A Guide to “The College Life” in South Dakota

(Everything you need to know - and more)

South Dakota State University, Brookings, South Dakota

Welcome to college in South Dakota. Whether you’re brand new around here or you’ve been staring up at Mount Rushmore your whole life, you’re in for a real treat.

To help get you all settled in and ready for the road ahead, we’ve put together this guide to prep you for life around the state that puts the extra in extracurricular. So, let's get into it.

Chapter One: South Dakota Conversation Starters

Now, easily the most important thing to do once you get to South Dakota is make some new friends. However, in order to make friends with a real-life South Dakotan you gotta know a thing or two about 'em first. You can't just spout off a bunch of facts from the state's Wikipedia page on population and state birds and all and expect to fit in — you gotta go for a way, way deeper dive. 

When trying to assimilate to local culture, try a few of these conversation starters out:

  • “Dinner’s at noon.” That’s because dinner here is lunch. And dinner is supper. But don’t worry, brunch is still brunch.
  • “This thesis is pert’near done! FINALLY!.” Another way to say “almost,” it’s basically a contraction of the phrase “pretty near.”
  • “It’s kitty corner to the library, you can’t miss it.” Folks around here say kitty corner when it comes to something that’s diagonally across from something else — and never say “catty corner.”

Chapter Two: Where To Crash

If you’re not already set on living in the dorms, you’re going to need to know where to lay your ever-growing head at night. So let’s talk about the hot rentals around the area.

The home of South Dakota State University, Brookings, has the average apartment going for about $779/month. In Vermillion, home to the University of South Dakota, you’ll find apartments for even less, at around $475/month. But of course that’s right inside the city, and you can probably even find lower prices out in a number of nearby cities for less.

Just make sure you're covered with an affordable renters insurance policy.

Chapter Three: What's with These Locals?

To live among the folks of South Dakota, it’s best if you understand them. And it’s not hard, because there aren’t many of them. With less than a million people in the whole state, most towns are sparsely populated and rural (as rural as rural gets). 

A positive aspect of the agriculture-based lifestyle that most South Dakotans are keen on is small-town geniality. South Dakotans are known for their welcoming, honest nature. While the more populated cities of Sioux Falls and Rapid City offer a pleasant “urban-esque” atmosphere with some amenities, they still retain the down-home prairieland pleasantness residents know and love. 

Among those rural inhabitants, you’ll find lots of Christians (85% of the population) and lots of conservatives. Not surprisingly, the state has gone Republican in every presidential election since 1964. 

You might not find many people (other than conservatives) in South Dakota, but you’ll definitely find prairies, plains, bison, the Black Hills and more prairies (and of course more bison). If you fancy yourself a Lewis-and-Clark type, South Dakota definitely has something you crave. 

Chapter Four: Where To “Study” around Town

Now that you’re getting all nice and settled into South Dakota life, it’s time to focus on those studies. But everyone knows how distracting roommates, video games, and fridges can be when you’re trying to focus. So why not try some of the great sights and local hot spots for a little study sesh? Here are a few places we recommend:

  • Badlands National Park: This 244,000 acres of prairie grassland and rugged geologic formations is located 75 miles east of Rapid City. Visitors come from around the world to roam among its bison, camp under a canopy of stars, and hike from one spot to the next. There are plenty of spots to relax, get some work done, AND see some great sights all at the same time.
  • Chapel in the Hills: Inspired by Norwegian architecture, this chapel has been sitting in the middle of nowhere since 1969, a perfect secluded spot for hitting the books in quiet.
  • In a deer blind/stand: Hunting is big around here, but a lot of hunting is just sitting and waiting. So why not make good use of the time and hit the books while you’re waiting for that trophy buck to come through.

Chapter Five: No FOMO Weekend Activities around South Dakota

One of the best things about college is the weekends. And South Dakota has plenty of incredible things to do, see, smell, and eat, to rest your mind from all that studying you’ve been doing. Here are a few of our favorite local things to do:

  • Deadwood: South Dakota’s rich gambling history started all because of the Black Hills Gold Rush of 1874 to 1877, and Deadwood sat at its core. Now a National Historic Landmark, it was once home to Wild West legends like Wild Bill Hickok and Calamity Jane. There’s tons to do around here, like restaurants, tours, and of course, casinos.
  • Custer State Park: Experience the beauty (and brawn) of the Black Hills in this massive 71,000-acre park, which is host to hiking, mountain biking, fishing, and wildlife. And if outdoor adventures aren’t your thing, there’s always gambling somewhere nearby. 
  • Mount Rushmore National Memorial: Completed in 1941, this famous memorial allows visitors the chance to say hello to the likenesses of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt, and Abraham Lincoln (more than three million visitors annually).
  • Sturgis Motorcycle Rally: Why one of the world’s most famous motorcycle rallies takes place in the tiny town of Sturgis, SD every August is unclear. What is clear is that it’s America’s largest and oldest biker rally, and nearly half a million people come every year to partake in its wild, wild revelry. They’ve obviously got something figured out.

Chapter Six: The Post-College Job Scene

Maybe you know exactly what you want to do after graduation, or maybe you’re still undeclared. Either way, we’re so sure you’re going to want to stick around after the ceremony that we should probably talk about the local job market and which careers are hot right now around town.

While from the outside looking in, South Dakota may seem like your typical corn-fed Midwest state, we’re here to tell you it’s so much more. For one thing, the state is currently host to a thriving job market, and it’s not all farm jobs (even though it does contribute $20 billion annually to the economy). 

The number one reason people are moving to the state (and a lot of people are moving) is because of employment. According to Zippia, the fastest-growing jobs are for industrial mechanics, machinists, and field service technicians. Interested? If machines aren’t your thing, health care or manufacturing might just have you covered. They both saw more than 2% growth over the last 12 months. 

Another great piece of news is the unemployment rate. At 3.4%, it’s lower than the national average. Sources also ranked the state fourth among overall best states for jobs, taking into consideration job opportunities and economic standing. 

So if you have your heart set on this Midwest state (and you happen to be a mechanic), it may just be your time to shine. Even if you’re not mechanically inclined, healthcare services and education are two industries that will only continue to grow. 

Even though the state is seeing a surge in popularity due to the job market, U.S. News & World Report ranked it 11th for affordability overall, and 26th for cost of living. Housing affordability is low, but things like health care, groceries and utilities are more on par with the national average. The good news is, at $8.85 an hour, the minimum wage in the state offers more to its citizens than the current federal minimum wage. 

Chapter Seven: Bring Your Boots, ‘Cuz Here You Come

Alright folks, there you have it — your supremely helpful, though far-from-complete, guide to South Dakota college life. It's true that we can't pack in absolutely everything that's important to consider before making a huge cross-country move, but we hope we helped you get the ball rolling.

Good luck. And don’t forget to make sure you're covered with an affordable renters insurance policy.

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