South Dakota is the 17th-largest state in the U.S. by area but houses the nation's fifth-smallest state population. Its economy is driven by three major industries: service, agriculture, and tourism. People travel great distances to take in state and national parks, such as the iconic Mount Rushmore and Badlands National Park, as well as other attractions in the Black HIlls region.
Compared to national averages, South Dakota boasts a relatively low cost of living and a low unemployment rate. According to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, some of South Dakota's most popular occupations -- by number of employees -- include registered nurses, bookkeepers and accounting clerks, and customer service representatives.
Top 10 Colleges in South Dakota
- Augustana University - Sioux Falls, SD
- University of South Dakota - Vermillion, SD
- South Dakota State University - Brookings, SD
- Mount Marty College - Yankton, SD
- Sinte Gleska University - Mission, SD
- Dakota State University - Madison, SD
- Oglala Lakota College - Kyle, SD
- Northern State University - Aberdeen, SD
- Black Hills State University - Spearfish, SD
- University of Sioux Falls - Sioux Falls, SD
Pursuing a college degree is a great way for individuals of all ages to increase their skills and overall employability, but choosing which school to attend can feel like an overwhelming task. South Dakota offers a diverse system of public, private, religious, and nonsectarian institutions of higher education, and each school features its own notable strengths and characteristics.
To help simplify your decision-making process, we've compiled the top 10 accredited colleges in South Dakota. Read on to learn more about campus culture, admission requirements, and program offerings at each school to determine which best suits your needs.
2020 Best Accredited Colleges in South Dakota
|Sioux Falls, SD||Cost: $$$$$||Graduation Rate: 71%||
A private university affiliated with the Lutheran Church, Augustana University was recently ranked ninth among regional Midwest universities by U.S. News & World Report. Located in the thriving Sioux City community, the school offers a 12-to-1 student-to-faculty ratio, as well as a variety of extracurricular activities.
Utilizing a semester-based 4-1-4 schedule, AU divides its curriculum into two categories. The program designates 59 credits to a systematic generalized education known as "The Augustana Plan," which concentrates on critical thinking, communication skills, and many of the essential elements associated with a classical education.
From there, the university offers over 100 areas of study between majors, minors, and pre-professional pathways, with the most popular fields being nursing, biology, business administration, elementary education, and psychology. Along with Civitas -- the school's honors program -- AU also provides a plethora of study abroad opportunities, and nearly half of enrolled students participate in some level of international learning.
University of South Dakota
|Vermillion, SD||Cost: $$$$$||Graduation Rate: 55%||
Established in 1862, the University of South Dakota is the state's oldest public university. This major institution occupies 274 acres in Vermillion and is home to the state's only medical school and law school. It is also the location of the state's largest and most venerable political science department. Online learning and off-campus programs extend USD's reach to students across the country.
Approximately 10,000 students attend USD each year. The university's 202 undergraduate programs and 78 graduate programs are organized into 10 colleges and schools based on discipline and degree level. Available areas of study include archeology, clinical psychology, journalism, music performance, neuroscience, and statistics. Signature and honors programs offer advanced opportunities for research, study abroad, and service learning.
First-year applicants must meet one of the following requirements: a minimum ACT or SAT score of 21 or 1070, respectively; a minimum 2.6 GPA; or a high school class rank in the top 50%. To apply, prospective students must complete an application and submit transcripts and standardized test scores.
South Dakota State University
|Brookings, SD||Cost: $$$$$||Graduation Rate: 55%||
An annual enrollment of more than 12,000 students makes South Dakota State University the largest higher education institution in the state. This land-, space-, and sun-grant university sits on 261 acres in Brookings, where students participate in NCAA athletics, Greek and residential life, and more than 200 clubs and organizations.
SDSU is one of the region's top research universities, with a particular emphasis on fields like agricultural science, engineering, human health and nutrition, and renewable energy. A diverse academic portfolio featuring more than 180 undergraduate, 50 graduate, and 30 online options, allows students to pursue degrees in disciplines including aerospace, military science, allied health, and the performing arts.
Incoming first-year students must possess qualifying ACT or SAT scores (at least 18 and 950, respectively), a minimum 2.6 GPA, or a high school class rank in the top 60%. A complete application, official transcripts, and test scores are required for admission consideration.
Mount Marty College
|Yankton, SD||Cost: $$$$$||Graduation Rate: 59%||
Mount Marty College is a small, Benedictine liberal arts college that was founded in 1936 by sisters of the Sacred Heart Monastery. Today, these sisters continue to live, work, and pray alongside students and staff. MMC offers small class sizes, faith-based learning, NAIA athletics, and year-round campus activities and events.
Over 1,000 students of all religious faiths and backgrounds enroll at MMC each year. The school's academic catalog offers more than 28 undergraduate and graduate degrees, including studies in accounting, criminal justice, education, medical laboratory science, and recreation and tourism. Every student at MMC completes a core curriculum, known as the Benedictine Leadership Institute, which encourages exploration, service, and asking big questions. It also includes student trips to the Rocky Mountains and the Grand Canyon at no additional cost.
To be considered for undergraduate admission, prospective MMC students must submit an application, official transcripts, and ACT or SAT scores.
Sinte Gleska University
|Mission, SD||Cost: $$$$$||Graduation Rate: 3%||
Sinte Gleska University is a private, American Indian tribal college located in the city of Mission on the Rosebud Indian Reservation. Fully accredited by the Higher Learning Commission and governed by individuals rooted in the reservation and its culture, SGU seeks to facilitate individual development and tribal autonomy within the Lakota population.
Approximately 1,000 part-time and full-time students attend SGU annually. Academic offerings include associate, bachelor's, and master's degrees, along with a number of certificate and vocational programs. Programs are available from six main departments, focusing on arts and sciences, business, education, human services, nursing, and Lakota studies. SGU also houses the Great Plains Art Institute, which offers two undergraduate programs that foster intensive study of mainstream and Native American art.
SGU maintains an open-admission policy, welcoming all applicants with a high school diploma or GED certificate. Native American students must submit an Abstract of Census Record.
Dakota State University
|Madison, SD||Cost: $$$$$||Graduation Rate: 36%||
Originally founded in 1881 as a teacher's college, Dakota State University is now one of the most technologically advanced campuses in the region. This public institution specializes in computer management, information systems, and related programs, while special emphasis continues to be placed on the preparation of educators.
More than 3,000 students attend class at the 61-acre campus in Madison each year. The undergraduate academic catalog offers certificates, pre-professional tracks, and associate and bachelor's degrees in a variety of fields, including cyberoperations, digital arts and design, marketing, and health information administration. Select undergraduate programs, as well as all 16 graduate/postgraduate programs, are offered online. Five master's degrees and a doctor of philosophy in information systems can be pursued on campus.
Admission policies vary by student status and program selection. General requirements for bachelor's degree-seekers include qualifying ACT or SAT scores (a minimum 18 or 950, respectively), a GPA of at least 2.6, or a high school class rank in the top 60%.
Oglala Lakota College
|Kyle, SD||Cost: $$$$$||Graduation Rate: 7%||
Oglala Lakota College is a public tribal college based in Kyle. Its decentralized campus system serves more than 1,000 students throughout the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, with instructional centers located in each of its nine districts. Two additional centers extend academic opportunities to Rapid City and the Cheyenne River Indian Reservation.
Offerings at OLC include 16 associate degrees, 12 bachelor's degrees, and two master's degrees in Lakota leadership and management. Graduates of OLC's nursing and education programs are eligible for state certification and licensure. The bachelor's in social work is fully accredited by the Council on Social Work Education and offers an optional emphasis in chemical dependency counseling. OLC provides several courses in an online format for increased flexibility.
Those seeking admission to OLC must complete an application, declare a major, and provide a copy of their high school transcripts or GED certificate. An open-door policy guarantees admission to qualified students.
Northern State University
|Aberdeen, SD||Cost: $$$$$||Graduation Rate: 45%||
Located in Aberdeen, Northern State University's campus boasts a mix of historic buildings, modern facilities, and green spaces. Incoming students can take advantage of a thriving residence community, extensive campus activities, and one of the largest guaranteed scholarships in the region.
Students can select their program of choice from more than two dozen areas of interest, including banking, literature, mathematics, political science, and secondary education. Several degrees can be completed entirely online. NSU's accelerated nursing program -- offered in cooperation with South Dakota State University -- allows any student with a bachelor's degree to earn their BSN after only 12 months of additional coursework, labs, and clinical rotations.
Undergraduate admission criteria include qualifying ACT or SAT scores (a minimum 18 or 960, respectively), a high school GPA of at least 2.6, or a class rank in the top 60%. Prospective students must complete an application, submit test scores, and provide transcripts.
Black Hills State University
|Spearfish, SD||Cost: $$$$$||Graduation Rate: 35%||
Located in Spearfish -- the second-largest city in western South Dakota -- Black Hills State University students have access to a variety of entertainment, dining, and outdoor recreation opportunities. On campus, BHSU offers more than 80 clubs and organizations, residence life, and NCAA athletics.
BHSU students can earn undergraduate, graduate, pre-professional, and online degrees from three major colleges focused on business and natural sciences, education and behavioral sciences, and the liberal arts. More than 120 majors are available for bachelor's degree-seekers, including American Indian studies, entrepreneurial studies, integrated media, outdoor education, and photography. A two-semester exploratory studies pathway allows undecided students to pursue a variety of interests and ambitions in pursuit of their ideal major.
Admission eligibility and procedures vary by student status. Prospective undergraduates must complete an online application and submit ACT or SAT scores and high school transcripts.
University of Sioux Falls
|Sioux Falls, SD||Cost: $$$$$||Graduation Rate: 49%||
For more than 135 years, the University of Sioux Falls has worked to foster academic excellence in a Christian environment. Affiliated with the American Baptist Churches USA, this institution boasts a low 16-to-1 student-to-faculty ratio and a 99% job placement rate within six months of graduation.
Approximately 1,500 students enroll at USF each year, representing a variety of denominations and faiths. More than 40 undergraduate majors offer study in disciplines like chemistry, computer science, social work, and theology. Graduate students and adult learners can take advantage of flexible part-time scheduling, online learning, or evening classes to pursue bachelor's degree completion, professional certificates, an MBA, an M.Ed., or an RN-to-BSN pathway.
There is no fee to apply to USF. Prospective undergraduate students must complete an online application, send in official high school transcripts, and provide scores from the ACT or SAT. General admission standards include a minimum 2.8 GPA and a composite ACT score of at least 20.