Best Colleges in South Dakota

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South Dakota is home to more than 20 postsecondary schools, offering diverse two-year and four-year programs through large universities and small community colleges. Many specialties are offered here, including degree options in medicine, law, education, nursing and seminary training. At first, it may seem intimidating to make a choice between these renowned South Dakota institutions.

To simplify the selection process, we have applied our rigorous methodology to the latest education data to rank the best colleges in South Dakota, including the top four-year and two-year schools.

To provide the most accurate rankings of schools, our custom algorithm identifies these and several other critical elements. Key indicators in our methodology include acceptance rate, student retention, graduation rate and enrollment rates. Our lists below highlight the top two-year and four-year colleges in South Dakota.

2016 Online Education Trends Report: Learn how online programs are changing the face of higher education.

Four-year colleges in South Dakota encompass a range of large, public universities, colleges for special programs and tribal colleges. South Dakota State University boasts the largest student enrollment among four-year public universities in the state, followed closely by the University of South Dakota. Research is the foundation of traditional higher learning programs here, though postsecondary institutions also support a high concentration of technical programs. South Dakota is especially unique for its many tribal colleges; the state houses the second-largest collection of tribal universities in the U.S.

South Dakota residents with a bachelor’s degree earn a higher salary than those without a college degree. Graduates’ salary after attending four-year institutions in South Dakota generally exceeds the average national income, according to the U.S. Department of Education. 73% of students who attended South Dakota State University, for example, earned more than those in the state with only a high school diploma. To explore additional benefits of four-year programs, browse our list of the top colleges in South Dakota, below.

Rank School Name Ranking Score Relative Cost Graduation Rate Location Description

Augustana University

 4/566.67%Sioux Falls, SD


Augustana University allows students to explore careers in 53 majors and graduate or continuing education programs. With a 12:1 student-to-faculty ratio, learners will get the personalized training they need from Augustana’s knowledgeable teaching staff.

A Lutheran college, faith and values are integrated into Augustana campus life, and the school welcomes students from all religious backgrounds. Classes run on a 4-1-4 academic calendar, and the school offers extensive internship, study abroad, undergraduate research, and honors programs to supplement the curriculum.

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South Dakota State University

 2/556.87%Brookings, SD


More than 12,000 students are enrolled at SDSU, making it the largest state university in South Dakota. It’s also one of the most affordable colleges in South Dakota, with 92% of learners receiving financial aid. Academic scholarships are available, and the Veterans Services Office helps U.S. military veterans take advantage of educational benefits. SDSU has a special focus on programs in agriculture, engineering, nursing, pharmacy, and liberal arts, and its graduate program is STEM-focused.

SDSU provides students with hands-on experience through research projects, internships, and choices from over 200 student organizations. A land-grant university, 95% of SDSU’s graduates go on to land jobs, attend graduate school, or take part in internships or fellowships.

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University of South Dakota

 2/555.52%Vermillion, SD


USD is a perfect fit for students seeking learning opportunities both inside and outside of the classroom. Students can join study abroad or honors programs to gain hands-on experience, and graduates have the option of applying to USD’s graduate school, Sanford School of Medicine, or School of Law to continue learning.

With online programs and off-campus centers in Sioux Falls, Rapid City, and Pierre, students can enjoy flexibility while pursuing an affordable and accredited education. On campus, Old Main, East, and Slagle Hall are just a few of USD’s well known buildings that combine old and new architecture for a truly original look.

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Dakota Wesleyan University

 4/544.1%Mitchell, SD


Learning, leadership, faith, and service are the four core values at Dakota Wesleyan, and the basis of students’ experience there. The emphasis on leadership and service makes DWU stand out among other South Dakota colleges, and students can take part in humanitarian services through organizations like Universities Fighting World Hunger and the Children’s Miracle Network.

Students can choose from a selection of unique majors like sports management, Christian leadership, or entrepreneurial leadership to pursue a career that matches their passion. DWU offers online degrees including MBA, RN, and bachelor’s in organizational leadership programs, meaning students can earn their degree away from campus at their convenience.

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Mount Marty College

 4/554.41%Yankton, SD


Focused on faith-based learning, MTMC provides an environment where students can grow educationally, socially, and spiritually. The college’s Catholic Benedictine heritage means that students and faculty have strong foundations of faith-based learning. Mount Mary holds daily Mass and weekly Rosary and Sacrament in the on-campus Peace Chapel, making it ideal for students involved in church services.

An estimated 99% of Mount Marty students receive financial aid. With the college’s monitored advising program, learners are more likely to graduate within four years, saving them tuition and helping them enter the workforce faster.

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Dakota State University

 2/540.7%Madison, SD

Dakota State University understands the important role of technology in students’ education, which is why they lend full-time freshmen a new tablet PC loaded with necessary software, handwriting note capability, and help desk services. After 59 credits, students return the laptop or purchase it at fair market value.

DSU stands out among South Dakota colleges for its Cyber Corps Scholarship Program, which offers a full-ride scholarship and guaranteed job security in federal, state, local, or tribal organizations after graduation. Students can also sign up for the 4+1 Program, which allows them to earn a bachelor’s and master’s degree in just five years.

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Black Hills State University

 2/533.03%Spearfish, SD

At Black Hills State University, students can enjoy quality, affordable education in the beautiful outdoorsy town of Spearfish. They experience suite-style living at the new Crow Peak residence hall, complete with a two-story common room, fireplace, and multimedia study rooms. Many students also participate in clubs like the American Indian Science and Engineering Society, The Jacket Journal, Theater society, the Travel and Tourism Club.

With flexible majors and minors, associate’s and bachelor’s programs, master’s and pre-professional degrees, certificates and online programs, and a new second campus in Rapid City, a degree from BHSU can work for anyone.

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University of Sioux Falls

 4/553.15%Sioux Falls, SD

Ninety-eight percent of USF graduates go on to pursue an advanced degree or work in their field of study. With a 14:1 student-to-faculty ratio, students get the attention they need studying unique majors such as criminal justice, pre-medicine, theology and youth ministry, and music ministry.

USF is a Christian liberal arts university associated with the American Baptist Churches, USA. The emphasis is on teaching students to prepare them for serving God and mankind. Online courses, degree completion programs, and RN-to-BSN degrees help working adults advance their education.

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Northern State University

 2/544.22%Aberdeen, SD

Students attending Northern State University in Aberdeen get to enjoy the great outdoors just outside of their study hall. The school boasts one of the most beautiful campuses among colleges in South Dakota, and hunting, biking, fishing, snowmobiling, and water skiing are just a handful of the popular student activities in Aberdeen.

Students can study abroad at 48 universities in 18 countries, or stay in Aberdeen, where a blend of historic and modern facilities contribute to a safe and small-community atmosphere. The school offers seven associate degree programs, 43 bachelor’s programs, and nine master’s programs, along with seven options for certificates. NSU provided $2.25 million in scholarships last year.

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Most two-year programs in South Dakota are designed to prepare students for careers in mining or technology. Southeast Technical College serves the largest two-year student population in South Dakota. Community colleges not limited to technical programs include Globe University and Kilian Community College; both offer programs in business, healthcare, education and liberal arts disciplines. Regardless of the concentration, two-year schools in South Dakota are designed to provide accelerated options for career-minded students and professionals looking to enhance their career.

South Dakota community college graduates tend to earn a higher salary than those with only a high school diploma. Two-year programs offer a variety of degrees in fields like finance, business and healthcare to prepare students for jobs in- or out-of-state. If you’d like to learn more about pursuing a South Dakota two-year program, start by browsing our list of the best such schools.

Rank School Name Ranking Score Relative Cost Graduation Rate Location Description

Mitchell Technical Institute

 1/567.5%Mitchell, SD


Mitchell Tech boasts a 99% job placement rate, and with 89% of students receiving financial aid, is one of the most affordable two-year colleges in South Dakota. The school offers 30 on-campus and six online programs focusing on subjects such as radiological technology, culinary arts, electrical construction, and information systems.

Mitchell Tech’s unique campus culture, including a competitive rodeo team, archery club, and other events organized by the student representative board, make it a top choice for extracurricular activities.

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Lake Area Technical Institute

 1/573.23%Watertown, SD


Lake Area Technical Institute is located in Watertown, South Dakota. LATI offers both online and on-campus programs in robotics, welding, medical lab technology, agriculture, entrepreneurship, cosmetology, and dental assisting, among others. The institute also awards hundreds of thousands of dollars in scholarships and offers comprehensive Veteran’s benefits.

Due to the high quality training and education offered at LATI, campus career representatives receive hundreds of calls per year from employers looking to meet and hire graduates. An estimated 98% of LATI graduates are working or continuing their education.

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Sinte Gleska University

 1/522%Mission, SD


An American Indian tribal college, Sinte Gleska University stands out among other South Dakota colleges for its Lakota Studies program, Lakota word of the week, Speak Lakota podcast, and the Lakota Documentaries project. Located in Mission on the Rosebud Indian Reservation, SGU offers 25 associate degrees and 23 bachelor’s degrees in business, arts, education, and nursing.

Notable alumni include LeAnne Howe, an American author and distinguished professor, and Albert White Hat, a teacher and author of Lakota language textbooks who translated for several films including Dancing with Wolves.

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Oglala Lakota College

 1/513.07%Kyle, SD


Chartered by the Sioux Tribe, Oglala Lakota College was one of the first tribally chartered higher education institutions in the U.S. Oglala Lakota stands out among other colleges in South Dakota for a teaching style that embraces piya wiconi—a new beginning for harmony in fulfillment of aspirations and dreams. Graduates go on to work in leadership opportunities to help support the Pine Ridge reservation.

After students pursue an associate degree in majors like technology, elementary education, Lakota studies, or tribal law, they can continue their education at OLC through the school’s bachelor’s programs in social work, science, and art, as well as a master’s degree in Lakota leadership and management.

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Western Dakota Technical Institute

 2/537.08%Rapid City, SD


Western Dakota Tech focuses on making students’ education accessible, and allows learners to select the start dates, program, and length of study that best fits their schedules. WDT offers more than 20 programs and seven online programs. Distinct among other South Dakota colleges is WDT’s high-fidelity Medical Simulation Center, which offers five simulators and allows students to practice caring for patients in real-world scenarios with no risk to students or patients.

Students can meet like-minded classmates through campus organizations such as the criminal justice club, fire science club, welding manufacturing skills club, and the transportation tech club, among others.

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Southeast Technical Institute

 1/537.96%Sioux Falls, SD

Southeast Technical Institute allows students to earn an associate degree in 24 months or less. This two-year college is an affordable alternative to a traditional four-year university, and still offers the benefits of living in busy Sioux Falls.

Students can choose from 50 degree paths to launch a career that they are passionate about, including a new diesel agriculture/construction program and degrees in engineering, medicine, media, horticulture, and business. Several programs qualify for the Build Dakota full-ride scholarship fund, which covers 100% of tuition, books, and tools for two years.

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Sisseton Wahpeton College

 1/59.52%Sisseton, SD

Sisseton Wahpeton is an entity of the Sisseton Wahpeton Oyate of the Lake Traverse Reservation, and more than 80% of Sisseton Wahpeton students are tribal members. SWC stands out among other colleges in South Dakota for its TRiO program, which helps low-income and first-generation students succeed through tutoring, counseling, and financial aid.

Students earning a two-year degree in arts or science will learn effective communication, technology, mathematical, and critical thinking skills, all while following the Dakota values. Students wishing to pursue a four-year degree in business and tribal governance can do so through a partnership with Mount Mary College.

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If you’re thinking about applying to one of the best colleges in South Dakota, continuing reading to learn more about living in the Mount Rushmore State.

Named for the Lakota and Dakota Sioux Native American tribes, Midwestern South Dakota is the fifth least densely populated state in the U.S. South Dakota is steeped in Native American culture and history; American Indians comprise the second most populous ethnicity in the state. Historically, South Dakota’s fertile farm lands and predominantly rural atmosphere have made agriculture one of the state’s largest assets, while the service industry has increasingly impacted the local economy in recent years. Also, tourism draws visitors to the state for its mild climate and scenic views, ranging from the Black Hills Mountains to Mount Rushmore.

South Dakota had a per-capita income of $26,311 as of 2014. In addition, 26.7% of South Dakotans 25 and older had a bachelor’s degree or higher, slightly below the national average of 29.3%. Over 90% of residents age 25 and older had at least a high school diploma, higher than the national average of 86.3%.

Below, we’ve profiled two of South Dakota’s major regions:

Regional Spotlight: Eastern South Dakota

  • Major Cities: Sioux Falls, Brookings, Watertown
  • Attractions: Great Plains Zoo and Delbridge Museum, Mccrory Gardens, Pioneer Park
  • Cost of Living: Sioux Falls’ Numbeo Cost of Living
  • Popular Schools: South Dakota State University, Southeast Technical Institute, University of Sioux Falls

Regional Spotlight: Western South Dakota

  • Major Cities: Rapid City, Spearfish, Kyle
  • Attractions: Mount Rushmore, Black Hills Caverns, Dinosaur Park
  • Cost of Living: Rapid City’s Numbeo Cost of Living
  • Popular Schools: Black Hills State University, South Dakota School of Mines and Technology, Oglala Lakota College


South Dakota residents can access in-state tuition prices at public colleges in the state. Students 18 or older must provide proof of state residency; minors must live in South Dakota with either a parent or legal guardian to qualify for reduced tuition.

For Minors:

If a student is a minor when they plan to enroll, they must prove that their guardians live permanently in the state to claim residency themselves. To establish South Dakota residency, a minor must live with a parent or guardian in a household within state borders. If the parents are divorced or separated, the minor must reside with a parent living in South Dakota. Minors must show proof that they lived with their parent in South Dakota prior to turning 18 and prove their intention to continue living with that parent until the beginning of the school year.

For Adults:

Individuals age 18 and older who plan to claim residence must meet specific criteria, including:

  • Physically residing in South Dakota for at least one year prior to declaring residence
  • Proving intent to make South Dakota their home
  • Ability to prove financial independence; adults under age 23 may have to formally claim emancipation from their guardian

Additional Resources for South Dakota College Students

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