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Best Big Cities for New Grads

For many, deciding where to live after college is a nerve-wracking decision. Career-oriented grads tend to follow the jobs, moving wherever offers the best opportunities in their degree field. Others are more interested in the fun factor, choosing to live in areas brimming with other young adults and a vibrant nightlife scene. However, the vast majority of grads lucky enough to pick where they relocate base the decision largely on affordability. The best cities for recent grads offer all of these things -- and more.

If you're currently weighing your post-college options, OnlineDegrees.com has ranked the best cities in the U.S. for young grads to put down roots and start their careers. By analyzing a number of employment, demographic, and cost of living factors, we were able to find the top areas for savvy young adults looking to get the best return on their educational investment. And since most people have a preference, we broke the list down into big, midsize, and small cities. Below is our ranking of the best big cities for recent college graduates.

For this study, we ranked 40 U.S. cities that either had a city population of 750,000 or more, or were designated as the principal city of a Metropolitan Statistical Area with a population of 1.5 million or more, according to 2015 estimates from the U.S. Census Bureau. Texas dominates this year's list, with four cities in the top 10 and two in the top three. The state's overall job growth projections played a big part in this, as did its youthful population and solid earning potential. Three California cities made the top 10, despite the state's generally high cost of living. The Golden State scored high for quality of life, job prospects, and arts and entertainment. For a full breakdown of our methodology, click here.

The 15 Best Big Cities for New Grads

Austin

1. Austin, Texas

Austin truly has something for everyone. Dubbed both "The Live Music Capital of the World," for its vibrant music scene, and "Silicon Hills," due to the large number of tech companies in the area, the city offers both a relatively low cost of living and the lowest unemployment rate on our list (3.4 percent). Not surprisingly, Austin is also home to the highest percentage of young adults out of any city in the top 15.

  • Percent of population between 20 and 34, 2014: 25.0%
  • Median rent, 2014: $850
  • Median earnings for bachelor's degree holders, 2014: $50,892
  • Average projected job growth statewide, 2012-22: 21.5%

San Francisco

2. San Francisco, California

The Bay Area has long been a hub for hip young adults looking to live at the forefront of culture and innovation. San Francisco came in at No. 1 for arts and entertainment in our analysis, thanks to its many restaurants, sports teams, and street festivals. And with the tech boom showing no signs of stopping, the city remains one of the best places for STEM grads. Unfortunately, this new gold rush has sent housing prices soaring, with the San Francisco-Oakland-Hayward metro area scoring the second-highest median rent on the list.

  • Percent of population between 20 and 34, 2014: 21.6%
  • Median rent, 2014: $1,363
  • Median earnings for bachelor's degree holders, 2014: $63,954
  • Average projected job growth statewide, 2012-22: 15.9%

Houston

3. Houston, Texas

Houston is the most populous city in Texas, and with good reason. Not only does it boast a rich and diverse culture, Houston is also home to more Fortune 500 company headquarters than any other city in the U.S. except New York. Along with this, Texas boasts the second-highest projected statewide job growth for bachelor's degree graduates on the list.

  • Percent of population between 20 and 34, 2014: 22.0%
  • Median rent, 2014: $747
  • Median earnings for bachelor's degree holders, 2014: $57,366
  • Average projected job growth statewide, 2012-22: 21.5%

Columbus

4. Columbus, Ohio

With the second-lowest median rent on our list, and third-lowest cost of living, Columbus is a fantastic option for grads looking to settle in the Midwest. However, the city loses points for Ohio's less than stellar overall employment figures -- the state offers the lowest projected job growth out of any featured on our list.

  • Percent of population between 20 and 34, 2014: 22.0%
  • Median rent, 2014: $657
  • Median earnings for bachelor's degree holders, 2014: $51,794
  • Average projected job growth statewide, 2012-22: 10.5%

San Antonio

5. San Antonio, Texas

San Antonio is the second-most affordable city on the list in terms of cost of living, and has the third-lowest unemployment rate. Couple that with high statewide job growth projections, and you can see why the city is an excellent choice for recent grads. San Antonio's economy is focused largely on military, health care, oil and gas, and tourism, thanks to the immense draw of the Alamo and other Spanish missions in the area.

  • Percent of population between 20 and 34, 2014: 21.8%
  • Median rent, 2014: $713
  • Median earnings for bachelor's degree holders, 2014: $50,279
  • Average projected job growth statewide, 2012-22: 21.5%

Seattle

6. Seattle, Washington

The home of Amazon, Starbucks, Nordstrom, Microsoft, and Costco, to name just a few of the Fortune 500 companies based in the area, Seattle has made a name for itself as an incredible place for both large businesses and startups. Along with that, it ranks high for arts and entertainment, boasting a celebrated music scene and plenty of outdoor recreation options. It's no wonder the city has the third-highest population percentage of young adults on the list.

  • Percent of population between 20 and 34, 2014: 22.4%
  • Median rent, 2014: $987
  • Median earnings for bachelor's degree holders, 2014: $58,624
  • Average projected job growth statewide, 2012-22: 17.5%

Dallas

7. Dallas, Texas

Dallas scored well across the board, with low median rent, plenty of entertainment, and an unemployment rate of just 4.1 percent. Major companies headquartered in the area include Southwest Airlines, Texas Instruments, and ExxonMobil. The city is a hub for travel, both for business and pleasure, thanks in part to the massive Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport.

  • Percent of population between 20 and 34, 2014: 21.4%
  • Median rent, 2014: $756
  • Median earnings for bachelor's degree holders, 2014: $54,520
  • Average projected job growth statewide, 2012-22: 21.5%

Denver

8. Denver, Colorado

Denver has a lot going for it, particularly the highest statewide projected job growth on the list, and second-lowest unemployment rate (3.7 percent). In terms of fun, the city is known for its many breweries, including national names like Coors and New Belgium, and major league sports teams -- the Denver Broncos, Colorado Rockies, and Denver Nuggets.

  • Percent of population between 20 and 34, 2014: 21.9%
  • Median rent, 2014: $882
  • Median earnings for bachelor's degree holders, 2014: $52,833
  • Average projected job growth statewide, 2012-22: 21.7%

San Diego

9. San Diego, California

Beautiful weather, bountiful beaches and solid job prospects -- what more could a grad want? San Diego is a great choice for students interested in health care or biotechnology, with more than 400 biotech and life science companies in the area. Unfortunately, median rent is a bit steep compared to other cities ranked on our list.

  • Percent of population between 20 and 34, 2014: 24.3%
  • Median rent, 2014: $1,241
  • Median earnings for bachelor's degree holders, 2014: $53,925
  • Average projected job growth statewide, 2012-22: 15.9%

San Jose

10. San Jose, California

The "Capital of Silicon Valley," San Jose is the epicenter of tech innovation. Home to the headquarters of Cisco, eBay, Adobe, and PayPal, and a stone's throw from the main campuses of Google, Apple, Facebook, and more, the city is teeming with programmers, engineers and young entrepreneurs. While the area offers the best median earnings for bachelor's degree holders of all the cities in our study, it's an expensive place to live, with the highest median rent on the list.

  • Percent of population between 20 and 34, 2014: 21.4%
  • Median rent, 2014: $1,530
  • Median earnings for bachelor's degree holders, 2014: $75,103
  • Average projected job growth statewide, 2012-22: 15.9%

Boston

11. Boston, Massachusetts

Along with its bustling economy, Boston is rich in U.S. history, with the second-highest number of museums and historical sites on the list -- not to mention the number of highly renowned colleges and universities in the area. For students interested in furthering their studies, being close to schools like Harvard, MIT, Tufts, and Boston University could be a huge incentive.

  • Percent of population between 20 and 34, 2014: 21.4%
  • Median rent, 2014: $1,100
  • Median earnings for bachelor's degree holders, 2014: $59,118
  • Average projected job growth statewide, 2012-22: 12.8%

Washington, D.C.

12. Washington, D.C.

Our nation's capital claims the second-highest median pay for bachelor's degree holders in our analysis, not to mention countless opportunities for those looking to work in federal government. Education, public policy, finance, law, scientific research, and tourism are just some of the prevalent industries in the area. And if you love historical sites and landmarks, D.C. can't be beat.

  • Percent of population between 20 and 34, 2014: 22.1%
  • Median rent, 2014: $1,357
  • Median earnings for bachelor's degree holders, 2014: $66,013
  • Average projected job growth statewide, 2012-22: 10.3%

New York

13. New York, New York

If you're looking to start your post-college life in a big city, New York is as big as it gets. A huge percentage of the Big Apple's 8.5 million residents are young adults, and nearly 50 percent of housing in the city is renter-occupied. The home of Broadway, Madison Square Garden, and Central Park, NYC came in No. 2 for arts and entertainment, with the highest number of both museums and performing arts centers in our ranking. Still, living in New York doesn't come cheap -- the city has the highest cost of living on the list.

  • Percent of population between 20 and 34, 2014: 21.2%
  • Median rent, 2014: $1,126
  • Median earnings for bachelor's degree holders, 2014: $59,238
  • Average projected job growth statewide, 2012-22: 11.4%

Cincinnati

14. Cincinnati, Ohio

The smallest city on the list, Cincinnati also offers the cheapest cost of living and lowest median rent. Like Columbus, it loses points for Ohio's relatively low job growth projections. However, the city has plenty more going for it, including the corporate head offices of Macy's, Kroger, and Procter & Gamble.

  • Percent of population between 20 and 34, 2014: 19.9%
  • Median rent, 2014: $609
  • Median earnings for bachelor's degree holders, 2014: $51,951
  • Average projected job growth statewide, 2012-22: 10.5%

Nashville

15. Nashville, Tennessee

Nashville slides into the 15th spot thanks to its low median rent and abundance of cultural flair. Students interested in music recording and production should look no further, as the city is the second-largest music production center in the U.S., and home to the Country Music Hall of Fame and legendary Ryman Auditorium. But while it's well known for music and tourism, Nashville's largest industry is actually health care.

  • Percent of population between 20 and 34, 2014: 21.8%
  • Median rent, 2014: $697
  • Median earnings for bachelor's degree holders, 2014: $46,167
  • Average projected job growth statewide, 2012-22: 13.8%

Methodology

Each city was ranked on a 10-point scale, using the following eight data points and the weights specified:

  1. Median monthly rent, American Community Survey, 2014: 10%
  2. Percent of housing units that are occupied by renters rather than owners, American Community Survey, 2014: 10%
  3. Percent of the population between the ages of 20 and 34, American Community Survey, 2014: 15%
  4. Median earnings for bachelor's degree holders, American Community Survey, 2014: 20%
  5. Cost of living index, Council for Community and Economic Research, 2014-15 Average: 10%
  6. Arts and entertainment: The number of performing arts, spectator sports and related industries; museums and historical sites; restaurants; and bars per 100,000 residents in each metro area, U.S. Census Population Estimates, 2014; County Business Patterns, 2014: 15%
  7. State job growth projections: The average projected growth rate and the projected number of new jobs per 100 people in each metro area, 2012-22, Projections Central, 2015: 10%
  8. Metro area unemployment rate, Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2015: 10%