Aerial view of Lake Madison, South Dakota. Image credit Jacob Boomsma via Shutterstock.

Best College Towns In South Dakota

With a total of 22 colleges and universities, South Dakota ia a wellspring of educational opportunities. With prestigious institutions such as South Dakota State University and the University of South Dakota, there are thousands of students, activities, and more for a fun time in the state. Combine this with the state’s amazing quality of life, stunning attractions, and beautiful scenery for a complete college package. With so much to offer, South Dakota boasts some of the most unique and lively college towns with everything a student can ask for!


Aerial view of a University at dusk in Brookings, South Dakota
Aerial view of Brookings. Image credit Jacob Boomsma via Shutterstock.

Located in eastern South Dakota, Brookings is the state’s fourth-largest city. With a rich culture and history, this city houses South Dakota’s largest higher education institute, South Dakota State University (SDSU). The university has more than 10,000 enrolled students and offers courses in various fields such as engineering, nursing, science, math, and more. SDSU also boasts multiple large campuses which feature recreational areas, fitness buildings, student housing, and even a full pharmacy. To this end, Brookings is a prominent hub for students who wish to pursue a prestigious education with optimal facilities.

Move out of campus and folks will find that Brookings is a lively city filled with amazing activities. The city is well-known for its cultural attractions such as the Children’s Museum of South Dakota and the South Dakota Art Museum. Both of these showcase amazing exhibits and are great places to learn about the culture. To make things easier, the South Dakota Art Museum is located within SDSU’s West campus. For those wanting to have some fun outdoors, spend the day at Arrowhead Park with new friends. This park features picnic tables, a basketball court, a tennis court, and other equipment to have a blast under the sun. Perhaps end the day at one of the numerous restaurants and bars riddled along downtown Brookings. One of the best night-out ideas is Bum’s Bike and Brew, a human-powered bicycle bar where visitors can drink some beer while cycling through town!


Aerial View of a State University in Vermillion, South Dakota
Aerial view of Vermillion's University of Dakota campus. Image credit Jacob Boomsma via Shutterstock.

Vermillion is the county seat of Clay County and one of South Dakota’s smaller cities. Nestled along the Missouri River, this city is home to a quaint population of 11,700 and exudes a mix of urban and rural living. In terms of education, Vermillion is home to the University of South Dakota’s main campus. This institute boasts thousands of students and academic staff which make up a large chunk of the total population. Add this to the reasonable median rent of $718 lending to the sprinkling of college students having fun and living all throughout town!

Outside of campus, there are a plenty of unique attractions and places to hang out in Vermillion. For example, take in the local culture with a visit to the National Music Museum, Spirit Mound, or W.H. Over Museum. The National Music Museum is a fan favorite as it houses a range of musical instruments, artifacts, and more. However, as a student,  it might be more of interest to know about the bars and eateries in town. As luck would have it, Vermillion features lively bars such as Carey’s Bar and Bunyans, Cafe Brule, and Dakota Brick House. These places are low cost, have great food, and offer endless libations for a fun time out with mates. Wind down with a movie at the local Coyote Twin Theater. Rest assured boredome is impossible in this college town.


Aerial view of fireworks at Lake Madison, South Dakota at dusk
Aerial view of Fireworks over Lake Madison. Image credit Jacob Boomsma via Shutterstock.

The county seat of lake county, Madison is a peaceful college town in South Dakota. Home to a population of 6,200 people, this city is revered for its repository of scenic lakes, natural parks, and outdoor activities. Here, find people enjoying their day in one of the natural areas such as Lake Herman State Park. Another popular spot is the town center an ideal place for college students with an array of shops, eateries, lodging, and more. No matter what intrigues students, this peaceful town is sure to have something enjoyable to do.

In terms of education, Madison is home to Dakota State University’s (DSU) primary campus. With more than 140 years of history, this institute exudes a prestigious vibe that is palpable throughout town. DSU also provides an ideal environment with many residence halls, research labs, and buildings across its 61-acre campus. To top it off, a low crime rate and reasonable rent make Madison a quaint yet ideal college town in South Dakota.


The Corn Palace building in Mitchell, South Dakota.
The Corn Palace building in Mitchell, South Dakota. Image credit J K Laws via Shutterstock.

Home to the Mitchell Technical Institute and Dakota Wesleyan University, Mitchell is an ideal college town in South Dakota. It boasts a diverse educational infrastructure with students from a variety of fields, specialties, and levels. Moreover, with both universities’ main campuses located in Mitchell, the town has a true college-town vibe where lifelong friends will be made! Outside of campus, Mitchell boasts a bustling environment which is perfect for a fun time with friends. Enjoy a delicious meal at the Lakehouse Restaurant which is known for its casino and scrumptious snacks. Or, head over to the historic main street which boasts dozens of cafes, eateries and shops in a prime location for students in town.

While the every corner of town has something to offer and enjoy, Mitchell’s prime attraction is the Corn Palace. This unique establishment was designed to emulate the local crop-growing tradition and has been attracting visitors since 1921. Today, it hosts music festivals, farming events, and more which are perfect for a break from studies. End the day relaxing along Lake Mitchell, guaranteed to keep burn out at bay.


Aerial View of Aberdeen, South Dakota at Dusk
Aerial View of Aberdeen, South Dakota. Image credit Jacob Boomsma via Shutterstock.

With a population of 28,500, Aberdeen is the third most populous city in South Dakota. This college town is the perfect mix of metropolitan buildings with a tight-knit community and small-town feel. Enjoy everything from shops and stores to natural parks and historic sites. It is considered a college town as both the Northern State University and Presentation College are located here. These institutes offer dozens of bachelor's and graduate degrees with nearly 5,000 combined students. Because of this the entire town has popular spots, eateries, and more that college students frequent.

When it comes to hang-out spots for students, Wylie Park and Richmond Lake Recreation Area are great spots to cool down. These coastal areas offer miles of natural beauty, beaches and more for a relaxing day outdoors. Perhaps plan an evening at the Skate Away entertainment center with friends. This place features a large indoor skating rink with quirky lights and accessories for epic photos! End the weekend with a drink at the Slackers, the perfect bar to cap off the weekend in this quintessential college town!


Downtown view of small town Mission, South Dakota
Downtown view of small town Mission, South Dakota. Image credit Jared Winkler via Wikimedia Commons.

One of the smaller towns on this list, Mission is located in Todd County with a population of less than 1,200 people. This quaint town is home to the Sinte Gleska University, a public tribal land-grant university with more than 800 students. The institute provides more than 50 degrees in a variety of departments such as business, arts, sciences, education, and more. Students from nearby areas, as well as people involved in the local tribes, often pursue their education here. With such a tight-knit community both on and off campus, Mission is the perfect place to make new friends and have a great time during college.

When it comes to the town itself, Mission is a relaxing area with lots of natural land. Spend the day roaming around with friends or have a picnic along one of the many benches. Take in the local culture by visiting Sicangu Heritage Center Museum and Archives which houses interesting exhibits on the tribal culture and people. End the day with some hiking along the Oyate Trail for a mix of outdoor fun, relaxation, and studies.

Sioux Falls

The Big Sioux River flows over rocks in South Dakota
The Big Sioux River flows in Sioux Falls. Image credit Real Window Creative via Shutterstock.

The most populous city in South Dakota, Sioux Falls is a bustling metropolis with a thriving academic scene. The city encompasses many major educational institutions such as the National American University, the University of Sioux Falls, the Sioux Falls Seminary, among many others. With so many campuses in town, there is a large student community that provides a positive learning and college experience. Combine this with the strong population of 192,500, Sioux Falls is truly an urban hub that has an endless array of activities.

When it comes to exploring Sioux Falls, the city is best known for its unique natural sights. Spend the day outdoors at one of many sights such as the Great Plains Zoo, Butterfly House & Aquarium, or Falls Park. The local zoo and aquarium are home to more than 1,000 species of birds, mammals, fish, and more. Spend your off days from college meeting these lovely animals for a fun retreat from studies. Or, for a more serene experience, head over to Falls Park which is one of South Dakota’s most stunning locations. Boasting a stunning triple waterfall, this site features a cafe and observation tower for a relaxing time in the sun. While the outdoors is fun, students might also be interested in the local nightlife. Take pleasure in knowing that Sioux Falls has a plethora of attractive and active clubs perfect for a night out. Spend the night with friends at JL Beers, Carpenter Bar, or Hello Hi!


Missouri River National Recreational Area in spring in Yankton
Missouri River National Recreational Area, Yankton. Image credit Jacob Boomsma via Shutterstock.

If searching for a cost-efficient town to pursue education, Yankton is a perfect fit. The county seat of Yankton County, this city boasts some of the lowest rental rates in the state. With a median rent of $689, finding affordable housing off-campus is convenient and simple! Moreover, with both Mount Marty College and Avera Sacred Heart Hospital, there are an ample number of students in town! No matter where you students wind up, they are sure to find like-minded people and make plenty of friends in this college town.

Known for its thriving culture, people visit Yankton for its vibrant music, art, and theater! Enjoy a show at the Lewis and Clark Theater Company or spend the evening at Lakeside Theater. Additionally, visitors and students can also head over to Yankton High School which showcases occasional musical and artistic performances. Along with this, Yankton is also riddled with cafes, eateries, bars, and pubs where gaggles of college students will always be found! Some of the most popular spots are Happy Hourz and The Icehouse which are known for their delicious snacks, amazing drinks, and positive vibes.


With so many college towns to choose from, it might be hard to decide which one is best in the state of South Dakota. Whether folks want to enjoy the small-town vibes of Mission or the lively urban life of Sioux Falls, there is something for every personality and taste. Moreover, be sure to consider factors such as the rent, activities, campus location, and amenities before finalizing any of these amazing college towns!

  1. Home
  2. Places
  3. Cities
  4. Best College Towns In South Dakota

More in Places