A One-Two Punch

By Jennifer Sicking

Photos Courtesy of UT Martin

Two students walking across campus at UT Martin.

Two students walking across campus at UT Martin.

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An estimated 33.4 percent of Tennessee’s college-going high school graduates, with a 29 ACT or higher, chose to attend college out of state in 2021.

That means one-third of the best and brightest of Tennesseans leave the state—many not to return.

But now, by offering guaranteed early admissions and expanding the UT Promise qualifying income level, UT leaders hope the students will stay—and attend one of UT’s four undergraduate campuses across the state. It’s a combination unleashed this fall with a goal of making college more accessible and affordable for Tennesseans.

Now Tennessee high school students who graduate in the top 10 percent of their classes and have a 4.0 or higher GPA will be guaranteed admission at one of UT’s undergraduate campuses.

Criteria for Guaranteed Admission:

The University of Tennessee will guarantee first-year admission to all Tennessee high school students who meet any of the following eligibility criteria:

  • Finish in the top 10 percent of high school’s graduating class OR
  • Achieve a 4.0 or higher cumulative GPA

UT campuses in Martin, Pulaski and Chattanooga added a third criteria:

  • Achieve a 3.2 or cumulative higher GPA and have an ACT composite score of 23 or higher (or an SAT score of 1130-1150 or higher)


  • All applicants are required to submit ACT/ SAT test scores, regardless of class rank or GPA.
  • Guaranteed admission means an offer of admission to the University of Tennessee campus to which the applicant has applied (subject to satisfaction of the applicable eligibility requirements), but such offer does not guarantee acceptance into any particular college, school, department, major or program. Students must meet campus application deadlines for guaranteed admission.
  • Class rank and GPA will be determined based on an applicant’s sixth-semester transcript, following the completion of the junior year. UT Knoxville uses a weighted core GPA based on a student’s grades in 16 core academic subjects. Other UT campuses may choose to use a student’s cumulative high school GPA.

“I think this changes the perception of the University of Tennessee,” UT System President Randy Boyd says. “Many people in the state believe that it’s too hard to get into UT, so they don’t even try to apply. Guaranteed admissions lets Tennesseans know that you can get into UT if you meet these criteria.”

The move also further fulfills UT’s land-grant mission of providing access and opportunity to the state’s graduating high school students.

“We wanted to make sure all Tennesseans had access to UT, whether you’re from the inner city or from our rural communities,” he says.

It also allows students to know, if they meet the criteria, they will be guaranteed acceptance into UT. They don’t need to wait with nervous butterflies for an acceptance letter. They can set a goal beginning their freshman year and know they will be admitted to UT when they graduate from high school.

“We want to keep our best and brightest in the state of Tennessee. Letting those students know that they’re accepted earlier will be one of the many things that we do,” Boyd says. “This was part of a one-two punch.”

Accessibility was only part of the move to help students attend a UT institution for their higher education. UT leaders also wanted to make it more affordable. They did so by expanding the UT Promise scholarship’s qualifying income level to $75,000 beginning in fall 2024. Additionally, UT Promise will guarantee a minimum $500 award per semester for qualifying students.

Criteria for UT Promise:

To be eligible to receive the UT Promise scholarship, students must be under the family household income threshold and qualify for the Tennessee HOPE scholarship (or Tennessee HOPE scholarship-nontraditional).

Students additionally must:

  • Be a full-time, continuously enrolled student.
  • Maintain the Tennessee Hope Scholarship.
  • Complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid annually.
  • Complete and submit eight hours of community service every semester.
  • Meet with mentor at least three times during a semester.

UT Promise is a last-dollar scholarship program that guarantees free tuition and fees after other financial aid is received (such as Pell Grants, HOPE Scholarship or other institutional scholarships) for qualifying undergraduate, Tennessee residents at the university’s undergraduate campuses located in Knoxville, Chattanooga, Martin, Memphis and Pulaski. It was established in 2019.

It’s part of UT leaders’ work to make attending UT as affordable as possible—in fact, 48 percent of the UT System’s students graduated without debt in 2022. With the UT Promise expansion to include more Tennessee families, leaders think that percentage will only grow.

“Over two thirds of our Tennessee families can now qualify for UT Promise,” Boyd says. “More students can attend free of tuition and fees, and they can actually get in easier.”