29 Resources Tennessee Residents Should Know About Paying for College

If you are unaware of the financial aid resources available to you, figuring out how to fund your college education can seem like an overwhelming process.

Fortunately for Tennessee residents, many federal and state resources exist to help fund your college education, and you don’t have to be the high school valedictorian or demonstrate extreme financial need to qualify for all of them, either.

Let’s discuss the four steps all Tennessee residents should take to fund a college education.

Step 1: Apply for Federal Funding

Your financial aid journey starts when you fill out the FAFSA. FAFSA stands for the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, and it’s your gateway to federal student financial aid, as well as many forms of state financial aid.

The FAFSA can be a tricky form to fill out, which is why the Tennessee Higher Education Commission (THEC) held a FAFSA Frenzy Day in January of  2017. That event allowed high school students and parents to meet with qualified volunteers to help them fill out the FAFSA. High school students and parents should re-visit the THEC website to confirm the date for the upcoming school-year.   

If you need help with your FAFSA right now, you can also check out our handy, free online guide.

Once the FAFSA is completed, you will be automatically evaluated for eligibility for:

  • Federal grants
  • Federal subsidized and unsubsidized loans
  • Some state grants
  • Some types of financial aid offered directly through the college you plan to attend

You’ll want to fill out the FAFSA sooner rather than later in order to be considered for scholarships and grants that have application deadlines.  

Step 2: Apply for State Funding and Scholarships

It is also a good idea to apply for state-sponsored scholarships and grants that you may not be eligible for under the FAFSA alone. Luckily for Tennessee residents, there are a lot of options to choose from.

Tennessee grants include:

  • Helping Heroes Grant for discharged U.S. veterans and current members of the reserve or Tennessee National Guard who have been awarded the Iraq Campaign Medal, the Afghanistan Campaign Medal, or the Global war on Terrorism Expeditionary Medal at or after September 11, 2001. Eligible students who complete and pass 12 or more semester hours will be awarded $1,000 per semester, and eligible students who complete and pass six to 11 semester hours will be awarded $500 per semester. The grant will be awarded on a first come, first served basis.
  • Tennessee Student Assistance Award for students who demonstrate financial aid, have a valid Expected Family Contribution (EFC) of $2,100 or less, and are enrolled at least half time at eligible Tennessee private, public, two-year, or career focused institutions.
  • Tennessee HOPE Foster Child Tuition Grant for foster children who have graduated high school, meet the HOPE Scholarship or HOPE Access Grant requirements, and are admitted to eligible post-secondary institutions. This grant covers full tuition apart from costs already covered by other scholarships and grants.  
  • Wilder-Naifeh Technical Skills Grant for students enrolled in certificate or diploma-seeking programs at a Tennessee College of Applied Technology (TCAT). This is an aid-based grant that funds a maximum of $2,000. Apply through FAFSA.
  • Tennessee Reconnect Grant for adults looking to complete a degree or credential at a Tennessee community college. The Reconnect Grant provides full tuition and is available in select Tennessee counties.

Tennessee scholarships include:

  • Tennessee HOPE Scholarship for students with a score of 21 or higher on the ACT (or equivalent score on the SAT) and a minimum grade point average (GPA) of 3.0. The scholarship funds a maximum of 120 semester hours or eight full-time semesters at any participating two-year and four-year institutions.
  • Aspire Award for students who meet the HOPE Scholarship requirements and whose household has an adjusted gross income of $36,000. The Aspire Award funds a maximum of $250 a semester at two-year institutions or $750 per semester at four-year institutions. Scholarship funds can also be used in the summer.
  • General Assembly Merit Scholarship (GAMS) for graduates of public and eligible private Tennessee high schools with a score of 29 or higher on the ACT (or equivalent score on the SAT) and minimum GPA of 3.75.
  • Tennessee Promise Scholarship for students attending a Tennessee community college, technical college, or other eligible institution offering an associate’s degree. The scholarship provides two years of free tuition. Apply through the  the Tennessee Student Assistance Corporation (TSAC) Portal and by submitting the FAFSA.
  • Tennessee STEP UP Scholarship for students with intellectual disabilities who are enrolled in individualized programs of study at eligible post-secondary institutions. The scholarship funds a maximum of $1,750 per semester for up to four years at participating institutions.  Apply by completing the FAFSA, TSAC, and the STEP UP Scholarship Application.

Check out the full list of Tennessee scholarships and grants here.

Step 3: Apply for Institutional, Local, and National Scholarships

If you’re a current high school student, scheduling an appointment with your guidance counselor can also be beneficial.  Your counselor can help you find local scholarships and grants, as well as assist you in the application process.

Try writing a note on the fridge, or setting a reminder in your phone, so that you don’t forget to stop by the office.

You can also conduct searches online, by visiting websites geared towards finding scholarships, such as CollegeScholarships.com.  

Tennessee residents can use CollegeforTN.org to search for scholarships based on personal characteristics such as talent, religion, ethnicity, and family background.

Some other scholarship resources that you might want to check out include:

Sallie Mae's Scholarship Search, a database of constantly updated scholarships.

Step 4: Apply for a Private Loan

If you’re all out of options, or are in need of more aid, a private loan can help you make up the difference that you’ll need to fund your education.

Before committing, you can use our NitroScore tool to look up how easy your loans will be to repay.

The tool will calculate your total costs, salary after graduation, and potential loans needed based on your school of choice and intended major. It will then provide you with a score detailing how easy those loans will be to repay based on the projected salary.

You can customize the results with info about scholarships, grants and savings — and even compare different college/major combinations.

From there, take a look at our trusted and highly vetted loan partners to see who can give you the best rate.

Click here to see the best banks for a private student loans.

Tennessee residents should have access to a college education. Start planning for your future today.

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