Tennessee’s Best Private Colleges & Universities of 2021

Private colleges, unlike large public institutions, can be a great option for students wanting a more intimate campus experience, more personal attention from excellent professors, and more immediate access to support services. Here is our list of the best private colleges in Tennessee.

Tennessee’s Best Private Colleges & Universities 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

What is a public college? And what is the difference between a private and public college?

Public and private colleges and universities operate under different business models — one is a private company with private funding; the other is owned by the state and receives both state and federal funding to operate. If you’re weighing the pros and cons of private vs. public college, consider that many public colleges provide diverse course offerings, influential professors, and an excellent return on your investment.

Public colleges are schools that receive most of their funding from tax revenues. As a result, the cost of a four-year degree at a public university is often lower than the equivalent cost at a private college — especially for students attending a public school in their home state. According to the National Center for Educational Statistics, the average annual cost (tuition, fees, room and board for full-time students) at a four-year public university was slightly over $20,000. In contrast, private universities cost, on average, nearly $43,000 annually.

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How do we determine Tennessee's best private 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.

This list is composed entirely of private colleges and universities that offer four-year undergraduate degrees. We’ve identified 27 private universities in Tennessee, 20 of which satisfy our criteria. The list below of the best private universities in the state satisfies the following four conditions:

  1. It must be a private, 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 Private Colleges & Universities in Tennessee

  1. #1

    Vanderbilt University

    #95 institution's historical influence
    #16 overall school desirability

    Tuition + fees

    $54K

    Acceptance

    12%

    Graduation

    93%

    Student body

    11K

    Median SAT/ACT

    1510/34

    Nashville, TN

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    What is Vanderbilt University known for?

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

    • Biology
    • Medical
    • Business
    • Law
    • Literature
    • Education
    • Psychology
    • Mathematics
    • Philosophy
    • History

    Most Influential Alumni

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  2. #2

    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

    REQUEST INFO
  3. #3

    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

  4. #4

    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

  5. #5

    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

  6. #6

    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
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  7. #7

    Lincoln Memorial University

    #2449 institution's historical influence
    #1140 overall school desirability

    Tuition + fees

    $23K

    Acceptance

    69%

    Graduation

    53%

    Student body

    3K

    Median SAT/ACT

    1100/22

    Harrogate, TN

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    What is Lincoln Memorial University known for?

    Lincoln Memorial University’s faculty and alumni have been influential in:

    • Medical
    • Education
    • Business
    • Law
    • History
    • Literature
    • Biology
    • Political Science
    • Earth Sciences
    • Mathematics
  8. #8

    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

  9. #9

    Carson–Newman University

    #4997 institution's historical influence
    #287 overall school desirability

    Tuition + fees

    $30K

    Acceptance

    79%

    Graduation

    52%

    Student body

    3K

    Median SAT/ACT

    1050/24

    Jefferson City, TN

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    What is Carson–Newman University known for?

    Carson–Newman University’s faculty and alumni have been influential in:

    • Psychology
    • Education
    • History
    • Mathematics
    • Religious Studies
    • Biology
    • Nursing
    • Business
    • Philosophy
    • Political Science

    Most Influential Alumni

  10. #10

    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

  11. #11

    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

  12. #12

    Lipscomb University

    #1851 institution's historical influence
    #1338 overall school desirability

    Tuition + fees

    $35K

    Acceptance

    62%

    Graduation

    69%

    Student body

    4K

    Median SAT/ACT

    1185/26

    Nashville, TN

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    What is Lipscomb University known for?

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

    • Psychology
    • Education
    • Business
    • Religious Studies
    • Medical
    • Law
    • History
    • Political Science
    • Engineering
    • Philosophy

    Most Influential Alumni

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  13. #13

    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
    REQUEST INFO
  14. #14

    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

  15. #15

    Union University

    #2445 institution's historical influence
    #1263 overall school desirability

    Tuition + fees

    $23K

    Acceptance

    58%

    Graduation

    66%

    Student body

    3K

    Median SAT/ACT

    1170/26

    Jackson, TN

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    What is Union University known for?

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

    • Education
    • Religious Studies
    • Business
    • Political Science
    • Medical
    • History
    • Nursing
    • Philosophy
    • Engineering
    • Biology

    Most Influential Alumni

    REQUEST INFO
  16. #16

    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
  17. #17

    Trevecca Nazarene University

    #3608 institution's historical influence
    #1267 overall school desirability

    Tuition + fees

    $27K

    Acceptance

    63%

    Graduation

    56%

    Student body

    3K

    Median SAT/ACT

    1179/23

    Nashville, TN

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    What is Trevecca Nazarene University known for?

    Trevecca Nazarene University’s faculty and alumni have been influential in:

    • Religious Studies
    • Engineering
    • Education
    • Business
    • Physics
    • Psychology
    • Literature
    • Political Science
    • Medical
    • History

    Most Influential Alumni

    REQUEST INFO
  18. #18

    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

  19. #19

    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

  20. #20

    Belmont University

    #1895 institution's historical influence
    #698 overall school desirability

    Tuition + fees

    $37K

    Acceptance

    83%

    Graduation

    71%

    Student body

    8K

    Median SAT/ACT

    1225/26

    Nashville, TN

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    What is Belmont University known for?

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

    • Business
    • Education
    • Literature
    • History
    • Medical
    • Engineering
    • Communications
    • Law
    • Political Science
    • Nursing
    REQUEST INFO

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