Student studyingIf you’re a student, you’ll find 95 colleges in Tennessee, almost equally divided between public ones (48) and private ones (46).

Public and Private Options

As the Tennessee Higher Education Commission discusses, the Tennessee public school system includes both two-year community colleges and four-year colleges and universities. Students interested in first obtaining a two-year degree in a major city in Tennessee may want to consider schools such as Nashville State Community College and Southwest TN Community College, located in Memphis. For those students who are seeking to start their academic career in a four-year public institution in Tennessee, one option is the flagship school, the University of Tennessee, located in Knoxville. For those drawn to Nashville, TN State University is one option.

Private colleges abound in Tennessee, and one well-known one is Vanderbilt University, located in Nashville. Although there is a relatively small undergraduate student body, only 6,851 in 2014, the school has an international presence, and graduates find work around the world. The university is attractive to students nationwide, so whether you’re from Tennessee or a far-away state, you are sure to find a lot of diversity.

During the college selection process students have lots of different factors to consider. In addition to a school’s location, the campus size can be a very important consideration. According to College Stats, the following five schools have the largest student bodies in the state:

A major consideration for all students will be a school’s acceptance rate. As a rule of thumb, to improve the odds of admission to the right school, a student will want to identify schools that are considered a reach and those that are “safe.” According to U.S. News, the following five schools have the lowest acceptance rates in Tennessee:

Some schools have generous acceptance rates. For instance, the University of Tennessee in Knoxville has a 72.49% acceptance rate, which makes this institution a good safety school for many students. Another public school that provides great chances of admission is the Tennessee Technological University, which has an admission rate of 93.16%. It is a good practice to research admission rates and create a short list of schools that range in terms of low, middle, and high acceptance rates.

Tuition Rates

Repayment Options

Yet another major consideration in the college selection process is the cost of tuition and additional attendance costs. Of course, at the point in time when a student is making a list of schools to apply to, he or she will not yet have a financial aid package. In other words, it can be difficult to gauge what a school will actually cost any given student. However, it is important to keep in mind that public community colleges generally offer the very best deals on higher education. As a rule of thumb, private colleges and universities are the costlier options.

To illuminate this discussion, consider the tuition costs at Southwest TN Community College. As this is a public school, there is a difference in tuition based on in-state and out-of-state residency status. A Tennessee resident in 2014 could expect to pay $1,921.50 per semester of 12-credit full-time study. A non-resident with the same credit load will be assessed $7,453.50 per semester. At the University of Tennessee (Knoxville), a public university, a student admitted for the fall 2014 or spring 2015 semester will incur $5,938 per semester if a Tennessee resident and $15,163 per semester if a non-resident.

However, compare these public school rates to those of private universities in Tennessee. For the 2015-2016 academic year, a full year of undergraduate study at Vanderbilt University costs $43,620. At Fisk University, a small and prestigious school, tuition for full-time undergraduate study from 2015-2016 is $19,624 for the year.

Federal Student Loans

When a student is just beginning to learn about financial aid, the amount of information available can seem daunting. It’s important to keep in mind that all financial aid starts in the same place, with completion and submission of the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). Colleges and universities that offer a student admission rely on information reported in the FAFSA to devise a financial aid proposal. Schools, whether public or private, will generally consider a student for all forms of available free aid (money that does not have to be repaid) before considering a student for student loans. When a school determines that an admitted student will likely need to borrow loans to attend, an offer will be made for federal loans, and in some cases, private loans. In general, a school will offer students federal loans before turning to private loans. In other words, financial aid packages are created along a tiered system, with the most favorable possibilities being considered first and the least favorable ones being offered last. There are two main lending sources: the federal government and private banks. When it comes to federal lending, there is one main loan programs: the William D. Ford Federal Direct Loan (Direct Loan) Program. The Direct Loan program includes subsidized and unsubsidized loans. In the case of subsidized loans, when a student is in school or has a qualifying reason, such as a financial hardship when in repayment, the federal government pays the interest on the principal loan amount. With unsubsidized loans, the student is generally always liable for the interest. Clearly, subsidized loans are more favorable, and schools generally consider students for this loan type before turning to unsubsidized loans. The Direct Loan program also includes a product for parent borrowers of undergraduates. An eligible parent may borrow a PLUS Loan, provided the parent is creditworthy and meets other qualifying criteria.

Private Student Loans

Private student loans are essentially consumer loans. These loans are based on a student’s creditworthiness. As most students who are just graduating from high school do not have an established credit history, a creditworthy co-signer is usually required. Schools play a minimal role in this process, but the school will generally be required to certify the amount being borrowed. This measure helps to ensure that students do not over-borrow.

Schools will generally provide students with a list of national banks and local credit unions that have a history of lending to the school’s students. Each student borrower, and any co-signer, is responsible for comparing the terms of each student loan product on offer. The competitiveness of the interest rate may be linked to creditworthiness. For this reason, students with a credit history should review their credit reports for accuracy and fix any issues that could help to improve their score. Similarly, students should seek a co-signer, as necessary, who has an excellent credit history and credit score in order to get the best interest rates available. It is important to note that private loans have stricter repayment terms than federal loans. As a rule of thumb, it is best to exhaust all viable financial aid resources before borrowing a private student loan.

Tennessee’s Role

Girl reading syllabus at a school in TennesseeStudents may assume that states, which have an interest in educating their citizens, provide student loans. However, this is not the case. Tennessee does not have a student lending program. However, the state may provide grant money for eligible students. For more information on grants and other aid, students may contact the Tennessee Student Assistance Corporation.

It is important to keep in mind that federal student loans and state aid are a forms of government aid. For this reason, and in view of current immigration laws, students are generally required to be lawfully present in the United States in order to receive aid. Students with immigration status concerns who intend to pursue higher education in Tennessee should be aware of the Tennessee Eligibility Verification for Entitlements Act. Under this law, the Tennessee Student Assistance Corporation (TSAC) must verify that adult students who receive state public aid are lawfully present in the country. Private student loans are separate from these limitations because they are not a form of government aid.

Depending on the private bank’s requirements, a student without lawful immigration status may still be eligible to borrow loans (a co-signer with lawful status may be required).