North Dakota is home to 21 colleges and universities, each offering various two-year or four-year programs in a range of disciplines. Historically, large, public universities are research-driven, however, North Dakota postsecondary schools also encompass technology, science and nursing programs. Additionally, North Dakota is one of few states nationwide to host several tribal colleges. With so many options, it may seem difficult, at first, to choose between these renowned higher learning institutions.
As part of the selection process, prospective North Dakota college students compare location, affordability and the length of programs at local postsecondary schools. Fortunately, we have applied our rigorous methodology to the latest education data to rank the best colleges in North Dakota, including the top four-year and two-year schools. To help us rank the best schools with accuracy, our internal algorithm identifies each of the above criteria, along with several other key elements. Standard methodologies include acceptance rate, student retention, graduation rate and enrollment rates. Below, our lists profile the top two-year and four-year colleges in North Dakota.
Best Colleges in North Dakota
The North Dakota University System comprises numerous public and private four-year institutions. The University of North Dakota and North Dakota State University have the largest student enrollment in the state, respectively, alongside other four-year institutions with specialties in nursing and Bible studies, among other subjects. With a wide variety of available concentrations, many programs related to education or medicine, for example, are accredited by multiple agencies to meet the highest national standards in their respective fields.
To further explore the potential career benefits of four-year programs in the state, browse our list below of the top colleges in North Dakota.
North Dakota State University-Main Campus
|Fargo, ND||Cost: $$$$$||Graduation Rate: 55%||
North Dakota State University's main campus is conveniently situated in Fargo, the most populated city in North Dakota. Fargo provides students with a variety of culturally enriching experiences often associated with the university’s vibrant arts community. NDSU enrolls more than 12,000 undergraduate students annually and offers 100 undergraduate majors. Students come from all over the world to earn degrees from NDSU, and 47 states and 79 countries are represented in the student body.
A leader among colleges in North Dakota, NDSU is a land-grant university with an emphasis on innovative research in the areas of sustainability, food systems and security, and community vitality. The university’s exceptional science programs have been included in the National Science Foundation’s list of top programs, and the unique undergraduate degree programs offered by NDSU range from agricultural and biosystems engineering to strategic communication. NDSU students choose from a variety of science minors designed to enhance career opportunities, including soil science and vaccinology.
University of North Dakota
|Grand Forks, ND||Cost: $$$$$||Graduation Rate: 55%||
With over 11,500 undergraduate students and more than 225 academic areas, the University of North Dakota is one of the state’s largest colleges. Located in Grand Forks along the eastern border of the state, UND is an academic leader among North Dakota colleges and strives to instill in its students a sense of global citizenship and the pursuit of lifelong learning. UND is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission and offers several fully-accredited programs including music therapy, nursing, applied engineering, and many more. UND students enjoy access to a variety of services that help ensure a successful academic experience, including career services, counseling, veteran and military services, and international programs. UND hosts more than 275 student organizations, ranging from professional clubs where students can participate in community projects and interact with potential employers to purely recreational, such as the school's anime club.
Minot State University
|Minot, ND||Cost: $$$$$||Graduation Rate: 43%||
Located in Minot, North Dakota, Minot State University is one of the best colleges in North Dakota. MSU strives to provide an educational experience that promotes collaborative learning and community engagement, and with a student/faculty ratio of 14:1, students receive individualized attention and support in their academic endeavors. The university offers over 60 undergraduate degree programs that emphasize experiential learning and student research. MSU houses the Center for the Applied Study of Cognition and Learning Sciences where students can gain valuable research skills and work closely with professors to develop and test theories. The university offers a BA in sociology with three concentrations that allow students to customize their degree to reflect career interests. Unique degree programs available from MSU include addiction studies, bioinformatics, and sign language studies. Student life at Minot State University is diverse and inclusive, and over 60 student organizations are currently active on campus, ranging from the accounting club to the women’s hockey club.
University of Mary
|Bismarck, ND||Cost: $$$$$||Graduation Rate: 54%||
The University of Mary is a private Catholic college located in Bismarck, North Dakota. The university’s high quality academic programs are rooted in Benedictine tradition, and students of all denominations are welcome. Mary offers more than 60 undergraduate programs and serve nearly 3,000 students a year. The university’s many exceptional academic programs are led by experienced faculty who provide students with individualized academic support. Almost 100% of students who attend Mary receive financial assistance, and the school's undergraduate tuition is competitively priced, falling just above half the national average for private schools.
A leader in education among North Dakota colleges, Mary offers a variety of undergraduate programs with five concentrations available in its engineering science program. Students interested in pursuing a degree in ministry and religion can choose from a number of relevant programs offered by the school, including pastoral ministry, theological studies, theology, or philosophy with a concentration in theology.
University of Jamestown
|Jamestown, ND||Cost: $$$$$||Graduation Rate: 50%||
The University of Jamestown is located in Jamestown, North Dakota, and the school is almost as old as the city itself. Established in 1883, just 11 years after the town of Jamestown appeared on the map, the University of Jamestown is a private liberal arts college with more than 30 areas of study. The university describes its approach to higher education as the “Journey to Success,” where students are taught to view their academic experience through many perspectives: inward, outward, beyond, and forward. This approach encourages students to tap inner resources and to develop plans for professional growth and career success.
One of the top colleges in North Dakota, the University of Jamestown offers a variety of undergraduate degree programs, including 12 pre-professional areas of study and four kinesiology degrees. Student life at the University of Jamestown is as diverse as its degree programs, and students have the opportunity to participate in many campus organizations ranging from the current affairs club to swing dancing.
Bismarck State College
|Bismarck, ND||Cost: $$$$$||Graduation Rate: 45%||
Located in the capital city of Bismarck, Bismarck State College is part of the North Dakota University System (NDUS) and, with almost 4,000 students in attendance annually, is the third largest NDUS college in the state. Bismarck State College offers its students an affordable, high-quality education: in-state student tuition for full-time students is roughly $3,500 per year. The university awards almost $500,000 in scholarships every year to freshmen and sophomores. A higher-education leader among community colleges in North Dakota, Bismarck State College offers an array of technical degree programs, transfer-ready programs, and a fully online bachelor’s degree of applied science in energy management. The school's four-year energy management degree is the only degree of its kind offered in the nation, and enrollment begins every eight weeks. Students interested in earning transferable credit from one of Bismarck State College’s liberal arts transfer programs can choose from a variety of fields, including business education, criminal justice, military science, and much more.
Dickinson State University
|Dickinson, ND||Cost: $$$$$||Graduation Rate: 34%||
Located in Dickinson, North Dakota, Dickinson State University ranks among leading colleges in North Dakota. Popularly known as the “College on the Hill", the university overlooks the city of Dickinson and is conveniently located near sites of national importance, including the infamous Badlands and the Theodore Roosevelt National Park. Not only does DSU provide an exciting environment for adventure seekers and outdoor enthusiasts, the school offers 40 high quality undergraduate degree programs designed to promote creativity and collaborative scholarship.
DSU students can choose from a variety of academic areas, such as agricultural and technical studies, fine and performing arts, and natural sciences. DSU also offers degrees in teaching and nursing. Incoming freshmen with a 3.5 GPA or higher have the opportunity to participate in the Theodore Roosevelt Honors Leadership Program, which prepares students for leadership roles through a variety of interactive skill-building exercises. DSU's leadership program awards students with a $3,000 scholarship every semester.
Valley City State University
|Valley City, ND||Cost: $$$$$||Graduation Rate: 35%||
Valley City State University was founded in 1890 as a teacher’s training school. Today the school is a leader among teacher education programs and offers a variety of high quality undergraduate degree programs. VCSU is located in Valley City less than 60 miles west of Fargo, and its beautiful campus sprawls across 55 acres of landscaped woodlands populated by an eclectic mix of historic and modern buildings. The school's student-focused academic programs emphasize the mastery of technological skills critical to career success in the 21st century global society. VCSU's cutting-edge computer systems and software engineering program offers two competitive undergraduate degrees, and the school offers the only BA in software engineering available in North Dakota. One of the best teacher colleges in North Dakota, the university’s exceptional elementary education program prepares students for careers in teaching grades first through sixth, and graduates are equipped with initial teacher licensure for the state of North Dakota.
Mayville State University
|Mayville, ND||Cost: $$$$$||Graduation Rate: 31%||
Founded in 1889, Mayville State University enrolls more than 1,100 students annually and offers 77 fully-accredited and affordable academic programs. Undergraduate degree options include sport management, mathematics, library and information sciences, and nursing. MSU also offers a master of arts in teaching program for those who hold an unrelated bachelor’s degree but want to enter the teaching profession. Additionally, the university boasts an integrated distance education platform, which provides asynchronous online classes and 12 degrees. Certain degrees can be earned through a hybrid delivery method, while others, including the MAT, are fully online, which enables nontraditional learners to pursue academic and career advancement while fulfilling other obligations.
MSU offers some of the lowest tuition rates among colleges in North Dakota, including incrementally reduced prices for students in surrounding and partner states. Opportunities for campus engagement include intramural athletics and organizations like the Student Education Association and Alpha Phi Sigma, the national honor society.
Trinity Bible College and Graduate School
|Ellendale, ND||Cost: $$$$$||Graduation Rate: 36%||
Located in Ellendale, North Dakota, Trinity Bible College and Graduate School is a private college and graduate school that operates in conjunction with the General Council of the Assemblies of God and is accredited by the Association of Biblical Higher Education. One of the top Christian colleges in North Dakota, TBC offers its students nine undergraduate degrees that incorporate Biblical studies in program curriculum. Its teacher education degree programs are available through Valley City State University, and students complete the Biblical studies portion of the degree at TBC. The college offers missionary program opportunities for high school graduates who are unsure of their academic future: the school's Pack Your Bags program is, as the school puts it, "useful for students who do not have a clear direction for the next step in their lives".
Best Community Colleges in North Dakota
North Dakota's two-year colleges provide career training in business, healthcare, manufacturing and technology. Governed by the North Dakota University system, Bismarck State College and North Dakota State College of Science house the largest student populations among community colleges in the state. Programs offered at two-year institutions incorporate a variety of disciplines, though most facilities are focused on producing highly skilled professionals who can pursue gainful employment in the local industrial economy. Whatever the concentration, two-year schools in North Dakota can provide accelerated options for career-driven students.
North Dakotans who are community college graduates tend to earn a higher salary than those with only a high school diploma. Agriculture, tourism and energy are among the top industries in the state, with a variety of two-year college programs aimed at developing relevant career training and work experience. To learn more about two-year programs, browse our list of the top schools in North Dakota.
North Dakota State College of Science
|Wahpeton, ND||Cost: $$$$$||Graduation Rate: 50%||
NDSCS is a Wahpeton- and Fargo-based two-year institution providing associate degree programming, diplomas, and certificates in liberal arts and career and technical studies. Among the school’s notables are its 12:1 student-to-faculty ratio, one-on-one academic and career guidance, affordability (95% of students receive financial aid), and a job placement rate of 90% for graduates.
NDSCS has articulation agreements with four-year institutions. Associate degree programs designed for transfer include biotechnology, agriculture, business administration, chiropractic, education, and engineering. The school stands out among community colleges in North Dakota for its innovative programs. Students earning an AAS in microelectronics technology become proficient in aspects of electronics such as microcontrollers, electronic communications, and troubleshooting. The AAS in robotics, automation, and mechatronics technology program has a 100% job placement rate. Campus life includes more than 30 clubs & organizations and eight intramural leagues.
Lake Region State College
|Devils Lake, ND||Cost: $$$$$||Graduation Rate: 47%||
LRSC, located in Devils Lake, is among the community colleges in North Dakota providing students with academic education, vocational, and workforce training in various fields. The school’s associate of arts (AA) and associate of science (AS) in liberal arts degrees require 60 total credit hours or more for completion, including 39 credit core requirements and 21 credits of elective coursework. Both degrees are designed for students planning to earn a bachelor’s degree at a four-college. LRSC’s partnership with Mayville State University makes it easy for students to transfer their associate degree towards a bachelor’s program at the university.
Associate of applied science (AAS) degrees can be earned in fields such as automotive technology, early childhood education, information technology, law enforcement, and nursing. Of note is the AAS in wind technology, the first of its kind in North Dakota, preparing technicians to fix and maintain wind turbines.
Cankdeska Cikana Community College
|Fort Totten, ND||Cost: $$$$$||Graduation Rate: 3%||
The mission of Cankdeska Cikana is to provide its students with the academic opportunities necessary for independence and self-sufficiency. The school is unique among community colleges in North Dakota because it works to address the specific needs of the Spirit Lake Dakota people, including the furtherance of their culture and language. AAdegrees are offered in fields such as business administration, liberal arts, and social work. Of note is the AA in Dakota studies, a program that introduces students to the Dakota people’s history, language, and sovereignty, with an emphasis on the Spirit Lake Dakota Nation.
AAS degrees can be earned in fields such as graphic arts, office technology, and computer applications. AS degrees are offered in four areas: health, physical education, and recreation; natural resource management; pre-engineering; and pre-nursing. The AAS in automotive technology is delivered in collaboration with Lake Region State College.
Dakota College at Bottineau
|Bottineau, ND||Cost: $$$$$||Graduation Rate: 32%||
Located on a 35-acre campus in north central North Dakota, DCB is one of 11 campuses in the state’s university system. The institution’s catalog of programs include parallel/transfer coursework leading to AA and AS degrees and 33 career and technical programs leading to AAS degrees, diplomas, and certificates.
DCB is among two-year colleges in North Dakota offering the AA and AS core liberal arts curriculum designed for transfer to a baccalaureate program at four-year institutions. Associate degrees can be earned in fields such as accounting, chemistry, finance, health professions, and pre-engineering. AAS degrees can be earned in the fields of business, computer technology, education and human development, health professions, natural resources, and photography. Students life on the DCB campus includes clubs and organizations; for the outdoorsy student, Lake Metigoshe and the Turtle Mountains are very close.
Williston State College
|Williston, ND||Cost: $$$$$||Graduation Rate: 27%||
WSC is a two-year college located in Williston -- dubbed Boomtown USA because of the community’s illustrious history and an ongoing oil boom. WSC provides students with the academic and career programming necessary for success in a wide range of fields. One of the best community colleges in North Dakota, WSC offers a transfer curriculum leading to AA and AS degrees in the liberal arts; WSC has historical ties to the the University of North Dakota, one of the four-year institutions to which students can transfer. AAS degrees can be earned in fields such as petroleum production technology, business management, nursing, and accounting.
Of note is WSC’s Re-InVET Yourself Program, helping veterans accomplish their educational and lifelong learning objectives. Campus activities include the 250,000-square-foot community recreation center with indoor walking/running tracks, tennis courts, batting cages, and a golf simulator.
Living in North Dakota
If you're thinking about applying to one of the best colleges in North Dakota, continuing reading to learn more about living in the Peace Garden State.
North Dakota is the 19th largest state in the nation, and the state with the 4th smallest population. Located in the Great Plains region of the U.S., North Dakota is ideal mining territory, producing an abundance of natural gas, crude oil, coal and other fossil fuels. In fact, North Dakota's numerous natural resources helped its economy endure the recent recession, during which an oil boom in the state brought jobs to the area and grew the populations of several major cities. A rich Native American history and strong religious ties make North Dakota unique among the 50 states; North Dakota has the most churches per capita, as well as the largest church-going population in the U.S.
North Dakota's per-capita income was the 20th highest in the U.S. in 2009, with residents earning an average income of $39,870 per year. As of 2013, 27.7% of North Dakotans 25 and older had a bachelor's degree or higher, slightly below the national average of 28.8%. 90.9% of residents age 25 and older had at least a high school diploma, which is well above the national average of 86%.
Below, we've profiled two of the major academic regions of North Dakota:
- Central North Dakota
- Major Cities: Bismarck, Minot
- Attractions: Former Governors' Mansion, Dakota Zoo, Fort Abraham Lincoln State Park
- Cost of Living: Bismarck's Numbeo Cost of Living
- Popular Schools: Bismarck State College, Minot State University, University of Mary–Bismarck
- Eastern North Dakota
- Major Cities: Fargo, Grand Forks, Wahpeton
- Attractions: The Roger Maris Museum, Plains Art Museum, Red River Zoo
- Cost of Living: Fargo's Numbeo Cost of Living
- Popular Schools: North Dakota State University, University of North Dakota, North Dakota State College of Science
North Dakotans interested in receiving in-state tuition must prove residency at state colleges. Students 18 or older must provide proof of state residency; minors must live in North Dakota with either a parent or legal guardian to qualify for reduced tuition.
- For Minors:
A student still classified as a minor at the time of enrollment must prove that their guardians live permanently in North Dakota to claim personal residency. To establish residency in North Dakota, a minor must live within state borders in a household with a parent or guardian. If the parents are divorced or separated, the minor must reside with a parent living in North Dakota. Minors must prove residency with their parent in North Dakota before turning 18 and prove their intention to continue living with that parent until the school year starts.
- For Adults:
Individuals age 18 and older who plan to claim residence must meet specific criteria, including:
- Physically residing in North Dakota for at least one year prior to declaring residence.
- Proving intent to make North Dakota your home.
- The ability to prove financial independence; adults under age 23 may have to formally claim emancipation from their guardian.
Additional Resources for North Dakota College Students
- Best Colleges in North Dakota of 2017
Rank School Location 1 North Dakota State University-Main Campus Fargo, ND 2 Minot State University Minot, ND 3 University of North Dakota Grand Forks, ND 4 Dickinson State University Dickinson, ND 5 Valley City State University Valley City, ND 6 Bismarck State College Bismarck, ND 7 University of Jamestown Jamestown, ND 8 University of Mary Bismarck, ND 9 United Tribes Technical College Bismarck, ND 10 Trinity Bible College Ellendale, ND Best Community Colleges in North Dakota 1 Lake Region State College Devils Lake, ND 2 North Dakota State College of Science Wahpeton, ND 3 Dakota College at Bottineau Bottineau, ND 4 Cankdeska Cikana Community College Fort Totten, ND 5 Williston State College Williston, ND
- Best Colleges in North Dakota of 2016
Rank School Location 1 University of North Dakota Grand Forks, ND 2 Mino State University Minot, ND 3 North Dakota State University Fargo, ND 4 Bismark State College Bismarck, ND 5 University of Mary Bismarck, ND 6 Valley City State University Valley City, ND 7 Dickinson State University Dickinson, ND 8 University of Jamestown Jamestown, ND 9 Mayville State University Mayville, ND Best Community Colleges 1 Lake Region State College Devils Lake, ND 2 Nueta Hidatsa Sahnish College New Town, ND 3 Dakota College at Bottineau Bottineau, ND 4 Turtle Mountain Community College Belcourt, ND 5 North Dakota State College of Science Wahpeton, ND 6 United Tribes Technical College Bismarck, ND 7 Sitting Bull College Fort Yates, ND 8 Bismarck State College Bismarck, ND 9 Cankdeska Cikana Community College Fort Totten, ND 10 Williston State College Williston, ND