How to Find Your Best City for Starting Out
New grads, consider your career, costs of living and the social scene when deciding where to settle after college.
As young adults, many of you enjoy a unique time in your lives when you can relocate wherever you like. You're often free from any significant ties, such as kids or a mortgage, that can tether you to a certain location. Plus, with the technological advances of the past decade, you need not fear losing touch with family and friends. You can stay connected with the touch of a button—regardless of distance.
So, when you can live practically anywhere you want, how in the world do you decide where to settle? Here are three questions to ask when figuring out which city is best for you:
1. Where can you find a job?
In today's tough market, Generation Y has had a particularly difficult time finding and keeping jobs. While the national unemployment rate stood at 6.1% as of August 2014, 25- to 29-year olds suffered joblessness at a 7.8% rate, and 20- to 24-year olds were unemployed at a 10.7% rate. But some areas have held up better: Washington, D.C., Salt Lake City and Austin, Tex., for example, have experienced lower unemployment than the rest of the country over the past few years.
Look for cities where companies need entry-level employees. And remember that certain industries are more prevalent in some areas. For example, if you're interested in politics, the nation's capital is the obvious city of choice. Or if you aspire to be the next big tech success story, you ought to consider San Francisco. If you have no particular trade in mind yet, look to big cities with opportunities in a wide range of fields. (For career ideas that promise a bright future, see 10 of the Best Jobs for the Future.) But be aware that in such areas, you're more likely to face a lot of competition.
2. How much rent can you afford?
Rent is going to eat a big portion of your monthly pay. The average monthly rent across the nation is $893 for a two-bedroom, two-bathroom apartment, according to the Council for Community and Economic Research. Unfortunately, many cities with healthy job markets and other desirable qualities often come with higher housing costs. The real estate market is often a good indicator of the area's overall living costs. So if you're considering moving to a place where the rent is too gosh-darn high, you can expect to need a bigger budget for practically everything.
Still, as important as the cost of living is to consider, sometimes you have to swallow higher expenses in order to get your career started in the right place. For example, if you want to work on Wall Street, you have to consider moving to Manhattan, even though its living costs are a whopping 120.4% above the national average. Just be aware of those elevated expenses and take them into consideration when budgeting and looking at job offers. A salary of $40,000 a year in, say, Phoenix, where living costs are 4.0% below the national average, will stretch a lot further than in the Big Apple.
3. What kind of social scene would you prefer?
Sure, you can check up on your Facebook friends wherever you go, but you want to settle in a place where you can establish a real-life social network. Areas where you already have family or friends make a lot of sense. And try locations that are populated with a good number of other young people. Not only will you feel more comfortable having neighbors in a similar situation as you, you'll also create connections that could prove helpful in a job hunt. (For more tips on how to network to boost your career, both online and off, see 7 Ways to Use Social-Networking to Land Your Next Job and How New Grads Can Compete in the Job Market.)
Also think about whether you'd like to live in a big city or a smaller town. A bustling metropolis can offer benefits such as reliable public transportation (saving you the cost of car ownership) and an active nightlife. A more low-key setting may provide you more living space at low costs, as well as easier access to the great outdoors. Whatever your preference, you're likely to find a suitable option with a favorable job market among our 10 Best Cities for New College Grads.