The Tennessee Promise scholarship is a last-dollar scholarship program that provides eligible Tennessee high school graduates the opportunity to attend community or technical college tuition-free.
Since its launch in 2015, the Tennessee Promise has helped over 100,000 students pursue a postsecondary credential beyond high school at low or no cost.
In this blog post, we will define the key terms related to the Tennessee Promise, provide background on the program and its funding structure, analyze common application scenarios students may encounter, and offer practical advice and examples for successfully applying.
By the end, you’ll have a clear understanding of how to maximize your chances of receiving this life-changing scholarship.
Defining Key Terms
Let’s begin by clarifying some important terminology:
Last-Dollar Scholarship – Fills in the gap between other scholarships/grants a student receives and the full cost of tuition and mandatory fees. Unlike normal scholarships, it does not reduce eligibility for other aid programs.
Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) – Federal form used to apply for financial aid like loans, grants, and work-study. Must be submitted by deadline to qualify for Tennessee Promise.
Community College – Public two-year colleges that offer associate degrees and certificate programs at a lower cost than four-year universities.
Mentor – Required volunteer advisor helping Tennessee Promise recipients navigate college requirements, choose a major, and stay on track for graduation.
Understanding these core concepts is essential to navigating the application process successfully. Now let’s examine the Tennessee Promise program in more detail.
Background on the Tennessee Promise
In 2014, Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam proposed the Tennessee Promise program with the goal of increasing the state’s dismally low college-going and completion rates, which lagged behind national averages.
In 2015, the state legislature authorized startup funds and it became the country’s first statewide free community college program.
Each year, the program utilizes over $30 million in state lottery funds to cover tuition and fees beyond Pell grants, HOPE scholarship aid, and other funds for eligible students. No household income cutoff exists, meaning even higher-income families can benefit.
To participate, entering high school seniors must complete the FAFSA, attend mandatory meetings, and be matched with a volunteer mentor to help throughout college.
After graduating high school, students have six years to use the scholarship at a community college to pursue a two-year degree/certificate or to transfer to a four-year university.
This need-based, last-dollar model makes a college education within reach for many Tennesseans by removing financial barriers. Over the past seven years, the Tennessee Promise has demonstrably increased both college-going and four-year graduation rates in the state. Let’s explore the application process in more depth.
Analyzing the Application Process
The Tennessee Promise application typically opens in October of a student’s senior year and requires completing several tasks by published deadlines:
Complete the FAFSA
The single most important requirement. Submitting the FAFSA by the state priority deadline, usually in mid-February, allows extra processing time and makes a student eligible for any need-based aid beyond Tennessee Promise funds if applicable.
Complete the online Tennessee Promise application providing basic information like high school, parent/guardian details, community college or university intent, and acknowledging program terms.
Mandatory information sessions prepare students for college admission tests, placement, orientation, registration and other activities. Missing any meeting risks losing eligibility, so calendars must be marked early.
Students need to submit high school transcripts and scan/upload photo identification to finalize applications online by the late February/March deadline. Completing all steps on time prevents loss of consideration.
Participate in Mentoring
Over the summer after graduation, mentors guide Tennessee Promise recipients through selecting a college/program, applying, enrolling in first-semester classes, financial literacy and more. Monthly check-ins continue for two years.
Maintain Eligibility in College
Once awarded the scholarship, students must make satisfactory academic progress, remain continuously enrolled full-time each semester/year (barring approved exceptions), and fulfill FAFSA renewal requirements to retain benefits.
Let’s examine some common scenarios students may encounter in this process.
Common Application Scenarios
Failing to submit accurate FAFSA information by the state priority deadline due to incorrect income/tax documentation or omission of family members in college means students could miss out on the Tennessee Promise even if all other steps were followed properly. Careful and timely FAFSA completion is key.
Students deciding on a four-year transfer must first finish an associate’s degree or technical certificate program at their initial community college using Tennessee Promise funds. Colleges and mentors assist with using any remaining scholarship eligibility for credits after transferring.
Exceptional circumstances may require part-time schedules, which are permitted as long as academic progress occurs and mentoring/FAFSA requirements continue. Students must petition approval from their community college.
Gap Year Candidacy
Students who take a year off between high school and college are still eligible for Tennessee Promise if meeting other criteria. They can complete or appeal FAFSA and participate in mentoring/informationals later to receive benefits at community college matriculation.
Active Military Duty
High school seniors enlisting may defer college until completing service, which takes experience precedence over scholarship use. College credit options exist through civilian programs at some bases. Tennessee Promise funds remain available for six years when studies commence.
Let’s move to some practical advice and success stories showing how to optimize this process.
Tips From Tennessee Promise Beneficiaries
The keys to Tennessee Promise success are early and consistent effort throughout high school senior year and continued involvement throughout college:
- Complete FAFSA or appeal as soon as tax forms are finalized and check regularly for updates. Errors are a top reason for denial.
- Block mandatory meeting dates the moment they are announced to avoid conflicts. Recruit mentors early as spots fill quickly.
- Use mentors as advisors in selecting community colleges and degree programs aligned with career goals or planned university transfers.
- Start attending information sessions in junior year so any questions can be clarified well in advance of deadlines.
- Apply online before the end of open application periods to prevent technical issues or slow internet connections causing missed submission.
Here are some inspiring beneficiaries stories that demonstrate optimizing the Tennessee Promise process:
- Susan: Dedicated Susan attended all meetings, submitted FAFSA by priority date, and updated it promptly with her mentor when later receiving additional income. She’s graduating this spring with associate’s degree to pursue nursing at a four-year college fully covered by Tennessee Promise and her diligence.
- Mark: After high school graduation, Mark completed an electrical technician certification using Tennessee Promise instead of enrolling that fall. His mentor guided application that included apprenticeship experience to credits once ready for full-time studies, saving time and money while gaining valuable hands-on skills.
- Jennifer: Upon FAFSA completion, Jennifer met with her school advisor who helped find errors causing initial denial. Prompt correction allowed reconsideration and Tennessee Promise award that fall, avoiding delaying college start while re-appealing her case.
As these stories show, meticulous attention to detail paired with effective use of advisors is key to successfully navigating Tennessee Promise from application through graduation. Following tips and deadlines from day one optimizes opportunities to use this generous scholarship.
In summation, obtaining the Tennessee Promise scholarship requires dedicated effort by high school seniors and community college students but tends to result in life-changing access to higher education.
Careful completion of the FAFSA, participation in information sessions and mentoring, and timely online application submission all optimize eligibility and usage of funds.
Real-world examples demonstrate that early preparation, proactive communication, accurate information sharing, and utilizing provided advisors prevent common mistakes jeopardizing awards. Students who start the process their junior year of high school and remain actively involved stand the best chance of taking full advantage of this program.
The Tennessee Promise opens doors to associates degrees, certifications and university transfers that otherwise may have been financially out of reach. With strategic application and continued eligibility, any Tennessee student can step into new opportunities and career pathways thanks to their state’s generous investment in futures.