Tennessee scholarships, student loans and grants

Volunteers have dozens of opportunities to pay for college.

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Graduates of Tennessee schools have some of the smallest debt loads around — it ranks 41st on the list of states with the most undergraduate student debt. Part of this is Tennessee’s push to provide students with scholarships and grants to help offset the rising cost of college. But unless you’re a resident with good grades, you may not qualify for many of Tennessee’s scholarship programs.

Top Tennessee college scholarships

Tennessee offers a variety of merit-based scholarships for students who’ve achieved well-rounded academic success.

Tennessee HOPE Scholarship

The HOPE Scholarship is one of the main ways Tennessee students receive funding for college. It’s available to first-year students and can be used in conjunction with a number of other scholarships to reduce your total cost of attendance.


General Assembly Merit Scholarship

The General Assembly Merit Scholarship is designed to supplement the HOPE Scholarship. It’s available to first-year college students who have both an exceptional GPA and test scores.


Aspire Award

The Aspire Award is a supplement to the HOPE Scholarship. It provides students from low-income families additional funding each semester, up to $750. To qualify and remain eligible, you’ll need to maintain the requirements outlined for the HOPE Scholarship.


Ned McWherter Scholars Program

The Ned McWherter Scholars Program offers academically competitive Tennessee high school graduates a chance to receive a large scholarship for each of their four years of university study. To apply, you need to complete an application — available in the Tennessee Student Assistance Corporation (TSAC) portal — by February 15 each year.

The Tennessee Promise Scholarship

Tennessee stands out by offering residents a chance at tuition-free attendance at a community or technical college in the state. The list of eligible schools encompasses 13 community colleges and 27 technical colleges as well as a variety of other institutions that offer associate degrees.

In addition to the scholarship, students also receive mentorship and community service opportunities to bolster their resume.

You’ll need to apply individually to the program to be accepted. If awarded the Tennessee Promise Scholarship, you must maintain a 2.0 GPA as well as meet other criteria, like completing eight hours of community service a semester, to continue receiving tuition-free education. Other restrictions may apply, so reach out to your mentor if you have any questions or concerns.

Top Tennessee grants for school

In addition to scholarships, Tennessee also funds grants for a variety of students.

Tennessee HOPE Access Grant

The Tennessee HOPE Access Grant is designed to help students who may not qualify for the HOPE Scholarship. It has lower GPA and test score criteria, but it also requires that your parents make less than $36,000 per year. In addition, it can’t be renewed after 24 attempted semester hours.


Tennessee Student Assistance Award (TSAA)

The TSAA grant is awarded to students from low-income families who are seeking postsecondary education. To apply, you just need to complete the FAFSA — though because funding is limited, you should submit as early as you can. The exact amount you receive is based on the institution you attend and other awards you’ve already received.


Tennessee Reconnect Grant

The Tennessee Reconnect Grant is available to residents of Tennessee who haven’t earned an associate or bachelor’s degree and are considered independent students. Once you’ve successfully completed an associate degree or certificate — or five years have passed — your grant will end.


Dual Enrollment Grant

The Tennessee Dual Enrollment Grant is available for high school juniors and seniors who are currently enrolled in an eligible postsecondary institution. Total award amount varies based on the number of courses you choose to take.

Unlike some other Tennessee grants, you have to apply through an application — which can be found on the TSAC website. Keep in mind that taking more than four dual enrollment courses will reduce the amount you can receive on the HOPE Scholarship.


Helping Heroes Grant

The Helping Heroes Grant was established to make postsecondary education more affordable for US veterans and current members of a reserve or Tennessee National Guard unit. Grant funds are awarded after successful completion of a semester, provided there are no failing grades. Grants can be renewed for eight semesters or until you earn a bachelor’s degree.

Do I qualify for Tennessee scholarships and grants if I go to school out of state?

Probably not. Most of the grants and scholarships offered by the state of Tennessee are meant to encourage residents to stay in state for college. In addition, applicants must be residents of Tennessee for at least one year to qualify — though there are some exceptions for students who live close to the Tennessee border.

Thinking of going to school outside of Tennessee? Check out these tips for applying to college out of state to cut down on costs.

Does Tennessee offer special student loans to residents?

No, Tennessee doesn’t offer any specialized student loan programs to residents. If you aren’t eligible for any of the scholarships or grants funded by the state of Tennessee, you may want to consider some of your other options below.

Other ways to pay for school in Tennessee

Although Tennessee has a slew of funding opportunities for students, it may not cover all of your cost of attendance. You might want to look into these other financing options as well.

Federal and college scholarships and grants

On top of state-funded programs, you may also qualify for federal grants and scholarships — especially if you have financial need.

In addition, the specific college or university you’re attending may offer its own scholarships and grants to students. Visit your school’s website to learn more — institutions like Vanderbilt have a handful of need- and merit-based programs available.

Federal and private student loans

When all else fails, student loans can bridge the gap when scholarships and grants fall short. Federal student loans typically come with the lowest rates and best repayment terms. But if that still isn’t enough, you may want to consider your private student loan options as well.

Compare private student loan providers

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Explore scholarships, student loans and grants in other states

Bottom line

Tennessee has dozens of scholarship and grant opportunities for students from every walk of life — provided that walk was done as a resident of Tennessee.

If you don’t qualify or need a little extra funding, check out our guide to paying for college for other financing options to consider.

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