Tennessee Readiness Policies


High School and Postsecondary Alignment

SREB’s Challenge to Lead 2020 goals call for states to align middle grades and high school policies with college-readiness standards, to recognize multiple paths to graduation and to provide students with diverse postsecondary options and resources. The following tabs summarize how Tennessee aligns its policies to promote smooth transitions for students through high school and beyond.  


College and Career Planning in K-12

State regulation requires districts to administer a career-interest inventory to seventh grade students. Prior to entering high school, students complete an initial plan of study. By the end of the 10th grade, students should complete a second career interest inventory and revise their plan to include course work for the final two years of high school as well as career options and postsecondary plans. Students collaborate with middle grades and high school counselors to create these plans, updating them annually.

The Tennessee Higher Education Commission administers Tennessee’s federally funded GEAR UP TN grant program, a seven-year discretionary grant program that aims to increase the number of low-income, first-generation students enrolling and succeeding in college across 15 Tennessee counties. GEAR UP TN provides direct services to a cohort of students, beginning in the seventh grade and continuing through the first year of postsecondary education. GEAR UP TN also provides services to students in the senior class of participating high schools each grant year.

As part of the GEAR UP grant, the Tennessee Department of Education and THEC offers CollegeforTN.org, an online, one-stop-shop that provides information for Tennessee students and their families to help them plan, apply and pay for college.

Tennessee has an online College and Career Planning System, available to all students in grades six through 2, allowing students to explore career options, learn more about themselves and plan for higher education and the workforce. The Tennessee Higher Education Commission and Student Assistance Corporation provide an additional statewide web portal, College Pays, to help students and their families plan for college.


High School Graduation Requirements

Course and Diploma Requirements for Students Entering the Ninth Grade in 2020 and Beyond

Students must complete at least 22 units to earn a standard high school diploma.




Notes and Substitutions



English I

English II

English III

English IV 

AP, IB or dual enrollment English courses or Advanced Composition



Algebra I

Algebra II


One additional math course

AP, IB or dual enrollment math courses




Chemistry or Physics

One additional lab science

AP, IB or dual enrollment science courses

Social Studies


U.S. History and Geography   

1/2 credit Economics

1/2 credit U.S.  Government 

World History and Geography

IB or dual enrollment social studies courses

Personal Finance


Three years of JROTC may be substituted if the JROTC instructor attends the Personal Finance training.

Physical Education


May substitute JROTC, marching band, cheerleading, etc. 

Fine Arts



Foreign Language


Must be two years of the same foreign language



May consist of math and science, career and technical education, fine arts, humanities, AP or IB courses

Total Credits 22  

A public high school student may complete an early high school graduation program and be eligible for unconditional entry into a public two-year institution of higher education or conditional entry into a public four-year institution of higher education if the student meets the requirements of T.C.A. § 49-6-8303, also known as the Move on When Ready Act.

Graduation with Honors, State Honors and State Distinction

Seal of Biliteracy 

Students may earn a Seal of Biliteracy when they demonstrate a high level of proficiency in speaking, reading, and writing one or more languages in addition to English. English learners may also earn the Seal of Biliteracy for demonstrating English Proficiency. To earn this designation, students must meet the following requirements:

  1. Complete all the English requirements for graduation with an overall GPA of 3.0 or higher in those courses.
  2. Demonstrate proficiency in the chosen language by meeting benchmark scores on approved assessments of language proficiency. To see more of these requirements, see TN’s High School Policy 2.103.

Tri-Star Scholarship 

Students who earn a composite score of 19 or higher on the ACT, or the equivalent score on the SAT, and earn a department-promoted capstone industry certification may be recognized as a TN Tri-Star Scholar.

State Distinction

Students may graduate with state distinction when they demonstrate skills and knowledge that may include forensics, mock trial, and career and technical student organizations. State distinction is for academic-based competitions hosted by a statewide or national student organization.

Assessment Requirements

Tennessee administers at least ten regular end-of-course exams as part of the Tennessee Comprehensive Assessment Program: English I and II, Algebra I and II, Integrated Math I, II, and III, Geometry, Biology I, U.S. History and Geography. Exam results must count for some percentage of a student’s final course grade. Passing the EOC exams is not required to graduate from high school. To obtain a regular diploma, all students in grade 11 must take either the ACT or SAT. Students are required to take a project-based U.S. Civics test in high school. Students must also pass a United States citizenship and immigration test with a score of 70% or higher.


Accelerated Learning Options in High School

Competency-Based Credit

Tennessee high school students may earn college-level credit by receiving satisfactory scores on College Level Exam Program assessments. Exams are currently offered in 34 subjects. Postsecondary institutions determine whether and to what extent CLEP exams will count toward college credit.

Students, ages 5 to 19, may also take Cambridge International Examinations and can earn college-level credit at approved Cambridge International schools. Some schools may base their entire curriculum on Cambridge qualifications while others may incorporate Cambridge into their current learning program. The Tennessee Department of Education offers financial assistance to help low-income students pay for certain Cambridge exams.  

Career and Technical Education

In Tennessee, career and technical education means the “rigorous academic, technical, and employability skills or content that is taught through career focused standards and courses in grades K-12 and postsecondary which prepare learners for advanced education, training, and employment in aligned occupations and careers.”

Tennessee’s CTE opportunities are organized based on the National 16 Career Clusters Framework and further specified into programs of study or career pathways. High school students may choose to concentrate in one of these pathways to fulfill the three-credit “elective focus” graduation requirement. Students participating in approved CTE programs of study may earn postsecondary credit through opportunities including dual enrollment, industry certification articulation agreements, statewide dual credit assessment opportunities, or national programs, such as AP.

The Tennessee Department of Education offers work-based learning opportunities through which juniors and seniors may earn postsecondary credit by completing capstone experiences such as apprenticeships, internships, clinical experiences and other practicum placements that align with the student’s area of elective focus.

Dual Enrollment and Dual Credit

Dual enrollment opportunities allow high school students to earn postsecondary credit by enrolling in and successfully completing a postsecondary course. High school credit is awarded based on local policy. Courses can be taught on the college or high school campus or virtually and are led by postsecondary faculty or credentialed adjunct faculty.

Through the Dual Enrollment Grant Program, the state provides financial assistance to cover tuition costs for the courses. The grant pays the full cost of tuition and fees for a student’s first two dual enrollment courses at a community college ($500 per course). Additionally, students identified as “high-need” may receive additional funding through the Governor’s Investment in Vocational Education Act for up to four courses.

Dual Credit courses allow students to earn postsecondary credit and high school credit for courses taught on the high school campus by trained high school teachers. There are two types of dual credit opportunities in Tennessee.

Local Dual Credit

A local dual credit course is a high school course that is aligned to a postsecondary course. Students can receive postsecondary credit by successfully completing the course and passing an assessment developed and/or recognized by the credit-granting postsecondary institution.

Statewide Dual Credit

The statewide dual credit courses are high school courses with accompanying challenge exams created by Tennessee secondary and postsecondary faculty work groups. The work groups reviewed existing high school course standards and the aligned postsecondary course to determine the additional learning objectives for students to show mastery of the postsecondary material. Students who meet or exceed established exam cut scores earn postsecondary credit. Statewide dual credit courses must be approved by the Consortium for Cooperative Innovative Education before they can be offered as part of the state’s current pilot program. Tennessee currently has three fully implemented dual credit courses and eight which are still in a pilot phase.

Advanced Placement/International Baccalaureate

The Tennessee Department of Education lets students participate in College Board’s AP Program that offers students the opportunity to earn college credit through successful completion of related exams.

The International Baccalaureate Diploma Programme provides students age 16 to 19 attending an approved IB World School the opportunity to receive postsecondary credit while still in high school through course completion exams.

The Department of Education has set up a funding structure to help low-income students pay for certain AP and IB examinations.

Early College High Schools

The early college high school model is designed to allow students to simultaneously earn a high school diploma and an associate degree or two years of credit toward a bachelor’s degree. Tennessee has several early college high schools throughout the state, including those in Memphis that are part of the national Early College High School Initiative. There are similar schools in Nashville, Knoxville, Jackson and Johnson City, with several other districts looking to build these types of programs.

Early High School Graduation

Chapter 488 (2011) created the Move on When Ready program. Eligible public-school students in grade 11 or 12 to complete an early high school graduation program. Students receive unconditional entry into a public two-year institution or conditional entry into a public four-year institution. To qualify for the Move on When Ready early diploma, students must fulfill each of the following:

  • Earn 18 specified core credits
  • Have a cumulative GPA of at least 3.2
  • Score at the On-Track or Mastered level on each EOC taken
  • Meet ACT/SAT benchmarks set by the Tennessee Higher Education Commission
  • Achieve a passing score on a nationally recognized foreign language proficiency assessment
  • Complete at least two early postsecondary courses (e.g., AP, IB, dual enrollment or dual credit)

Postsecondary Admission Requirements


There are two public postsecondary systems in the state — the Tennessee Board of Regents and the University of Tennessee. The TBR system includes six universities, 13 community colleges and 27 colleges of applied technology. The UT system includes three universities and a health sciences center.

To receive a regular high school diploma, all students must complete a 22-unit curriculum and complete the ACT or SAT in their junior year of high school.

Chapter 869 (2016) created institutional boards at TBR’s six universities. Since then, the local boards have set admission requirements. The Tennessee Board of Regents sets admission requirements for community colleges and colleges of applied technology. Community colleges have open-enrollment policies, but these institutions may use ACT/SAT scores for advisement and placement purposes. 

The University of Tennessee admission requirements also incorporate the core high school graduation requirements. Students must submit high school transcripts and either the ACT or SAT for consideration of admission to the University of Tennessee


Postsecondary Placement Policies


Board of Regents

University boards have set placement policies since the enactment of Chapter 869 in 2016. The Tennessee Board of Regents revised placement rules for community colleges in March 2019. Community colleges may use four assessments: ACT, SAT, Accuplacer, and the Seamless Alignment and Integration of Learning Support program. Students scoring at or above the cut score are exempt from Learning Support.

ACT/SAT Placement Cut Scores

Readiness Area















Institutions require students who score below the cutoff in writing, reading, and/or math to enroll in corequisite learning support courses.

Community colleges may provide standalone learning support to non-degree seeking students whose program does not require college-level math, English or reading.

University of Tennessee System

The system’s three undergraduate institutions set minimum ACT and SAT cut scores for enrollment in specific English and math courses. Students may document passing scores on an Advanced Placement, CLEP or the online math placement exam to qualify for the first math course required for their major.

All three institutions require students with low ACT English or SAT critical reading sub-scores to take an additional course or participate in a supplemental writing lab.

UT-Martin requires students who score below 21 on the ACT English and/or ACT Math subtests to enroll in the lowest applicable college-level courses.


State Financial Aid for Undergraduates

Merit-Based Aid

The Tennessee HOPE scholarship provides merit-based aid to recent high school graduates who attended approved Tennessee public or independent institutions. Students must have a score of 21 on the ACT (or 1060 SAT) or a 3.0 weighted high school grade-point average. Students must maintain a 2.75 college GPA to renew the HOPE scholarship through the first 48 credit-hours attempted and a 3.0 GPA to renew after 72 credit hours attempted. The maximum annual award is $2,250 per full-time enrollment semester for freshmen and sophomores. The annual maximum award for juniors and seniors is $2,850 per full-time enrollment semester. Those attending two-year institutions can be rewarded up to $1,600 per full-time enrollment semester.

HOPE scholars may qualify for supplemental awards, including the General Assembly Merit Scholarship and the need-based ASPIRE Award.

The General Assembly Merit Scholarship provides up to $1,500 per year to supplement the HOPE scholarship for students who score at least 29 on the ACT Composite (or 1330 SAT) and earn a weighted high school GPA of 3.75.

The Wilder-Naifeh Technical Skills Grant, a part of the TELS Program, is available to Tennessee residents who attend one the state’s 27 colleges of applied technology. Recipients completing a technical diploma of at least 900 clock hours may be eligible to receive a HOPE Scholarship by enrolling at an eligible postsecondary institution within three years of completing the initial credential.

The state also supports the Ned McWherter Scholars Program, which is intended to encourage academically superior Tennessee high school graduates to attend college in the state. The award is $6,000 of which $3,000 is contributed by the state and $3,000 is contributed by the college or university attended. The award may be renewed three times for a total of four years, and recipients must attend a 3.0 GPA and attend full-time.

Need-Based Aid

The ASPIRE Award provides up to $1,500 per year if the adjusted gross income of HOPE Scholars, their parents, or spouses (if applicable) is less than $36,000, as measured by the federal IRS formula.

Tennessee graduates who have an Expected Family Contribution (EFC) under $3,500 can receive additional aid through the Tennessee Student Assistance Award. Funding varies based on the institution and is awarded on a first-come, first-served basis.


The HOPE Access Grant provides financial aid to students who earn between a 2.75-2.99 weighted high school GPA, score between 18-20 on the ACT (or 940-1050 on the SAT) and have an annual household income of $36,000 or less. While the HOPE Access Grant expires after one academic year, students can receive the HOPE scholarship if they maintain a 2.75 GPA for their first two semesters of college. The maximum award for the non-renewable grant is $2,500 for full-time students and $1,750 for those going part-time.

The Tennessee Promise is a last-dollar award, meaning the program covers the remaining portion of tuition and fees after deducting proceeds from federal and state aid sources. Recipients may use the award to pursue certificates, technical diplomas and associate degrees.

The TCAT Reconnect Grant is a last-dollar grant that pays the remaining balance of tuition and mandatory fees after other state and federal financial aid have been applied. Eligible adults must pursue an associate degree, technical degree, or technical diploma at a Tennessee community college or technical college. The grant can also be used at eligible public or private colleges or universities towards an eligible associate degree, but not as a last-dollar grant.


Postsecondary Feedback to High Schools

The Tennessee Board of Regents maintains the Tennessee High School Pipeline Dashboard and publishes annual reports providing information on recent high school graduates enrolled in college, subdivided by district, school, college and postsecondary system. These reports track college enrollment, first-year college GPA, average ACT scores and median course loads, broken down by race and ethnicity. The Higher Education Commission publishes the annual Tennessee Higher Education Fact Book, which provides detailed information about higher education enrollment and persistence in the state.