Tennessee may be most famous for being the home of country music, specifically its state capitol of Nashville, but the state should also be well-known for providing its residents with the opportunity to afford to attend college.
Similar to other states’ programs, the Tennessee Higher Education Commission and Student Assistance Corporation offer Tennessee students scholarships and grants to help them attend in-state public or private postsecondary institutions. The program is called the Tennessee Education Lottery Scholarship Program (TELS) and, as its name implies, is funded by the net proceeds of the Tennessee lottery.
During the 2019-2020 school year alone, nearly 151,000 Tennessee students received some type of financial aid from the program, according to the TELS Annual Report. All that financial aid totaled up to be $404 million.
Generally, 63% of Tennessee students that receive TELS aid graduate from a Tennessee postsecondary institution within six years of their start date as well.
General Eligibility Requirements
While there are eight types of scholarships and grants in the TELS, each have their own eligibility requirements, renewal criteria and award amounts. There are a few general eligibility requirements they all share though:
- A student must be a Tennessee resident
- A student must graduate from an eligible Tennessee high school
- There are some exceptions to this rule that include high schools located in bordering out-of-state counties, students with active-duty military parents, regionally accredited out-of-state boarding schools, etc.
- A student must be enrolled for their postsecondary education in one of the eligible Tennessee public colleges, universities or private colleges
- A student’s standardized test scores must be taken on a national or state test date AND prior to the first day of a student’s college enrollment
- A student must complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) annually
Tennessee HOPE Scholarship
The most common award from the TELS is the Tennessee HOPE Scholarship. This scholarship is geared towards freshmen entering their first semester of college.
To meet the additional eligibility requirements for the HOPE Scholarship, a student must:
- Score a minimum of 21 on the ACT OR a minimum of 1060 on the SAT
- These scores exclude the essay section and/or the optional subject area battery tests
- OR finish high school with a minimum 3.00 GPA
- Enroll at any eligible, in-state postsecondary institution within 16 months of the student’s high school graduation date
If a student meets these criteria, and is attending a four-year institution OR a two-year institution with on-campus housing, they can receive the following awards:
- Up to $1,750 per semester as a full-time student as a freshman or sophomore
- Up to $2,250 per semester as a full-time student as a junior or senior
For students attending a two-year institution, they can receive the following award:
- Up to $1,500 per semester as a full-time student as a freshman or sophomore
- This can also be used for summer terms at both four-year and two-year institutions
A student does need to meet the renewal criteria for the HOPE Scholarship to continue to receive funding throughout their academic career. In fact, 57% of HOPE Scholarship recipients go on to renew their eligibility after each term.
In order to renew eligibility, a student must:
- Maintain a minimum 2.75 cumulative GPA after attempting 24 to 48 credit hours
- Maintain a minimum 3.00 cumulative GPA after attempting 72 to 96 credit hours
- Maintain a minimum 3.00 cumulative GPA after attempting 120 credit hours
- If a student’s program of study requires more than 120 credit hours to complete, they can receive funding, but that funding cannot be for more than 136 credit hours
HOPE Scholarship eligibility and funding can only be regained one time if a student becomes ineligible due to grades. Aside from becoming academically ineligible, a student can also become ineligible for additional HOPE Scholarship funding by:
- Earning a bachelor’s degree
- Passing the five-year mark of the student’s initial enrollment at any postsecondary institution
- Attempting over 120 credit hours
- Unless the student’s program of study requires more than 120 credit hours to complete
- Receiving HOPE Scholarship funding for eight full-time semesters at any postsecondary institution
General Assembly Merit Scholarship
The General Assembly Merit Scholarship (GAMS) is awarded to entering freshmen as a supplement to the HOPE Scholarship. The academic eligibility requirements for GAMS are much more rigorous than the HOPE Scholarship.
To be eligible for GAMS, a student must:
- Graduate from an eligible Tennessee public high school or an eligible private school (Categories 1, 2 or 3)
- Receive a final, minimum 3.75 GPA in high school
- Score a minimum of 29 on the ACT OR a minimum of 1330 on the SAT
- This excludes the essay portion and/or the optional subject area battery tests
If a full-time student is deemed eligible for GAMS, they will receive up to $1,500 in additional funding. These extra funds will be equally distributed for the fall and spring semesters (and summer semester, if applicable). Part-time students will be awarded with a pro-rated amount.
91% of all GAMS recipients renew their eligibility after each semester. The GAMS renewal criteria are the same as the HOPE Scholarship’s renewal criteria.
The Aspire Award is also a supplemental award to the HOPE Scholarship. Whereas GAMS is merit-based, Aspire is based upon the financial need of a student.
To be eligible to receive the Aspire Award, a student must meet all the HOPE Scholarship requirements as well as have a family-adjusted gross income of $36,000 or less. This income amount will be listed on an IRS tax form for either a dependent student’s parents or for an independent student and/or the student’s spouse (if applicable).
Eligible students attending a four-year institution can receive up to $750 per semester; this can also be put towards summer terms. Eligible students attending a two-year institution can receive up to $250 per semester; this can also be put towards summer terms.
Tennessee HOPE Access Grant
The Tennessee HOPE Access Grant is similar to the HOPE Scholarship, but the HOPE Access Grant is geared more towards the financial need of a student over their academic performance.
In addition to meeting the majority of the HOPE Scholarship requirements, an eligible student for the HOPE Access Grant must:
- Have between a 2.75 to 2.99 final high school GPA
- Score between an 18 to 20 on the ACT OR score between a 960 to 1050 on the SAT
- This is excludes the essay section and/or the subject area battery tests
- Have a family-adjusted gross income of $36,000 or less
- This will be listed on the IRS tax form for a dependent student’s parents or for an independent student and/or the student’s spouse (if applicable)
Eligible full-time students attending a four-year institution can receive up to $1,250 per semester, including for use during summer terms. Eligible full-time students attending a two-year institution can receive up to $875 per semester, including for use during summer terms.
The caveat to being eligible for the HOPE Access Grant is a student cannot also be eligible for the HOPE Scholarship at the same time.
Tennessee HOPE Scholarship – Nontraditional
The Tennessee HOPE Scholarship – Nontraditional is for nontraditional aged students and/or students who have not been enrolled in any college for at least two years from the date of their last college enrollment.
To be eligible for the Nontraditional HOPE Scholarship, a Tennessee resident must:
- Be at least 25 years old
- Enroll in a bachelor’s degree program at an eligible, in-state four-year postsecondary institution and
- Enter as a freshman or
- Be at least two years since the student last attended any postsecondary institution
- OR enroll in a bachelor’s degree program at an eligible, in-state four-year postsecondary institution
- Maintain continuous enrollment following completion of an associate degree as a Tennessee Reconnect Recipient
- Have a family-adjusted gross income of $36,000 or less
- Meet postsecondary semester academic benchmarks of:
- Minimum 2.75 cumulative GPA after attempting 12 credit hours
- Minimum 2.75 cumulative GPA after attempting 24 to 48 credit hours
- Minimum 3.00 cumulative GPA after attempting 72 to 96 credit hours
If a full-time student qualifies for the Nontraditional HOPE Scholarship, they can receive:
- Up to $1,750 per semester as a freshman or sophomore at a four-year institution or two-year institution with on-campus housing
- Up to $2,250 per semester as a junior or senior at a four-year institution or two-year institution with on-campus housing
- Up to $1,500 per semester as a freshman or sophomore at a two-year institution
- These awards can be used towards summer terms
Wilder-Naifeh Technical Skills Grant
The Wilder-Naifeh Technical Skills Grant is geared towards students who want to attend a technical college in Tennessee over a traditional four-year university.
To be eligible for the one-time Wilder-Naifeh Technical Skills Grant, a Tennessee resident must:
- Complete their FAFSA application
- Enroll in a certificate or diploma program at an eligible Tennessee College of Applied Technology
- Maintain satisfactory academic progress and continue enrollment in a Tennessee College of Applied Technology
- Have not previously received the Wilder-Naifeh Technical Skills Grant
Students who have previously qualified and received HOPE Scholarship funding may still be eligible for the Wilder-Naifeh Technical Skills Grant.
The reward for this grant is $2,000 (or no more than the cost of attendance to the technical school).
Middle College Scholarship
To be eligible for the Middle College Scholarship, a Tennessee high school student must:
- Complete and submit the Middle College Scholarship application by September 1
- Obtain a minimum 3.00 high school GPA by the end of their sophomore year
- Enroll full-time in and begin taking college classes at an eligible, in-state community college during their junior year of high school
To maintain eligibility for the Middle College Scholarship going into their senior year of high school, a student must:
- Re-submit their Middle College Scholarship application
- Maintain a 3.00 college semester GPA
- Be enrolled full-time in college courses
If a student earns their associate degree or graduates high school, they will become ineligible for the Middle College Scholarship.
Students that earn the Middle College Scholarship will receive $1,000 per semester (up to $2,000 per school year).
Helping Heroes Grant
The Helping Heroes Grant is designed to help honorably discharged U.S. military veterans or current members of a military reserve or the Tennessee National Guard afford to attend college. This award is given to eligible recipients on a first-come, first-served basis.
To be eligible for the Helping Heroes Grant, a Tennessee resident must:
- Be an honorably discharged veteran from the U.S. Armed Forces or a former or current member of a military reserve or the Tennessee National Guard
- Have been awarded with:
- The Iraq Campaign Medal or
- The Afghanistan Campaign Medial or
- The Global War on Terrorism Expeditionary Medal (on or after September 11, 2001)
- Enroll at an eligible, in-state two- or four-year postsecondary institution
- Have not yet earned a bachelor’s degree
- Not be in default on a federal Title IV educational loan or Tennessee education loan
- Not owe a refund on a federal Title IV financial aid program or Tennessee student financial aid program
- Not be in jail
The Helping Heroes Grant award amount varies based upon the student’s enrollment. If a student is enrolled in 12+ credit hours, they can receive $1,000 per semester. If a student is enrolled in 6 to 11 credit hours, they can receive $500 per semester. If a student is enrolled in less than six credit hours, they will not receive any funds.
A student can also only receive the Helping Heroes Grant for a maximum of eight full semesters.
To lose eligibility for the Helping Heroes Grant, a student must have:
- Previously received eight full semesters of Helping Heroes Grant funding
- Passed the eighth anniversary of their honorable discharge
- Earned a bachelor’s degree
Major Tennessee Colleges and Universities
There are nearly 60 colleges in Tennessee that are considered as eligible schools to attend for students who qualify to receive TELP funding. This list includes public and private colleges, universities and even community colleges. Some of those school include:
- East Tennessee State University in Johnson City (public)
- Knoxville College in Knoxville (private)
- Middle Tennessee State University in Murfreesboro (public)
- Tennessee State University in Nashville (public)
- University of Memphis in Memphis (public)
- The University of Tennessee in Knoxville (public)
- The University of Tennessee at Chattanooga in Chattanooga (public)
- The University of Tennessee at Martin in Martin (public)
- Vanderbilt University in Nashville (private)
Tennessee residents can jam out to the great tune of receiving college financial aid thanks to these helpful scholarship and grant programs from the Tennessee Education Lottery Scholarship Program.