by Amy Orr
Every year, a new batch of college graduates dust off their suits, write their resumes and prepare to enter the workforce. But the decision of how and where to do this can impact the course of a career and a life. What city has the best employment opportunities? Where will be fun to live? What can I afford?
The burden of student debt has never been higher and the number of students in college is increasing — enrollment increased by 20% between 2003 and 2013 according to the National Center for Education Statistics — whilst the number of graduate jobs is, at best, stagnant. The 2015 employment rate, whilst higher than previous years, is still lower than pre-recession rates according to the NCES.
Making the most of that hard-earned and expensive degree has never been more difficult and choosing a city to live and work in may be one of the most impactful decisions a graduate can make, especially as technology and transport grow and the need to live in one’s hometown or near parents lessens. Below, we have analyzed the best — and worst — cities for graduates for employment, affordability and lifestyle, in an attempt to make this important decision a little easier.
The Best Cities for New Grads
In our quest to find the best cities for graduates, we looked at factors relating to employment, such as job opportunities, employment rates, remuneration and employee benefits, as well as the affordability of the city and lifestyle factors such as transport, entertainment and demographics. A full list of all the factors considered can be found below. We ranked each factor from the most important to the least, and combined the results to give a final ranking of all the cities in the study.
1. Madison, WI
- For Lifestyle: 7
- For Jobs: 13
- For Affordability: 334
2. Fargo, ND
- For Lifestyle: 41
- For Jobs: 6
- For Affordability: 207
3. Burlington-South Burlington, VT}
- For Lifestyle: 2
- For Jobs: 48
- For Affordability: 325
4. Bloomington, IL
- For Lifestyle: 41
- For Jobs: 4
- For Affordability: 242
5. Logan, UT
- For Lifestyle: 20
- For Jobs: 52
- For Affordability: 154
The Rest of the Best
The five above were tops, but 377 other cities were under consideration. Where did yours rank?
|Overall Ranking||City||Lifestyle Ranking||Jobs Ranking||Affordability Ranking|
|3||Burlington-South Burlington, VT||2||48||325|
|9||Buffalo-Cheektowaga-Niagara Falls, NY||62||25||171|
|10||La Crosse-Onalaska, WI||53||12||271|
|11||Iowa City, IA||4||5||380|
|14||California-Lexington Park, MD||159||16||56|
|15||State College, PA||17||8||369|
|16||Waterloo-Cedar Falls, IA||89||19||216|
|17||Ann Arbor, MI||8||27||368|
|18||San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara, CA||84||55||101|
|20||Urban Honolulu, HI||90||18||233|
|22||Mankato-North Mankato, MN||48||10||330|
|28||Eau Claire, WI||94||36||190|
|30||Fort Collins, CO||14||122||276|
|31||Sioux Falls, SD||105||21||255|
|36||Grand Forks, ND||66||47||272|
|39||Minneapolis-St. Paul-Bloomington, MN||39||30||339|
|45||Norwich-New London, CT||67||119||167|
|45||Grand Rapids-Wyoming, MI||122||58||151|
|47||Hartford-West Hartford-East Hartford, CT||54||77||270|
|51||San Luis Obispo-Paso Robles-Arroyo Grande, CA||30||159||224|
|52||Portland-South Portland, ME||31||72||350|
|54||Cedar Rapids, IA||136||15||290|
|54||San Francisco-Oakland-Hayward, CA||45||156||198|
|56||Santa Maria-Santa Barbara, CA||22||151||285|
|57||St. Louis, MO||132||86||113|
|62||Lansing-East Lansing, MI||57||36||358|
|63||Omaha-Council Bluffs, NE||130||66||181|
|65||Des Moines-West Des Moines, IA||138||35||234|
|70||Cape Girardeau, MO||173||100||40|
|71||Ocean City, NJ||100||75||260|
|72||Durham-Chapel Hill, NC||13||212||370|
|74||Milwaukee-Waukesha-West Allis, WI||56||69||334|
|85||St. Cloud, MN||69||24||372|
|89||Oklahoma City, OK||181||161||18|
|92||College Station-Bryan, TX||84||95||174|
|93||Kansas City, MO||169||104||87|
|97||Austin-Round Rock, TX||33||195||296|
|99||Spokane-Spokane Valley, WA||118||166||148|
|101||Athens-Clarke County, GA||29||162||342|
|102||New York-Newark-Jersey City, NY||11||244||337|
|104||Salt Lake City, UT||105||128||258|
|106||Santa Cruz-Watsonville, CA||25||211||322|
|113||Lafayette-West Lafayette, IN||88||97||338|
|119||Jefferson City, MO||269||93||33|
|124||Watertown-Fort Drum, NY||145||221||80|
|125||New Haven-Milford, CT||52||178||117|
|127||San Diego-Carlsbad, CA||50||253||254|
|128||Santa Rosa, CA||98||227||206|
|130||Shreveport-Bossier City, LA||209||214||10|
|132||Little Rock-North Little Rock-Conway, AR||186||203||45|
|133||Fond du Lac, WI||284||29||135|
|134||Louisville/Jefferson County, KY||203||89||147|
|136||Walla Walla, WA||137||188||155|
|136||Fort Wayne, IN||194||142||83|
|143||Oxnard-Thousand Oaks-Ventura, CA||135||170||214|
|147||Davenport-Moline-Rock Island, IA||218||61||226|
|148||Wichita Falls, TX||225||228||11|
|150||Bowling Green, KY||174||127||180|
|154||Barnstable Town, MA||71||172||349|
|158||Sioux City, IA||249||82||138|
|161||Green Bay, WI||193||77||273|
|165||Virginia Beach-Norfolk-Newport News, VA||76||248||284|
|177||Bay City, MI||277||96||108|
|183||Rapid City, SD||146||189||248|
|185||Sierra Vista-Douglas, AZ||261||139||84|
|190||St. Joseph, MO||313||129||186|
|191||Elizabethtown-Fort Knox, KY||321||147||15|
|193||Greensboro-High Point, NC||158||260||115|
|196||South Bend-Mishawaka, IN||152||235||198|
|197||Baton Rouge, LA||131||172||365|
|198||Colorado Springs, CO||81||340||173|
|205||Crestview-Fort Walton Beach-Destin, FL||170||299||77|
|206||Battle Creek, MI||294||180||48|
|208||Grand Island, NE||229||256||52|
|209||San Angelo, TX||187||237||161|
|209||Johnson City, TN||258||163||109|
|211||Charleston-North Charleston, SC||47||319||329|
|212||Terre Haute, IN||240||143||162|
|214||Los Angeles-Long Beach-Anaheim, CA||50||322||324|
|215||New Orleans-Metairie, LA||101||326||235|
|222||Houston-The Woodlands-Sugar Land, TX||182||254||152|
|223||Dallas-Fort Worth-Arlington, TX||180||251||167|
|227||Pensacola-Ferry Pass-Brent, FL||270||261||21|
|229||St. George, UT||197||199||215|
|232||Boise City, ID||153||198||307|
|234||North Port-Sarasota-Bradenton, FL||160||320||100|
|235||Hilton Head Island-Bluffton-Beaufort, SC||104||345||201|
|236||Atlanta-Sandy Springs-Roswell, GA||84||310||309|
|239||San Antonio-New Braunfels, TX||206||247||89|
|240||Atlantic City-Hammonton, NJ||116||200||367|
|243||Niles-Benton Harbor, MI||240||214||139|
|245||Idaho Falls, ID||285||133||182|
|246||Hot Springs, AR||304||252||23|
|252||Great Falls, MT||198||208||273|
|254||Fort Smith, AR||372||193||3|
|257||Augusta-Richmond County, GA||253||258||95|
|258||Florence-Muscle Shoals, AL||331||150||90|
|259||Glens Falls, NY||221||117||347|
|264||Panama City, FL||233||314||70|
|268||Naples-Immokalee-Marco Island, FL||123||351||232|
|273||Santa Fe, NM||113||364||235|
|274||Tampa-St. Petersburg-Clearwater, FL||199||330||120|
|277||Palm Bay-Melbourne-Titusville, FL||274||318||46|
|278||Mount Vernon-Anacortes, WA||220||261||211|
|280||Lake Charles, LA||296||331||16|
|283||Las Vegas-Henderson-Paradise, NV||205||313||153|
|286||Miami-Fort Lauderdale-West Palm Beach, FL||78||370||302|
|289||Carson City, NV||307||317||31|
|293||Pine Bluff, AR||317||267||62|
|298||Warner Robins, GA||341||288||25|
|299||Corpus Christi, TX||288||240||187|
|307||East Stroudsburg, PA||189||309||289|
|310||Myrtle Beach-Conway-North Myrtle Beach, SC||204||311||266|
|318||New Bern, NC||243||368||68|
|320||Cape Coral-Fort Myers, FL||266||343||127|
|321||Grand Junction, CO||216||300||306|
|323||Coeur d'Alene, ID||263||307||256|
|327||Beaumont-Port Arthur, TX||340||336||54|
|329||Sebastian-Vero Beach, FL||231||380||94|
|335||Deltona-Daytona Beach-Ormond Beach, FL||295||366||84|
|344||Las Cruces, NM||238||328||321|
|348||Riverside-San Bernardino-Ontario, CA||299||337||241|
|349||El Paso, TX||298||349||185|
|350||The Villages, FL||352||355||49|
|352||Grants Pass, OR||343||298||237|
|360||Port St. Lucie, FL||337||357||141|
|361||Michigan City-La Porte, IN||364||295||194|
|362||El Centro, CA||350||366||97|
|363||Lakeland-Winter Haven, FL||371||356||51|
|365||Rocky Mount, NC||366||371||50|
|368||Punta Gorda, FL||375||347||84|
|371||Yuba City, CA||367||353||150|
|375||Homosassa Springs, FL||376||373||64|
|380||Lake Havasu City-Kingman, AZ||381||378||35|
The Top (and Bottom) Five Cities for...
Next, let's look at how the cities in our study ranked in important categories — jobs and affordability — as well as how cities with a million or more residents stacked up.
Many graduates might consider employment rates and income as the most important factors — maybe even the only factors — worth considering when deciding where to move. To the left, we have broken out the top and bottom five cities by their “jobs” ranking, a ranking made up of employment rates, earnings and health coverage. We have also shown the general unemployment rate for young adults (ages 20 to 24) for comparison.
|5||Iowa City, IA||5.6%|
|381||Sebastian-Vero Beach, FL||25.3%|
|379||Lake Havasu-Kingman, AZ||22.4%|
The affordability of a city is a very important factor to take into account when considering a move. Having a job in a city, especially for new entrants into the workforce, may not be enough to actually fund living in that city. To the left, we have broken out the best and worst cities by affordability, including the percentage of the employed population that was below the poverty level.
|3||Fort Smith, AR||33.4%|
|381||Iowa City, IA||53.5%|
It is worth noting that the general size of the city and the proportion of residents in the 18-to-24-year-old range does not seem to correlate with overall rankings. Both the best and worst cities have a range of population sizes. However, larger cities are more likely to attract new graduates looking for work, according to the National Bureau of Economic Research; below we have broken out the results of the best and worst cities, by their overall rank, among just those cities with a population of one million or more.
|2||San Jose, CA|
|5||Minneapolis-St. Paul, MN|
|42||Riverside-San Bernadino, CA|
|40||Las Vegas, NV|
To vary our coverage of the best cities for new graduates, we put the data aside and sought out two experts for answers to four questions of concern for most students-turned-professionals.
Angela Copeland is a career coach at Copeland Coaching.
1. What factors do you think a graduate should take into account when considering where to live and start their careers? This can be a tough decision, but just after graduation is the perfect time to select a new city. If there's one particular company you really love, you may have to move to the city where their headquarters is located. Otherwise, you may want to target a city that aligns to your interests and priorities. Make a list of the things that are important to you such as cost of living, average temperature and population. Then compare multiple cities. You can find this information on websites such as Census.gov and Wikipedia. I'm a huge fan of mid-sized cities such as Oklahoma City, Denver, Pittsburgh and Memphis. They often offer a lower cost of living, while giving a young person an opportunity to be a big fish in a small pond (relatively speaking).
2. What are the challenges new graduates are facing when attempting to enter the workforce? Often, new graduates face the challenge that they have very little real-world work experience. This can make it tough to even apply for some jobs. Often, even junior job postings will list a number of years of experience they require. Try not to pay too much attention to this detail. My first job out of college required a MBA and years of work experience, but I got the job anyway. Many hiring managers are looking for fit more than they're looking for the perfect experience.
3. How can a graduate make themselves stand out to potential employers? Be professional, and be persistent. I spoke to a recent college graduate who reaches out to three new people per day on LinkedIn. These are people the graduate does not know, but is hoping to have an informational interview with. Very often, people respond positively to him. He has been able to both grow his network and land a job using this unique technique.
4. What are the "hot" industries or areas for graduates right now and what will they be in five years time? Generally speaking, hot industries are those that are growing, and where there are more positions available than people to do them. The best industries are also often those related to technology, such as data scientist, statistician, computer systems analyst and information security analyst. In five years, the top jobs will continue to be those heavily influenced by technology. Unfortunately, however, technology positions will continue to be outsourced to other countries, so the more you can grow your strengths in strategy and management, the more secure you'll be. Healthcare jobs will also grow as our population continues to age.
Lori Bumgarner is Passion & Career Specialist at paNASH in Nashville.
1. What factors do you think a graduate should take into account when considering where to live and start their careers? Foremost, where there is job growth and a current strong economy. Right now, "IT city" Nashville is the number one market for job growth and capital investments; its unemployment rate is well below the national average at 3.7%, and companies like Google, Lyft, and Warby Parker are expanding to Nashville. Nashville is especially a good place for college graduates who are creatives. Also, graduates should consider cost of living. Nashville's cost of living is currently under the national average, and its new mayor has plans for the development of more affordable housing.
2. What are the challenges new graduates are facing when attempting to enter the workforce? The challenges specific to new graduates seeking work in Nashville is the fact that there are 12 four-year colleges in the Metro and Middle Tennessee area, and many graduates want to stay in Nashville, so there is some stiff competition for those candidates applying for entry-level jobs who cannot articulate their unique differentiators.
3. How can a graduate make themselves stand out to potential employers? Understanding, being confident in and knowing how to articulate what makes them unique. This is something I work with my clients on, helping them discover their uniqueness, how to talk about it and how to brand and market it in a job search.
4. What are the "hot" industries or areas for graduates right now and what will they be in five years time? In Nashville, the fastest growing industries are management (of companies and enterprises), employment services, accounting/tax prep and tech consulting services. Nashville is experiencing a tech boom which is expecting to increase in growth over the next five years. Population-wise, Nashville is currently at 1.83 million people with an expected growth to two million by 2025 and three million by 2040.
To determine the best cities for graduates, we looked at 27 factors from five reliable sources. These factors were grouped into three general categories: jobs, affordability and lifestyle. These categories were equally weighted in the final analysis.
The jobs category takes into account employment factors -- unemployment rates both for the population with college degrees and in comparison to the general population -- as well as the expected income increase from having a degree, and finally important employment benefits such as healthcare. These factors all speak to the availability of good employment in a city for graduates and the benefit of being a graduate in that city.
The affordability category includes nine factors such as rent, levels of student debt, transit, food, utilities and property costs, as well as the poverty level for graduates. These factors combine to indicate which cities may be more affordable for entry-level job participants. Some factors look similar -- such as level of student debt and percentage of graduates with student debt -- but in fact measure different thing; for example, the cost of attending college in that state versus the availability of funding.
The final category -- lifestyle -- looks at amenities (entertainment, further education institutions, recreational establishments) together with the general makeup of the population, educational levels and transit habits. This last category is the most subjective of the three as some graduates may value certain lifestyles more than others; here we have prioritized choice, recreation and the proportion of single, well-educated graduates.
There were some factors that we would have liked to include in this analysis but were unable to find reliable or comprehensive data for. Information on the longevity and stability of employment for new graduates was not available, but is an important consideration for a graduate looking to move to a new city for long-term career reasons. Similarly, geographical data on the number and variety of entry-level work programs designed for graduates was not available.
Below, we break down the statistics we used and their point of origin. Those items marked with an asterisk used state data rather than city data. Click onto the source name on the right to view the data as we originally found it.
- Percentage Increase in Median Earnings for Having a Bachelor's Degree (vs. No Degree) / U.S. Census Bureau
- Percentage of 18-24yr Olds with Bachelor's Degree or Higher / U.S. Census Bureau
- Percentage of 25+ yr Olds with Bachelors Degree or Higher / U.S. Census Bureau
- Percentage of 25+ yr Olds with Graduate or Professional degree / U.S. Census Bureau
- Average Student Debt (4yr Degree or Above) / College InSight
- Percentage of Graduates with Student Debt (4yr Degree or Above) / College InSight
- Percentage Increase in Median Earnings for Having a Bachelor's Degree (vs. No Degree) / U.S. Census Bureau
- Unemployment Rate, 20-24 yr olds / U.S. Census Bureau
- Difference in Unemployment, 20-24yr olds vs. General Population Unemployment Rate / U.S. Census Bureau, Bureau of Labor Statistics
- Unemployment Rate, Population 25 to 64 yrs Old With Bachelor's Degree or Higher / U.S. Census Bureau
- Percentage of Employed Population Below Poverty Level / U.S. Census Bureau
- Poverty Rate for 25+ yr Olds with Bachelor's Degree or Higher / U.S. Census Bureau
- Percentage of Full Time Workers with Employer Health Coverage / U.S. Census Bureau
- Percentage of Full Time Workers Without Health Coverage / U.S. Census Bureau
- Percentage of Part Time Workers with Employer Health Coverage / U.S. Census Bureau
- Percentage of Part Time Workers Without Health Coverage / U.S. Census Bureau
- Median Gross Rent as a Percentage of Household Income / U.S. Census Bureau
- House Price Estimate, Median Value / Council for Community and Economic Research
- Percentage of 20-24yr Olds Who Commute to Work on Public Transport / Council for Community and Economic Research
- Percentage of 20-24yr Olds Who Walk to Work / Council for Community and Economic Research
- Transit Average Cost / Center for Neighborhood Technology
- Number of Arts, Entertainment and Recreation Businesses per 100,000 of Population / U.S. Census Bureau
- Number of Retail Businesses per 100,000 of Population / U.S. Census Bureau
- Number of Educational Businesses per 100,000 of Population / U.S. Census Bureau
- Percentage of Total Population that are Unmarried 20-30yr olds / U.S. Census Bureau
- Cost of Groceries Index / Council for Community and Economic Research
- Cost of Utilities Index / Council for Community and Economic Research