The world beyond campus can seem big and scary to new graduates, and finding where you belong in it can be daunting. But don't be discouraged. The best places to live and work after college often share certain traits, chief among them good-paying jobs, an affordable lifestyle and an active social scene. To make the transition from dorm life to real life easier, we identified ten promising cities for new grads.
Because those student loans won't pay themselves, we focused first and foremost on places where recent graduates are likely to take home above-average paychecks. Payscale, a compensation research firm, provided us with the median salaries of bachelor's-degree holders with up to three years of work experience in the nation's 200 largest metro areas.
Next we sought out the big cities that, relative to income potential, are friendly to young adults' budgets, based on average monthly living costs for renters, as tallied by the Council for Community and Economic Research. We also scanned for above-average concentrations of twentysomethings, according to Census Bureau counts. Finally, we screened for cities with low unemployment rates — both for the overall population and for people in their twenties.
Take a look at the ten best cities for new grads.
10 Best Cities for New Grads
Metro population: 3.4 million
Share of population in their twenties: 14.7% (national average: 13.8%)
Median salary for recent college grads: $43,800 a year (average for top 200 metro areas: $40,800)
Average apartment rent: $1,436 a month (national average: $870)
Cost of living for renters: 23.1% above national average
Looking to get into the tech industry but can't afford the high cost of living in Silicon Valley? Consider the Seattle area, where Amazon and Microsoft are headquartered and monthly expenses for renters are 20.8% lower than in San Francisco. Other major industries include business services (such as financial and legal firms), green energy and aerospace, led by Boeing. The University of Washington is also a major local employer. And if the existing companies don't interest you, start your own. We recently named Seattle one of our 10 Great Cities to Start a Business.
Outside of work, become part of the area's coffeehouse and music scenes, made famous by Starbucks and Nirvana, respectively. Enjoy local foodie haven Pike Place Market, which boasts more than 200 shops. Or play outside (when it's not raining) and cruise the downtown waterfront. Some free things to do: Check out the Seattle Art Museum's Olympic Sculpture Park, visit Klondike Gold Rush National Historic Park, or pick up a game of ultimate Frisbee (see DiscNW.org for details).10. Seattle
Nasher Sculpture Center, Dallas, Texas. Photo by Tim Hurlsey.
Metro population: 6.3 million
Share of population in their twenties: 14.3%
Median salary for recent college grads: $42,900 a year
Average apartment rent: $799 a month
Cost of living for renters: 7.2% above national average
Including the folks in neighboring cities Fort Worth and Arlington, this metro area ranks as the most populous on this list. One reason for its popularity: jobs. Texas has recovered all of the jobs it lost during the recession, and Kiplinger expects that the state will net another quarter-million positions in 2013. The unemployment rate in Dallas-Fort Worth is just 6.3%, as of February 2013, while the national rate stands at 8.1%. Some of the top private employers include American Airlines, headquartered in Fort Worth, and AT&T and Texas Instruments, both based in Dallas.
Another draw is the tame living cost, including average rent for an apartment that's the second-lowest among our top cities. And the area offers plenty of free diversions, such as strolling the 3.3-mile Public ArtWalk through the Arts district and downtown, visiting the John F. Kennedy Memorial near the infamous grassy knoll, and hiking the nine miles of trails at Cedar Ridge Preserve.9. Dallas
Metro population: 5.5 million
Share of population in their twenties: 14.4%
Median salary for recent college grads: $46,100 a year
Average apartment rent: $1,852 a month
Cost of living for renters: 28.0% above national average
The federal government provides the foundation of the District's job market, but people other than politicos can launch their careers in the capital. The aerospace, technology and health care industries are all well-represented and provide a broad range of high-paying jobs. Major area employers include defense contractor Northrop Grumman, consulting firm Booz Allen Hamilton, MedStar Health and Marriott International.
Be ready to devote a fat chunk of your paycheck to living costs. The average apartment rent in D.C. is the highest of all the cities on this list. But at least you can save on your entertainment budget — you won't need to spend a cent on many local attractions, such as the monuments, most of the museums and the National Zoo. You can also enjoy free movies during the annual summertime Screen on the Green events, free daily performances at the Kennedy Center's Millennium Stage and free summer concerts sprinkled throughout the area's parks and other venues.
Or consider nearby Baltimore, where living costs are 10% lower than in D.C. and recent grads typically enjoy a starting salary of $44,100 a year.8. Washington, D.C.
Metro population: 4.2 million
Share of population in their twenties: 14.4%
Median salary for recent college grads: $41,100 a year
Average apartment rent: $883 a month
Cost of living for renters: 1.0% above national average
Not just a community of golfers and retirees, Phoenix attracts a younger crowd, too, with its low living costs and plentiful employment prospects. Kiplinger expects Arizona to enjoy a healthy job-growth rate of 2.1% in 2013, and many of those new jobs will gravitate to the Valley of the Sun. Financial service companies State Farm Insurance and military-focused USAA are building and expanding facilities in Phoenix, which could add thousands of new positions to the local economy. Other major employers in the area include Banner Health, defense contractor Raytheon and Arizona State University.
When you escape the office, you can enjoy the great outdoors. National Geographic named Phoenix one of the best U.S. cities for hiking. In the heart of the city, South Mountain Park and Preserve, the largest municipal park in the U.S., offers 51 miles of scenic trails. And when you need to cool off (and you will — high temperatures average over 100 degrees from June through August), hit one of nearly 30 public swimming pools for just $3 a day or $30 for a summer pass.7. Phoenix
Joanne DiBona, SanDiego.org
Metro population: 3.1 million
Share of population in their twenties: 16.8%
Median salary for recent college grads: $42,400 a year
Average apartment rent: $1,752 a month
Cost of living for renters: 28.6% above national average
If you're looking for military or government work but hoping for a sunnier climate than D.C.'s, try San Diego. One out of every four jobs in the area is related to the defense industry, according to the San Diego Regional Economic Development Corp. Besides the Department of Defense itself, contractors such as Northrop Grumman and SAIC employ thousands of locals.
Despite the strong military presence, the area has grappled with unemployment, though the situation has improved lately. San Diego's jobless rate has fallen from 9.4% to 8.0% over the past year and is just under the national 8.1% level, as of February. And its 11.1% unemployment rate for twentysomethings beats the national level of 11.9% (as of 2011, the most recent data available for this age group by metro area). Other major industries helping to lift the job market include health care, green energy and education.
Outside of work, you can bum around the many beaches, walk along the Big Bay or explore the tide pools at Point Loma — all for free. Also check out Balboa Park, which offers free daily tours, public organ concerts on Sundays and 15 museums, some of which are free on Tuesdays.6. San Diego
Alyeska Resort and Anchorage Photography, anchorage.net
Metro population: 374,200
Share of population in their twenties: 15.7%
Median salary for recent college grads: $47,600 a year
Average apartment rent: $1,269 a month
Cost of living for renters: 29.6% above national average
Anchorage may be the most expensive city on this list, but its college grads are also the best paid. Plus, you won't have to pay state income or sales taxes, and you'll collect an annual dividend -- $878 in 2012 -- from Alaska's oil fund, if you live there the full year. Leading industries include education, health care and business services, such as engineering, accounting and legal services. And the area's distance from the lower 48 states limits your competition for the highest-paying jobs.
Of course, you can take advantage of all that nature has to offer in Anchorage by fishing, hiking, skiing and checking out glaciers. You can enjoy plenty of man-made diversions, as well, including the Anchorage Museum. There's also an art walk on the first Friday of every month, when you can see exhibits and performances — most free — at galleries, bars and coffeehouses.5. Anchorage, Alaska
Metro population: 5.8 million
Share of population in their twenties: 14.5%
Median salary for recent college grads: $46,800 a year
Average apartment rent: $1,275 a month
Cost of living for renters: 8.2% above national average
Another big Texas town draws young grads with relatively low costs and a promising job market. The state is expected to add nearly 250,000 jobs in 2013, and many of them will be going to Houston. ExxonMobil is moving 2,100 positions from Virginia and Ohio to its new 10,000-employee campus. Other top employers in the region include the University of Houston, BP America and Memorial Hermann Health System.
Free activities abound in Houston. The Miller Outdoor Theatre offers concerts, ballet and films from March through November (and it's BYOB). You can go on a 90-minute boat tour of the Port of Houston (reservations required). And skaters can show off their boarding skills at the $2.2 million Lee and Joe Jamail Skatepark.4. Houston
Metro population: 293,205
Share of population in their twenties: 17%
Median salary for recent college grads: $41,900 a year
Average apartment rent: $904 a month
Cost of living for renters: 4.5% above national average
For crowd-averse new grads, Boulder is an attractive choice, with the smallest population of all the cities on this list. But fewer people doesn't mean fewer opportunities. Colorado is adding jobs, and Boulder already sports the lowest unemployment rate for people in their twenties at 7.9% (versus 11.9% for the U.S.). Major employers include the University of Colorado Boulder, IBM and Ball Aerospace.
In both Boulder and Denver, which is about 30 miles south, you can expect jobs to pay well. Entry-level employees with bachelor's degrees in Denver typically earn a slightly better $42,500 a year. Both metro areas offer affordable living costs. But Boulder comes out ahead on the abundance of twentysomethings — just 14% of Denver's population is in their twenties, versus Boulder's 17% share.
Not surprisingly, outdoor enthusiasts will have plenty of hiking, climbing and biking to do at the foot of the Rocky Mountains. Beverage-lovers can also get their fill of fun in Boulder: The Celestial Seasonings Tea Factory offers free tours complete with complimentary samples. The Boulder Dushanbe Teahouse occasionally hosts free events, including tea ceremonies and tea-leaf reading workshops. And if you're looking for a drink with more kick, you can tour Colorado's first microbrewery, Boulder Beer Company, and indulge in free samples.3. Boulder, Colo.
Metro population: 344,727
Share of population in their twenties: 19.7%
Median salary for recent college grads: $41,600 a year
Average apartment rent: $915 a month
Cost of living for renters: 3.1% above national average
University of Michigan students don't have to go far after graduation. Ann Arbor offers plenty of good-paying jobs for new grads, as well as a big community of peers — the area's population includes the largest share of people in their twenties on this list. The college campus is the area's largest employer, and its medical center is the second-biggest boss in town. But if you're hoping to inch away from the school, Trinity Health medical center and Toyota Technical Center (a research division for the auto company) are also major local employers.
Head back to campus for some fun stuff to do, such as catching a football game and checking out the University's Matthaei Botanical Gardens and Nichols Arboretum and its Museum of Natural History for free. In July, you — and half a million other visitors — can enjoy the annual four-day Ann Arbor Art Fair, featuring works of more than 1,000 artists from around the world. All these options would make fine date activities — appropriate considering Ann Arbor is one of our picks for the Best Cities for Singles.2. Ann Arbor, Mich.
Emily Sargent | Visit Salt Lake
Metro population: 1.1 million
Share of population in their twenties: 16.5%
Median salary for recent college grads: $41,300 a year
Average apartment rent: $770 a month
Cost of living for renters: 1.5% below national average
Below-average living costs, above-average pay and a population teeming with twentysomethings make Salt Lake an excellent starting-out city. The overall unemployment rate adds to the area's appeal — at 5%, it's far below the nation's 8.1%. Top employers include the University of Utah, along with its hospital, and Delta Airlines. And software firm Adobe is expected to add 1,100 jobs in its newly built facility south of the city.
Provo, 50 miles to the south, is another appealing option for new grads. People in their twenties make up a whopping 20.9% of the population. But entry-level degree-holders can expect to earn a little less, typically $38,700 a year, and pay a bit more in living costs. Still, techies might opt for Provo to tap into the soon-to-come Google Fiber network.
Back in Salt Lake, you can take a free tour of Temple Square, 35 acres of gardens, historical sites and restaurants. Or commune with nature at any of the nearby canyons and parks. National Geographic named Salt Lake one of the best U.S. cities for hiking. If you're interested in the arts, the area offers a number of annual festivals, including the Utah Arts Festival, the Utah Shakespeare Festival and, of course, the Sundance Film Festival in nearby Park City.1. Salt Lake City
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