Best places for college grads to start their careers
Using data on average income and cost of living, Stacker determined the best cities for new college grads choosing where to start their careers.
Graduation season is around the corner, and college seniors across the country are applying for their first jobs. About 1 in 4 Americans 25 years or older have a bachelor's degree or higher, and thousands will walk the stage this season to grab their diplomas and start their careers.
But choosing where to put down roots is about so much more than a role, especially as the rising popularity of remote work makes choosing a location more flexible. Graduates should consider the cost of living, social scene, potential income, and more.
Stacker analyzed data from the Labor Department, Census Bureau, and Apartment List to find which metro areas are the best for recent college graduates to start their careers. To be included, each metro needed a large share of residents with advanced degrees and a 2021 unemployment rate lower than or equal to the national average, which was 5.3%. Housing costs for young adults also had to be more affordable than the national average, measured as the ratio of the median income of households headed by people under 25 to the typical rent for a one-bedroom apartment. Metros were sorted by the median income of residents under 25, relative to the overall median income.
The median income for Americans under 25 was $38,164 in 2021, while the median rent for a one-bedroom apartment so far this year is $1,158. Considering experts recommend spending no more than 30% of your monthly income on rent, it's critical to choose a location where the average cost of an apartment is low but the income prospects are high.
With these factors in mind, the metros on this list have stronger job markets and lower costs of living than major cities like New York, Chicago, or Atlanta.
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#15. Omaha, Nebraska
- Median income of households headed by people under 25: $40,787
- Median rent for a 1-bedroom apartment: $962
- Unemployment rate: 3.0%
Omaha is home to many different industries for college grads to build their careers, housing major financial services corporations like TD Ameritrade and PayPal as well as health care companies like Methodist Health System and Blue Cross Blue Shield of Nebraska.
On top of a great cost of living, Omaha boasts a diverse food scene. You'll get the steak and corn you'd expect, plus fine dining, pizza, seafood, and more.
Unlike many parts of the country, Omaha also experiences all four seasons, so while you'll have to bear some cold temperatures in the winter, you'll get to experience leaves changing in fall and warm summers.
#14. Lincoln, Nebraska
- Median income of households headed by people under 25: $36,205
- Median rent for a 1-bedroom apartment: $857
- Unemployment rate: 2.4%
Just over an hour south of Omaha is another top city for new grads: Lincoln. Though the city's low unemployment rate and median rent are tempting enough, Nebraska's capital also offers plenty of things to do.
Catch a Huskers game at the University of Nebraska, Lincoln, or tour one of the town's many museums or parks. The Midwestern town is also host to a bustling live music scene.
Major employers include the University of Nebraska, Wells Fargo, IBM, and UnitedHealth Group.
#13. Fort Collins, Colorado
- Median income of households headed by people under 25: $45,126
- Median rent for a 1-bedroom apartment: $1,215
- Unemployment rate: 4.7%
An hour north of Denver, Fort Collins offers a much more affordable cost of living than its neighbor. The town is a great place for outdoor enthusiasts, thanks to its close proximity to hiking trails, ski resorts, and state parks. Beer lovers will also enjoy Fort Collins' reputation as the craft beer capital of Colorado.
Fort Collins is emerging as a tech hub, in part due to employers like Hewlett-Packard. But other industries are hiring in the area, too, including companies such as OtterBox, Kaiser Permanente, and Colorado State University.
#12. Rochester, New York
- Median income of households headed by people under 25: $38,984
- Median rent for a 1-bedroom apartment: $1,017
- Unemployment rate: 4.9%
Situated on Lake Ontario, Rochester offers a low unemployment rate and cost of living compared to other parts of the state. Its economy is largely dependent on the technology and education sectors, but those aren't the only ones hiring in the area. Major employers in Rochester include Paychex, Bausch & Lomb, Kodak, and the Rochester Institute of Technology.
Despite its cold climate, Rochester has plenty of natural beauty. The town is often called the "Flower City," thanks to its year-round blooms, and it's just a short drive from the famous Niagara Falls.
#11. Virginia Beach, Virginia
- Median income of households headed by people under 25: $42,904
- Median rent for a 1-bedroom apartment: $1,244
- Unemployment rate: 4.5%
Virginia Beach is situated at the intersection of the Chesapeake Bay and the Atlantic Ocean, making it an ideal choice for those who love the water. In addition to a boardwalk and plenty of beachside attractions, Virginia Beach offers an accessible cost of living for a coastal town.
The area is a hub for the Navy and other military operations, but other major employers include Geico, Sentara Healthcare, and Harmony Investments.
#10. Charlotte, North Carolina
- Median income of households headed by people under 25: $42,831
- Median rent for a 1-bedroom apartment: $1,284
- Unemployment rate: 4.6%
Charlotte is one of the fastest-growing metros in the U.S., and for good reason. Not only are the median income high and median rent low compared to the average, but it's host to major sports teams, including the Carolina Panthers and Charlotte FC.
Charlotte is best known as a business and banking town, thanks to employers such as Bank of America and Wells Fargo. The town also plays host to headquarters for major tech companies, including Microsoft, Amazon, and IBM.
- Median income of households headed by people under 25: $43,171
- Median rent for a 1-bedroom apartment: $978
- Unemployment rate: 3.5%
From the looming Lucas Oil Stadium to the Indianapolis Zoo or the Indy 500, there is no shortage of great places to spend a day in the capital of Indiana. And with a high median income and low median rent to boot, it can be a great choice for new grads looking for a bustling town to start their career.
Top employers in Indianapolis include Eli Lilly and Company, FedEx, AT&T, and Amazon.
#8. San Jose, California
- Median income of households headed by people under 25: $86,632
- Median rent for a 1-bedroom apartment: $2,186
- Unemployment rate: 4.8%
Located in the heart of Silicon Valley, San Jose is far from the most affordable city on this list. But the town makes up for high rent costs with a significantly higher median income—making it attainable for the right person.
Like most of the Bay Area, San Jose boasts mild temperatures year-round. That, plus a diverse food scene and thriving nightlife, make the city an attractive choice for new grads.
Thanks to its central Silicon Valley location, San Jose is best known for tech companies, including Cisco, PayPal, and Adobe.
#7. Jacksonville, Florida
- Median income of households headed by people under 25: $43,282
- Median rent for a 1-bedroom apartment: $1,194
- Unemployment rate: 4.0%
Jacksonville is situated in the northeast corner of the state and is actually the most populous city in Florida. Its coastal location means plenty of beaches; in fact, Jacksonville boasts more shoreline than any other U.S. city.
Top employers in Jacksonville include Amazon, Baptist Health, Bank of America, and Mayo Clinic. Jobs span industries from financial services to life sciences, so there is something for everyone.
#6. Des Moines, Iowa
- Median income of households headed by people under 25: $46,972
- Median rent for a 1-bedroom apartment: $875
- Unemployment rate: 4.2%
Des Moines is a great pick for livability, thanks to its low cost of living as well as a short average commute and four distinct seasons. Locals can spend a day catching an Iowa Cubs game at Principal Park or sampling local vendors at the downtown farmers market.
The Midwestern town is host to large employers, including Wells Fargo, John Deere, UPS, and Tyson.
#5. Sioux Falls, South Dakota
- Median income of households headed by people under 25: $48,452
- Median rent for a 1-bedroom apartment: $847
- Unemployment rate: 2.8%
With the lowest median rent for a one-bedroom apartment on our list, Sioux Falls certainly delivers on affordability. Plus, South Dakota is one of only eight states without a state income tax, so residents will be able to keep more of their hard-earned money.
Sioux Falls is definitely a great choice for outdoor enthusiasts, with its parks and proximity to Big Sioux Recreation Area. Major employers in Sioux Falls include Sanford Health, Hy-Vee Food Stores, and Citi Bank.
#4. Boise, Idaho
- Median income of households headed by people under 25: $46,858
- Median rent for a 1-bedroom apartment: $1,032
- Unemployment rate: 3.5%
Boise is an up-and-coming tech hub, especially for startups, thanks to its quality of life. In addition to a low cost of living, Boise boasts plenty of outdoor adventures, diverse eateries, and a bustling live music scene.
It's not just tech companies calling Boise home, either. Top employers include Albertsons, St. Luke's Health System, and Winco.
- Median income of households headed by people under 25: $58,827
- Median rent for a 1-bedroom apartment: $1,789
- Unemployment rate: 5.3%
The capital city of Hawaii has long been known as a tropical paradise. Though the median rent in Honolulu is higher than many other cities on our list, the town makes up for it with a higher median income and plenty of great reasons to make the island your home.
History buffs can tour Pearl Harbor; beach bums can catch some waves or dive to visit local wildlife; and foodies can sample local cuisine, from fresh seafood to spam musubi. Honolulu has a little something for everyone.
Top employers in Honolulu include the Hawaii State Department of Education, Hawaiian Airlines, and Hilton Hotels & Resorts.
#2. Crestview, Florida
- Median income of households headed by people under 25: $47,271
- Median rent for a 1-bedroom apartment: $1,120
- Unemployment rate: 3.4%
Located west of Tallahassee in the Florida Panhandle, Crestview is a lesser-known town with much to offer. Called "Hub City," Crestview is situated on major highways, including Interstate 10, State Road 85, and U.S. Route 90, making it a prime starting location for nationwide travel. It's one of the smaller towns on our list, so it's a good choice for new grads looking for a slower pace.
Major employers in Crestview include L3Harris, Universal Health Services, and Food Giant.
#1. Savannah, Georgia
- Median income of households headed by people under 25: $47,069
- Median rent for a 1-bedroom apartment: $1,297
- Unemployment rate: 3.9%
Savannah is well-known for its picturesque historic architecture and coastal locale. Packed with history and southern charm, Savannah is a great location for new college grads looking to balance an affordable cost of living with unique character. Its booming housing market also makes it a great place to put down roots.
The town is home to several colleges, including the Savannah College of Art and Design. The school is one of the city's top employers, alongside large companies like Gulfstream Aerospace and Memorial Health.