Tennessee’s Best Liberal Arts Colleges of 2021

Liberal arts colleges are a great option for students seeking a well-rounded education in an intimate campus setting. The best liberal arts colleges in Tennessee offer a diverse selection of degree programs with opportunities for a highly individualized educational experience.

Tennessee’s Best Liberal Arts Colleges of 2021

Colleges and Universities in Tennessee

About one third of the higher learning institutes in Tennessee are public schools. Students who attend these schools can expect to pay anywhere between $4,000 to $13,000 in tuition and have the option to pursue degrees in fields such as economics, history, nursing, literature, education, and criminal justice. Tennessee’s largest public school, the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, boasts some impressive alumni, including Oprah Winfrey, Kurt Vonnegut, and Cormac McCarthy. The private school alumni are equally as notable. For example, author James Patterson and Nobel Peace Prize recipient Muhammad Yunus both attended Vanderbilt University in Nashville.

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Tennessee also offers nearly 30 religiously affiliated schools, the largest being Belmont University in Nashville, located just blocks from the famous Music Row. Here, students can study a wide range of fields including Christian leadership, audio engineering technology, and biophysics. Additionally, Tennessee offers students several loan forgiveness programs. Math and science teachers, minority teachers, and registered nurses interested in becoming teachers or administrators who meet certain requirements may be eligible.

Tennessee is home to mouthwatering barbecues, electrified blues, and the sweeping majesty of the Smoky Mountains National Park. And with access to countless historic sites, unique museums, and lush green spaces, students attending one of the more than 60 colleges and universities in The Volunteer State will have plenty to do and see in their downtime.

Discover more about the top programs and higher education learning opportunities available in Tennessee.


What are Tennessee’s Colleges & Universities?

Tennessee’s Best Overall

Related: Differences between research universities and teaching colleges

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How do we determine Tennessee's best colleges and universities?

Methodology

The people affiliated with a school are ultimately what make it great. This is why, at the undergraduate level, we rank the best colleges and universities based on what we call “Concentrated Influence”. Concentrated Influence takes the combined influence score of a college or university’s top academic influencers (including faculty and alums) and divides it by the school’s total number of undergraduates.

Using concentrated influence gives small and mid-sized schools an opportunity to shine by taking away the size advantage of larger universities. A small school with proportionately more influential faculty than a large school, whose influence in absolute terms may be bigger, will nonetheless score higher in a concentrated influence ranking. Our approach highlights undergraduate schools that truly rank for excellence, regardless of size.

If you are serious about finding the best colleges and universities for a bachelor’s degree, you should be asking where the most influential professors are teaching and whether their graduates are themselves advancing the school’s reputation for academic excellence.

Most ranking sites rely on an opaque combination of reputation surveys and arbitrary performance metrics. Concentrated Influence provides a ranking that is free from bias, insulated from manipulation, and reflective of real-world educational outcomes.

A liberal arts college is a school that puts a premium on undergraduate studies and offers a broad range of subjects for students to study. A college of liberal arts typically provides smaller class sizes, more direct engagement with professors, and, most importantly, the opportunity to sample a wide range of subject areas on the way to a bachelor’s degree. We’ve identified a total of 22 liberal arts colleges and universities in Tennessee, 14 of which satisfy our criteria, the top 2 have graduation rates above 70%. The list below of the best liberal arts schools in the state satisfies the following four conditions:

  1. It must be a non-profit institution.
  2. It must be fully accredited.
  3. It must offer a broad range of bachelor’s degrees.
  4. It must have a graduation rate of greater than 40%.

Best Liberal Arts Colleges & Universities in Tennessee

  1. #1

    Rhodes College

    #1097 institution's historical influence
    #1162 overall school desirability

    Tuition + fees

    $51K

    Acceptance

    51%

    Graduation

    82%

    Student body

    2K

    Median SAT/ACT

    1325/29

    Memphis, TN

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    What is Rhodes College known for?

    Rhodes College’s faculty and alumni have been influential in:

    • Literature
    • Education
    • Political Science
    • History
    • Religious Studies
    • Medical
    • Computer Science
    • Biology
    • Psychology
    • Philosophy

    Most Influential Alumni

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  2. #2

    Sewanee: The University of the South

    #1169 institution's historical influence
    #1056 overall school desirability

    Tuition + fees

    $47K

    Acceptance

    56%

    Graduation

    80%

    Student body

    2K

    Median SAT/ACT

    1245/27

    Sewanee, TN

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    What is Sewanee: The University of the South known for?

    Sewanee: The University of the South’s faculty and alumni have been influential in:

    • Religious Studies
    • Literature
    • Business
    • History
    • Philosophy
    • Biology
    • Political Science
    • Earth Sciences
    • Psychology
    • Computer Science

    Most Influential Alumni

  3. #3

    Fisk University

    #557 institution's historical influence
    #843 overall school desirability

    Tuition + fees

    $22K

    Acceptance

    66%

    Graduation

    51%

    Student body

    <1K

    Median SAT/ACT

    1040/21

    Nashville, TN

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    What is Fisk University known for?

    Fisk University’s faculty and alumni have been influential in:

    • Literature
    • Education
    • Political Science
    • History
    • Business
    • Sociology
    • Mathematics
    • Chemistry
    • Biology
    • Physics

    Most Influential Alumni

  4. #4

    Bryan College

    #2569 institution's historical influence
    #159 overall school desirability

    Tuition + fees

    $17K

    Acceptance

    51%

    Graduation

    47%

    Student body

    1K

    Dayton, TN

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    What is Bryan College known for?

    Bryan College’s faculty and alumni have been influential in:

    • Education
    • Business
    • Engineering
    • Religious Studies
    • Medical
    • Biology
    • Political Science
    • History
    • Literature
    • Mathematics

    Most Influential Alumni

  5. #5

    Southern Adventist University

    #4767 institution's historical influence

    Tuition + fees

    $23K

    Acceptance

    74%

    Graduation

    53%

    Student body

    3K

    Collegedale, TN

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    What is Southern Adventist University known for?

    Southern Adventist University’s faculty and alumni have been influential in:

    • Medical
    • Education
    • Nursing
    • Religious Studies
    • History
    • Business
    • Law
    • Literature
    • Political Science
    • Communications
    REQUEST INFO
  6. #6

    Maryville College

    #3038 institution's historical influence
    #1137 overall school desirability

    Tuition + fees

    $36K

    Acceptance

    62%

    Graduation

    45%

    Student body

    1K

    Median SAT/ACT

    1141/24

    Maryville, TN

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    What is Maryville College known for?

    Maryville College’s faculty and alumni have been influential in:

    • Education
    • Business
    • History
    • Religious Studies
    • Biology
    • Medical
    • Political Science
    • Psychology
    • Chemistry
    • Literature

    Most Influential Alumni

  7. #7

    University of Tennessee at Martin

    #2198 institution's historical influence

    Tuition + fees

    $10K

    Acceptance

    65%

    Graduation

    54%

    Student body

    6K

    Martin, TN

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    What is University of Tennessee at Martin known for?

    University of Tennessee at Martin’s faculty and alumni have been influential in:

    • Education
    • Political Science
    • Business
    • History
    • Biology
    • Mathematics
    • Medical
    • Earth Sciences
    • Communications
    • Engineering

    Most Influential Alumni

  8. #8

    King University

    #2416 institution's historical influence
    #1412 overall school desirability

    Tuition + fees

    $32K

    Acceptance

    60%

    Graduation

    50%

    Student body

    2K

    Median SAT/ACT

    1097/22

    Bristol, TN

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    What is King University known for?

    King University’s faculty and alumni have been influential in:

    • Education
    • Religious Studies
    • Literature
    • Business
    • Nursing
    • Political Science
    • History
    • Medical
    • Engineering
    • Communications

    Most Influential Alumni

  9. #9

    Tusculum University

    #8552 institution's historical influence

    Tuition + fees

    $26K

    Acceptance

    67%

    Graduation

    36%

    Student body

    2K

    Median SAT/ACT

    1050/20

    Greeneville, TN

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    What is Tusculum University known for?

    Tusculum University’s faculty and alumni have been influential in:

    • Education
    • History
    • Political Science
    • Medical
    • Mathematics
    • Biology
    • Literature
    • Business
    • Sociology
    • Computer Science

    Most Influential Alumni

  10. #10

    Lee University

    #2408 institution's historical influence
    #1378 overall school desirability

    Tuition + fees

    $20K

    Acceptance

    83%

    Graduation

    63%

    Student body

    4K

    Median SAT/ACT

    1070/24

    Cleveland, TN

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    What is Lee University known for?

    Lee University’s faculty and alumni have been influential in:

    • Religious Studies
    • Education
    • Business
    • Psychology
    • History
    • Nursing
    • Biology
    • Communications
    • Literature
    • Political Science
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  11. #11

    Cumberland University

    #1674 institution's historical influence
    #180 overall school desirability

    Tuition + fees

    $25K

    Acceptance

    54%

    Graduation

    54%

    Student body

    2K

    Median SAT/ACT

    1005/20

    Lebanon, TN

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    What is Cumberland University known for?

    Cumberland University’s faculty and alumni have been influential in:

    • Education
    • History
    • Mathematics
    • Business
    • Political Science
    • Medical
    • Biology
    • Literature
    • Computer Science
    • Nursing

    Most Influential Alumni

  12. #12

    Christian Brothers University

    #2905 institution's historical influence
    #1298 overall school desirability

    Tuition + fees

    $35K

    Acceptance

    50%

    Graduation

    57%

    Student body

    2K

    Memphis, TN

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    What is Christian Brothers University known for?

    Christian Brothers University’s faculty and alumni have been influential in:

    • Engineering
    • Medical
    • Education
    • Biology
    • Computer Science
    • History
    • Psychology
    • Religious Studies
    • Chemistry
    • Physics
  13. #13

    Freed–Hardeman University

    #9767 institution's historical influence
    #1059 overall school desirability

    Tuition + fees

    $23K

    Acceptance

    81%

    Graduation

    66%

    Student body

    2K

    Median SAT/ACT

    1130/24

    Henderson, TN

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    What is Freed–Hardeman University known for?

    Freed–Hardeman University’s faculty and alumni have been influential in:

    • Business
    • Education
    • History
    • Religious Studies
    • Literature
    • Medical
    • Sociology
    • Computer Science
    • Communications
    • Nursing

    Most Influential Alumni

  14. #14

    Tennessee Wesleyan University

    #3164 institution's historical influence
    #1398 overall school desirability

    Tuition + fees

    $26K

    Acceptance

    61%

    Graduation

    48%

    Student body

    1K

    Median SAT/ACT

    1045/22

    Athens, TN

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    What is Tennessee Wesleyan University known for?

    Tennessee Wesleyan University’s faculty and alumni have been influential in:

    • Education
    • Criminal Justice
    • Nursing
    • Psychology
    • Business
    • Sociology
    • Chemistry
    • Biology
    • Mathematics
    • History

    Most Influential Alumni

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