country and one of the school’s most popular programs
Rhodes CollegeSmall, private university with a beautiful campusRhodes has small class sizes and an active, engaged student body
Sewanee-The University of the SouthSmall, private school located on the Cumberland PlateauOne of the top-ranked liberal arts schools in the country
The University of TennesseeLargest of the good colleges in TennesseeExtensive academic and research opportunities; affiliated with Oak Ridge National Laboratory
Vanderbilt UniversityRanked as one of the top 20 schools in the countryExtremely low faculty-to-student ratio of 8:1

Table: Top 6 Best Colleges in Tennessee | Above list is sorted alphabetically

Reasons to Consider One of the Small Colleges in Tennessee

Mega-universities that are huge and have tens of thousands of students can have many advantages, including in-state tuition, excellent resources, and access to more faculty and libraries.

While there are plenty of advantages to selecting one of the large top colleges in Tennessee, there’s also a lot to be said for small colleges in Tennessee.

top colleges in tennessee

Image Source: Pixabay

This ranking puts a lot of focus on private colleges in Tennessee and small colleges in Tennessee. The following are some of the primary benefits of choosing colleges in Tennessee that are smaller.

  • At a small college, you also get small classes. With small classes, there are more chances to interact with the professor and ask questions, as well as have discussions. The professor is also more likely to get to know you as an individual, whereas at a larger school you’re just part of a lecture audience.
  • At most small colleges, all of the teaching is done by professors. At a larger school, on the other hand, many of the classes are taught by graduate students.
  • It will generally be easier to have one-on-one contact with your professors if you attend one of the colleges in Tennessee that’s considered small.
  • At smaller colleges in Tennessee, there tends to be less red tape to muddle through, such as long registration lines or lengthy wait times to speak with advisors, faculty, and administrators.

Of course, attending one of the colleges in TN that’s small isn’t for everyone, but for some people the advantages are well worth it.

All-in-One Change Management Tools

Top Rated Toolkit for Change Managers.

Get Your Change Management Tool Today...

AdvisoryHQ’s Selection Methodology

What methodology does AdvisoryHQ use in selecting and finalizing the credit cards, financial products, firms, services, and products that are ranked on its various top rated lists?

Please click here “AdvisoryHQ’s Ranking Methodologies” for a detailed review of AdvisoryHQ’s selection methodologies for ranking top rated credit cards, financial accounts, firms, products, and services.

Detailed Review – Top Ranking Best Colleges in Tennessee

Below, please find the detailed review of each of the top colleges in Tennessee. We have highlighted some of the factors that allowed these TN colleges to score so well in our selection ranking.

Maryville College Review

Maryville College is located in Maryville, Tennessee, which is a town near Knoxville. It’s one of the oldest colleges in the U.S. and the South, and this pick for one of the top colleges in Tennessee is affiliated with the Presbyterian Church. This liberal arts school is also incredibly small, with just over 1,000 students.

Maryville College - private colleges in tennessee

Image Source: Maryville College

Key Features of This College That Led to Its Ranking as One of the Top Colleges in Tennessee

Among colleges in TN and particularly private colleges in Tennessee, the following are specific ways Maryville excels.

Class Size

Maryville College has a faculty where 91% have doctoral degrees or the appropriate terminal degrees. The student-faculty ratio is 13:1 and the average class size is only 19.

One of the primary reasons many students select Maryville among private colleges in Tennessee and the good colleges in Tennessee is because of the small class size, which leads to personalized instruction and student-professor content.  

Study Programs

Among good colleges in Tennessee, Maryville is one of the smallest, but even though it’s one of the small colleges in Tennessee, there are many study options and programs available.

There are more than 60 offered majors and seven pre-professional programs.

Degrees include Bachelor of Arts, Bachelor of Music, and Bachelor of Science. There are also dual-degree programs in engineering, health care/nursing, biopharmaceutical science, and veterinary science.

Financial Aid

While Maryville College is one of the private colleges in Tennessee, they work to make it affordable for students. Scholarships available from Maryville College range from $15,000 per year up to full tuition, and they are awarded based on academic achievement and personal achievement as well as excellence in specific areas such, as music or theater.

97% of students at this leader among Tennessee colleges receive financial aid as well.

Middle Tennessee State University Review

Middle Tennessee State University (MTSU) is one of the public colleges in Tennessee featured on this ranking. This public university is located in Murfreesboro, Tennessee, and it’s part of the State University and Community College System of Tennessee.

Key Features of This Selection for One of the Top Colleges in Tennessee

Some of the reasons MTSU is on this list of good colleges in Tennessee and the best Tennessee state colleges are below.

Academic Programs

There are more than 240 academic programs available to students at MTSU. This pick for one of the best colleges in TN has many accreditations, including by the Commission on Colleges of the Southern Association of College and Schools Commission on Colleges to award bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral degrees.

Other accrediting memberships include the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology/Computing Accreditation Commission, and The Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business.

Cost and Financial Aid

At MTSU, 74% of full-time undergraduate students receive some kind of need-based financial aid, and the average need-based scholarship or grant is $5,639.

For in-state students, the cost of tuition at MTSU is also relatively low. For example, in-state tuition and fees for the 2015-16 school year at MTSU were only $8,080.

The Department of Recording Industry

The Department of Recording Industry is the most popular program at the University and is part of the College of Media and Entertainment. Only a limited number of slots are open for students to take upper-level classes in this program, and it’s divided into three concentrations: Music Business, Commercial Songwriting, and Audio Production.

The department has five recording studios on campus, and The Rolling Stone College Guide said MTSU has one of the best music business programs in the U.S.

Don’t Miss: Top Colleges with the Best Financial Aid | Ranking | Best College Financial Aid

Rhodes College Review

Located in Memphis, Rhodes College is one of the top private colleges in Tennessee and is a leader among smaller colleges in Tennessee. This liberal arts university has a student enrollment of around 2,000, and it’s affiliated with the Presbyterian Church.

Key Factors That Led to Our Ranking of This as One of the Top Colleges In Tennessee

Specific reasons Rhodes is on this list of Tennessee colleges that are top-ranked are detailed below.

National Rankings

Rhodes is well-ranked, not only among Tennessee colleges but also nationally in many areas. This four-year private college is profiled in The Princeton Review’s Best 381 Colleges for 2017. It’s also ranked as number one on The Princeton Review’s Most Beautiful Campus list, and number two for Most Engaged In Community Service.

It’s also included in The Princeton Review’s lists of “Colleges That Create Futures” and “Colleges That Pay You Back.”

Small Classes

Many students are searching for great TN colleges that are small and provide an intimate learning experience, and Rhodes fits that bill. The student-to-faculty ratio at this pick for one of the best colleges in Tennessee is 10:1. The average class size is only 14 at Rhodes, and there are just over 2,000 students.

Despite being a small college, 28% of students are multicultural and international, and 46 states and 41 countries are represented.  

Campus Engagement

Students at Rhodes, one of the best private colleges in Tennessee and one of the overall top Tennessee colleges, are very active and engaged. One hundred percent of first-year students live on campus, and 75% complete internships.

More than 80% of students participate in service, 52% belong to fraternities or sororities, and there are more than 100 student clubs and organizations on campus. There are also 21 men’s and women’s NCAA Division III intercollegiate teams.

Sewanee: The University of the South Review

Sewanee: The University of the South is a liberal arts school that’s small, private, and located in Sewanee, Tennessee. This private liberal arts school is located on the Cumberland Plateau and has a scenic campus. As well as being one of the best colleges in Tennessee, it’s also nationally ranked and is a member of the Associated Colleges of the South.

Key Factors That Led to Our Ranking of This as One of the Top Colleges in Tennessee

Specific features of Sewanee that led to its ranking on this list of good colleges in Tennessee and premier private colleges in Tennesee are listed below.

Individualized Education

Among colleges in Tennessee, Sewanee is one of the schools that puts the most focus on a personalized education and academic experience for students. The small university allows students to take classes taught by professors rather than TAs and enjoy close faculty-student interaction. Often, students will work directly with faculty on various projects and articles.

As a result, Sewanee has had 26 Rhodes Scholars, 34 NCAA Postgraduate Fellows, 47 Watson Fellows, and many Fulbright Scholars.

Academic Programs

Sewanee offers 36 majors, 32 minors, and 15 special programs. The school also features pre-medicine, pre-nursing, pre-law, and pre-business programs.

More than 40 percent of students for this leader among colleges in TN participate in study abroad programs, and there is also an endowment program that supports summer internships.

Civic Engagement

Sewanee, one of the leading colleges in Tennessee particularly among small colleges in Tennessee and private colleges in Tennessee, puts a lot of emphasis on civic engagement. The school has the Outreach Office, which is designed to promote students to serve others locally, nationally, and internationally.

There are opportunities ranging from service internships to community engagement courses.

Related: Top Accredited Online Colleges | Ranking | Best Accredited Online Universities

The University of Tennessee Review

The University of Tennessee is located in Knoxville, TN, and it’s the largest of the best colleges in TN included on this ranking. This is one of the best Tennessee state colleges and a leader among TN colleges overall.

Key Factors That Led to Our Ranking of This as One of the Good Colleges in Tennessee

Among good colleges in Tennessee, including private colleges in Tennessee and Tennessee state colleges, below are specifics of why UT is in this ranking.

General Facts

Among good colleges in Tennessee, the University of Tennessee is the flagship of the Tennessee state colleges. It was founded in 1794, and it’s classified as one of the nation’s Top 25 public research institutions. It’s part of the UT System along with UT Chattanooga, UT Martin, the UT Institute of Agriculture, the UT Health Science Center, and the UT Space Institute.

It’s classified by the Carnegie Foundation as a Doctoral University, which indicates the highest-level research activity.


UT is incredibly large among Tennessee colleges, but at the same time, students still enjoy a 17 to 1 student-to-faculty ratio. UT, the largest of the best colleges in Tennessee, includes 11 colleges and more than 300 degree programs.

There are more than 170 undergraduate majors, concentrations, and specializations, and there is more than $46 million in scholarships awarded annually to students of this pick for one of the best colleges in Tennessee.


UT, a leader among good colleges in Tennessee, is ranked as 103rd among all national universities by U.S. News and World Report and 46th among public institutions. Seven alumni from this selection for one of the best TN colleges have been selected as Rhodes Scholars.

The school is also located near Oak Ridge National Laboratory, which offers unique research opportunities for staff and faculty.

This is also the only university to have three presidential papers editing projects, and it’s one of the oldest public universities in the U.S.

The University of Tennessee - good colleges in tennessee

Image Source: The University of Tennessee

Popular Article:  Top Expensive Schools in the World | Ranking | Most Expensive Universities & Colleges in the World

Free Wealth & Finance Software - Get Yours Now ►

Vanderbilt University Review

Vanderbilt University is often ranked as one of the leading TN colleges, and along with being one of the top colleges in Tennessee, it’s also a top school nationally. This is one of the private colleges in Tennessee included on this list of good colleges in Tennessee, and it was founded in 1873.

Key Factors That Led to Our Ranking of This as One of the Best Colleges in TN

Located in thriving Nashville, the following are some reasons Vanderbilt is ranked as one of the good colleges in Tennessee, one of the best private colleges in Tennessee, and one of the best schools nationally.

Research Affiliations

Vanderbilt, among good colleges in Tennessee, excels in many ways. One of these ways is its emphasis on research. There are several research organizations affiliated with Vanderbilt, including the Vanderbilt Institute for Public Policy Studies, Freedom Forum First Amendment Center, Dyer Observatory, and the Vanderbilt University Medical Center.

The Vanderbilt University Medical Center is also the only Level I Trauma Center in Middle Tennessee.


As mentioned above, Vanderbilt doesn’t just rank well among good colleges in Tennessee and the overall best colleges in TN: it’s nationally recognized as well. Vanderbilt University is ranked as number 15 in the 2017 edition of Best Colleges in the National Universities category by U.S. News and World Report.

It’s also in the top 10 in terms of the best colleges for veterans and the best undergraduate teaching, according to U.S. News and World Report.


Vanderbilt has one of the most impressive student-faculty ratios on this list of colleges in Tennessee at 8:1. It’s also worth noting that more than 60% of all classes at Vanderbilt have fewer than 20 students, so there’s a small school feel with big school resources.

The most popular majors at Vanderbilt include economics, social sciences, political science, and government.

The average freshman retention rate is 97%.

Conclusion — Top 6 Best Colleges in Tennessee

Tennessee is a unique southern state offering some great opportunities for education. The Tennessee colleges on this ranking of good colleges in Tennessee are incredibly diverse in their offerings, ranging from the small Maryville College to the massive University of Tennessee.

Each of the best colleges in TN included in this ranking excels in many ways, including academics, student-to-faculty ratio, reputation, and student satisfaction.

Read More: Best Online Colleges | Ranking | Best Online Universities Reviews

AdvisoryHQ (AHQ) Disclaimer:

Reasonable efforts have been made by AdvisoryHQ to present accurate information, however all info is presented without warranty. Review AdvisoryHQ’s Terms for details. Also review each firm’s site for the most updated data, rates and info.

Note: Firms and products, including the one(s) reviewed above, may be AdvisoryHQ's affiliates. Click to view AdvisoryHQ's advertiser disclosures.