Whether you already live in South Dakota or would like to study in the Mount Rushmore State, the first step to becoming a registered nurse (RN) in South Dakota is studying at an in-state college or university.
To become an RN license eligible, you need to complete an approved nursing program and pass the NCLEX-RN exam. You have two options: an associate degree in nursing (ADN) or a bachelor of science in nursing (BSN). While both lead to RN licensure, BSN holders tend to earn much more than ADN-holding RNs.
Regardless of which option you prefer, South Dakota proves to be an excellent place to earn an education, prepare to take and pass the NCLEX-RN, and begin a nursing career.
This is a panel-reviewed selection based on a number of factors including,
- NCLEX pass rate
- Acceptance rate, when available
- Only ACEN or CCNE accredited schools are eligible
Our selection panel includes 4 Registered Nurses with over 55 years of combined nursing experience and 7 nursing degrees.
- Tracy Everhart, MSN, RN, CNS
- Tyler Faust, MSN, RN
- Kathleen Gaines MSN, RN, BA, CBC
Leah Helmbrecht, BSN, RN
Because nursing careers take different forms, the top 10 South Dakota nursing schools are ranked in no particular order.
Top 10 Nursing Schools in South Dakota
1.) South Dakota State University
Annual In-State Tuition: $9,300 | Annual Out-of-State Tuition: $12,810 (based on per-credit tuition) | NCLEX Pass Rate: 88.7%
As the largest institution of higher education in the state, South Dakota State University is likely on most students’ shortlist of potential schools. SD state’s campus in Brookings is ranked among the safest college towns in the nation and is less than an hour from Sioux Falls. The nursing program matches the quality of SD state, with 100% of recent graduates finding a job within months of earning their degree. SD state has three BSN options: a traditional BSN, an accelerated second-degree BSN, and an online RN-BSN for current nurses with an ADN. The university also has multiple graduate-level programs for nurses that want to continue their education.
2.) Dakota Wesleyan University
Annual Tuition: $31,700 | NCLEX Pass Rate: 88.9%
A smaller school founded on Methodist traditions, Dakota Wesleyan University offers students a tight-knit community experience. Students get to enjoy a low 12:1 student-to-faculty ratio, just one of the many reasons nursing students do so well on the NCLEX. The main program is the BSN, a four-year program that ultimately leads to licensure. The other option nurses can choose is the online RN-BSN which uses eight-week courses and takes just 14 months to complete.
3.) Augustana University
Annual Tuition: $38,150 | NCLEX Pass Rate: 97.3%
With just over 2,100 students, Augustana is a relatively small school. The Lutheran-affiliated college is private, so students cannot receive in-state tuition; however, most students receive some form of financial aid. Augustana has two nursing options: a traditional BSN and an accelerated second degree BSN, both of which saw students pass the NCLEX at an above-average rate. One unique aspect of Augustana is its Nordic roots. These roots are so strong that nursing students have the option to enroll in the Norwegian Nursing Exchange program that sends nurses to three different schools in Norway.
4.) University of Sioux Falls
Annual Tuition: $17,980 | NCLEX Pass Rate: 87%
The University of Sioux Falls is a private, Christian, liberal arts school based in the busy city of Sioux Falls. The school boasts a 17:1 student-to-faculty ratio and a 99% job placement rate for all grads. Nurses enjoy even better outcomes than most students. Traditional BSN students enjoy an extensive clinical experience in all areas of nursing. The other two nursing options, the accelerated second-degree BSN and the online RN-BSN, have high job placement rates. The school is private and doesn’t offer in-state tuition, but rates are easily reduced with financial aid.
5.) Presentation College
Annual Tuition: $22,384 | NCLEX Pass Rate: 77.3%
Presentation College is a Catholic school based in Aberdeen, SD that accepts students from all religious backgrounds. The relatively low NCLEX pass rate may have jumped out, but the traditional BSN isn’t the only nursing option at Presentation. The college also offers an online RN-BSN and an online master of science in nursing (MSN) as a family nurse practitioner. So, a current RN could earn a master’s degree entirely online through Presentation. Both of these programs require students to be current nurses in the region.
6.) The University of South Dakota
Annual In-State Tuition: $9,432 | Annual Out-of-State Tuition: $12,942 | NCLEX Pass Rate: 90.6%
The University of South Dakota is the state’s flagship university. The campus in Vermillion is home to over 9,000 students, and the large school still manages to maintain a relatively low 15:1 student-to-faculty ratio. The nursing program mixes nursing students with 10 other health science and medical school students, and outcomes are positive. USD has two undergraduate nursing options: a BSN and an online RN-BSN. Applicants who have an ACT score of 27 or higher and maintain a 3.0 GPA for BSN prerequisite courses receive guaranteed entry into the BSN program, so successful students don’t need to worry about competitive admissions.
7.) Mount Marty College
Annual Tuition: $28,900 | NCLEX Pass Rate: N/A
With locations in Yankton, Watertown, and Sioux Falls, Mount Marty College is able to teach students all across South Dakota. The BSN teaches nurses in the Catholic tradition, and students enjoy clinical rotation at facilities like Avera Sacred Heart Hospital, Yankton Medical Clinical, and South Dakota Human Services Center. After earning a BSN, students might be interested in Mount Marty College’s BSN-Doctor of Nursing Practice in nurse anesthesia program, ranked among the best in the region. This program takes 36 months for BSN holders and 24 months for MSN holders.
8.) Southeast Technical Institute
Annual Tuition: $7,650 | NCLEX Pass Rate: 85.4%
Based in Sioux Falls, Southeast Technical Institute has taught students in the community for over 50 years. One of Southeast Tech’s goals is to teach students employable skills within 24 months, so it doesn’t have a BSN program. However, Southeast Tech does have an ADN program that leads to RN licensure in roughly two years. Southeast Tech also has an LPN-RN program, so students can first become licensed practical nurses through Southeast Tech and then complete an associate degree while working as a nurse. After becoming an RN, students can always enroll in an online RN-BSN program elsewhere.
9.) Oglala Lakota College
Annual Tribal Tuition: $2,016 | Annual Non-Tribal Tuition: $2,472 | NCLEX Pass Rate: N/A
By far the most affordable school on this list, Oglala Lakota College was created to rebuild the Lakota Nation through education. As a two-year school, OLC only offers an ADN, and graduates of the program perform well on the NCLEX. The program’s vision is to educate students that become qualified to administer healthcare to tribal families and communities, and OLC actively encourages graduates to continue their education after becoming RNs.
10.) Aspen University
Annual Tuition: $11,880 | NCLEX Pass Rate: N/A
Another school well-known for its online programs, Aspen University hosts one of the best online RN-BSN options. This quick program takes just 12 months to complete thanks to the implementation of accelerated eight-week courses. Aspen also has a traditional BSN program (not available in Wyoming) and other online nursing degrees, such as an MSN, an RN-MSN, and a DNP, all of which can come with different specializations. For nurses who completed their ADN, Aspen might be the fastest, most flexible, and most affordable route to completing a BSN.
4 Key Factors That Affect Nursing School Tuition
Keep in mind that colleges and universities reserve the right to change tuition rates at any time. The yearly tuition rates listed here will vary for each student depending on various factors including,
- Transfer credits
- Completed competency exams
- Amount of credits taken per year
- Financial aid awards
Check with the specific school for current tuition rates.
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South Dakota Nurse Salary and Job Outlook
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS),
- Registered nurses in South Dakota earn a mean annual salary of $60,540, lower than the national average.
- South Dakota employs 14,140 RNs, or 33.56 RNs for every 1,000 workers.
South Dakota pays nurses significantly less than the national mean wage of $77,600. However, there are a few factors to consider:
Cost of living: The cost of living in SD is much lower than the national average, so the lower wage goes further than it would in a more expensive state such as California.
- Region: Not all regions in South Dakota pay the same wages. According to the BLS, the Rapid City area pays RNs the highest mean wages at $63,390.
One benefit of working as an RN in South Dakota is the high employment rate. South Dakota employs over 30 nurses for every 1,000 workers, by far the highest rate in the country. So, new nurses could have less trouble finding a great nursing position in South Dakota than in another state.
Spend some time researching different schools you might be interested in attending. There’s no need to pick the perfect school right now, so keep an open mind about which South Dakota colleges and universities might be a good fit.
Once you’ve picked a few schools you are interested in, follow these next steps:
- Contact each school’s admissions offices. Get in touch with each school’s admissions office to learn more about the admissions process, admission requirements, and what materials you need to submit when applying.
- Check to see if you meet the nursing school requirements. Nursing schools usually have their own requirements for applicants, and these are tougher to meet than the college/university’s admission requirements. Make sure you’re on track to become nursing school eligible if you aren’t already.
- Submit your application(s). Once you’ve figured out all the materials you need to submit a strong application, the final step is to send them in!
Common application requirements include:
- High school transcript (GPA)
- ACT and/or SAT scores
- College entrance essay(s)
- Letter(s) of recommendation
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Important considerations when comparing schools:
You’ll begin to receive acceptance letters from colleges and universities, and that brings us to the next step in the process: comparing schools to pick the best option. Comparing schools is an excellent way to figure out which school aligns with your wants and needs the best.
Factors to consider include:
Why you should care about the nursing program’s accreditation
Accreditation is how schools and programs verify their academic quality. When applying to colleges in South Dakota, make sure they’re accredited by the Higher Learning Commission. Also, do not apply to a nursing program unless it holds programmatic accreditation!
The two nursing accreditation organizations to look for are
If you earn a degree from an unaccredited school, you may have trouble securing federal financial aid and finding work as a nurse after graduation. Furthermore, if you plan on attending a graduate or doctoral program, a prerequisite is a BSN from an accredited nursing program.
Getting a License in South Dakota
According to the South Dakota Board of Nursing, nursing students looking to become RNs have a pretty straightforward path to licensure. It’s also worth noting that South Dakota is part of the Enhanced Nursing Licensure Compact (eNLC), meaning licensed RNs can easily obtain a multi-state license to work in other eNLC member states.
To get a license in South Dakota, you’ll need to:
- Study at a nursing school approved by the South Dakota Board of Nursing
- Take and pass the NCLEX-RN
- Pay an application fee and pass a criminal background check
- Apply through the South Dakota Board of Nursing
As the number one employer for nurses per capita in the US, South Dakota employs plenty of registered nurses. The state has many great nursing schools, ranging from large public institutions to small private colleges. After completing an accredited nursing program, South Dakota RNs also get to enjoy eNLC multi-state license privileges, so a career that begins in South Dakota can easily move to most other states.