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Best Midsize Cities for New Grads

For anyone looking to start their careers and settle down after college, city life sure does have a lot of appeal -- and usually, the majority of job opportunities. However, you don't have to live the "big city" lifestyle to find success and prosperity.

OnlineDegrees.com recently ranked the nation's best cities for recent college grads. To illustrate the fact that there are numerous options for today's graduates all across the country, we broke the ranking into big, midsize, and small cities. So, whether you prefer the feel of a college town, want the mountains as your backdrop, appreciate Southern hospitality, or seek a vibrant nightlight, you can find the ideal locale to start your post-college life.

For this analysis, we ranked 69 U.S. cities that either had a city population of between 150,000 and 750,000, or were designated as the principal city of a Metropolitan Statistical Area with a population between 1 million and 1.5 million, according to 2015 estimates from the U.S. Census Bureau. Each location was graded based on a number of employment, demographic, and "fun" factors, such as median rent price, percent of population age 20 to 34, unemployment rate, and number of restaurants or performing arts venues in the area. To see a detailed breakdown of our methodology, click here.

Lexington, Kentucky, tops the list, and you'll understand why once you dive into the statistics. The city boasts low median rent, good job prospects, and plenty of arts and entertainment. Amarillo, Texas, and Madison, Wisconsin, round out the top three, bolstered by their very low unemployment rates. There are a few surprises, too, so be sure to check out the full list below.

The 15 Best Midsize Cities for New Grads

Lexington

1. Lexington, Kentucky

It's known as the "Horse Capital of the World," and Lexington is winning the race when it comes to postgraduate opportunities. The city has an extremely educated population, with over 40 percent of adults possessing a bachelor's degree or higher, according to U.S. Census data. There are also 18 colleges located in the area for those looking to further their education.

But outside of school is where the real fun begins. Lexington has 131 public parks, 24 miles of shared-use trails designed for running and biking, and the third-highest number of performing arts, sports, and related event centers (per 100,000 people) in our analysis.

With affordable living and great job prospects, including at Lexmark International Inc. (which is headquartered here), Xerox, Lockheed Martin, IBM, and the University of Kentucky, Lexington is a smart choice for those ready to settle down and start a career.

  • Percent of population between 20 and 34, 2014: 23.6%
  • Median rent, 2014: $611
  • Median earnings for bachelor's degree holders, 2014: $45,615
  • Average projected job growth statewide, 2012-22: 17.0%

Amarillo

2. Amarillo, Texas

If the rodeo and cowboy life appeals to you, Amarillo is an up-and-coming city to consider. Thanks to its low unemployment rate (the third lowest on our list) and ample median earnings, Amarillo is a great place for young grads looking to make the most out of their educational investment. Texas also has the third-highest projected statewide job growth on our list.

There's lots of local beauty to discover in the area, such as Palo Duro Canyon State Park, the country's second-largest canyon system, and Cadillac Ranch, a public art installation consisting of painted automobiles half-buried in the ground.

  • Percent of population between 20 and 34, 2014: 21.9%
  • Median rent, 2014: $605
  • Median earnings for bachelor's degree holders, 2014: $48,332
  • Average projected job growth statewide, 2012-22: 21.5%

Madison

3. Madison, Wisconsin

Nearly one in four residents of Madison is between the ages of 20 and 34, making it a young, hip city. With the University of Wisconsin-Madison as its biggest college, the population is highly educated -- over half of the city's adult population has a bachelor's degree or higher. That's why large employers like Alliant Energy and American Family Insurance Group, which are headquartered here, have no trouble finding talent.

For people who love the great outdoors, Madison is known for its fishing and boating, and contains more than 50 major city parks. And for cultural enrichment, there are 24 museums and historical sites in the metro area to explore.

  • Percent of population between 20 and 34, 2014: 24.1%
  • Median rent, 2014: $788
  • Median earnings for bachelor's degree holders, 2014: $49,259
  • Average projected job growth statewide, 2012-22: 9.2%

Colorado Springs

4. Colorado Springs, Colorado

You might think of snow and mountains when Colorado is mentioned, but Colorado Springs is actually on the Front Range, offering majestic mountainous views without the extreme weather. That's appealing to the many students who attend the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs and other schools in the area.

Colorado boasts the second-highest projected statewide job growth on the list. And in Colorado Springs, many of those opportunities are in hot STEM fields, with corporations like HP and Verizon Wireless having a major presence in the city. It's ripe for tech startups and entrepreneurial endeavors as well. The military, specifically the Air Force, is also big in Colorado Springs, as its home to the U.S. Air Force Academy and North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD).

  • Percent of population between 20 and 34, 2014: 22.8%
  • Median rent, 2014: $799
  • Median earnings for bachelor's degree holders, 2014: $46,780
  • Average projected job growth statewide, 2012-22: 21.7%

Lubbock

5. Lubbock, Texas

The second Texas city in our top five is Lubbock. With its low cost of living, young demographic makeup, and the state's high projected job growth, it's no wonder that Lubbock is great fit for young grads.

The city, home of Texas Tech University, is also a hub for health care, agriculture, and manufacturing jobs. As for fun, Lubbock has more music venues and neighborhood parks per capita than any other city in Texas, according to their Convention and Visitors Bureau.

  • Percent of population between 20 and 34, 2014: 26.8%
  • Median rent, 2014: $641
  • Median earnings for bachelor's degree holders, 2014: $43,447
  • Average projected job growth statewide, 2012-22: 21.5%

Durham

6. Durham, North Carolina

Considering that Durham is part of Research Triangle Park, one of the largest high-tech development hubs in the country, it's a great fit for young STEM graduates. In fact, for every 1,000 jobs in Durham, 100 of them are STEM-related. IBM and Cisco are among the top employers in the area.

Forbes also recognized Durham as the 12th most educated city in America in 2016, with Duke University it's most famous institution of higher education. As far as entertainment, there's always Blue Devil sporting events and performances at the Durham Performing Arts Center.

  • Percent of population between 20 and 34, 2014: 23.5%
  • Median rent, 2014: $722
  • Median earnings for bachelor's degree holders, 2014: $45,086
  • Average projected job growth statewide, 2012-22: 16.4%

Tallahassee

7. Tallahassee, Florida

Florida's state capital is definitely football country, being home to both Florida State University and Florida A&M. This significant student population helps Tallahassee rank first on our list for the highest percentage of residents between the ages of 20 and 34.

As such, many companies across industries, including advanced manufacturing, health care, information technology, aviation, engineering, renewable energy, and transportation, are setting up shop in Tallahassee. And because many of the state's government offices are located in the area, law, business, and finance professionals are in demand as well.

  • Percent of population between 20 and 34, 2014: 28.1%
  • Median rent, 2014: $712
  • Median earnings for bachelor's degree holders, 2014: $43,664
  • Average projected job growth statewide, 2012-22: 17.4%

Honolulu

8. Honolulu, Hawaii

Honolulu has an almost unfair advantage of being located in Hawaii, simply for its beauty, favorable weather, and access to beach life. However, there is more to Honolulu than fun in the sun, as many young adults are discovering. The University of Hawaii System and Hawaii Pacific University are located here, for starters.

Besides its large tourism industry, Honolulu is also big into visual arts, with several notable museums in the area. Unfortunately, the city loses points for having both the highest median rent and lowest statewide job growth in the top 15.

  • Percent of population between 20 and 34, 2014: 23.1%
  • Median rent, 2014: $1,383
  • Median earnings for bachelor's degree holders, 2014: $48,857
  • Average projected job growth statewide, 2012-22: 9.6%

Lincoln

9. Lincoln, Nebraska

With the lowest unemployment rate on our list (an impressive 2.6 percent in 2015), Lincoln has lots of career potential. As part of the "Silicon Prairie," tech innovation is a major factor in Lincoln's attraction. Other prominent industries in the area include manufacturing, finance, telecommunications, and health care.

Perhaps more important, Lincoln was named the "Happiest City in America" by Gallup-Healthways in 2013, with job satisfaction a big driver of that finding. Good jobs, happy living -- what more can you want?

  • Percent of population between 20 and 34, 2014: 25.6%
  • Median rent, 2014: $611
  • Median earnings for bachelor's degree holders, 2014: $42,587
  • Average projected job growth statewide, 2012-22: 12.1%

Omaha

10. Omaha, Nebraska

Lincoln isn't the only Nebraska city attracting college graduates. Omaha is the headquarters of Fortune 500 companies like Warren Buffet's Berkshire Hathaway, Union Pacific, Mutual of Omaha, and Kiewit Corporation, one of the biggest construction companies in the world.

Craft beer, good steak, indie music (check out the Maha Music Festival), and local art are part of the downtown Omaha scene. Major attractions in the area include the Henry Doorly Zoo and Omaha Community Playhouse, the largest community theater in the U.S.

  • Percent of population between 20 and 34, 2014: 21.5%
  • Median rent, 2014: $671
  • Median earnings for bachelor's degree holders, 2014: $46,932
  • Average projected job growth statewide, 2012-22: 12.1%

Salt Lake City

11. Salt Lake City, Utah

With the highest projected statewide job growth on our list, Utah has much to offer young grads -- and Salt Lake City is no exception. In fact, the city ranked seventh on Forbes' 2015 list of Best Places for Business and Careers. Major industries in the area include transportation, industrial banking, health care, and tourism.

Home of the Sundance Film Festival and lots of outdoor recreation revolving around skiing, Salt Lake City is an exciting place to live and work. It's also a college town, with the University of Utah, Westminster College, Salt Lake Community College, and others all close by, which may be enticing to those interested in furthering their studies.

  • Percent of population between 20 and 34, 2014: 24.2%
  • Median rent, 2014: $801
  • Median earnings for bachelor's degree holders, 2014: $45,008
  • Average projected job growth statewide, 2012-22: 26.3%

Fort Collins

12. Fort Collins, Colorado

Fort Collins is a picturesque town, so much so that Disney World's Main Street, USA was designed after it. Home to Colorado State University, Fort Collins is also full of adventure, whether it's for lovers of live music, rock climbing, hiking, or beer.

The downtown area known as Old Town is brimming with culture, perfect for the 20-34 crowd who make up nearly one quarter of the population. Fort Collins has the highest ratio of performing arts and sports centers to residents on the list. And like we mentioned earlier, Colorado ranks second in terms of statewide job growth for college graduates.

  • Percent of population between 20 and 34, 2014: 24.7%
  • Median rent, 2014: $894
  • Median earnings for bachelor's degree holders, 2014: $42,555
  • Average projected job growth statewide, 2012-22: 21.7%

Columbus

13. Columbus, Georgia

It's hard not to love the Southern charm that is Columbus' RiverWalk, which runs along the banks of the Chattahoochee River. And that's just the start! Columbus is a good pick for history buffs, with its historical sites, museums, and Civil War reenactments.

Graduates can also appreciate the low median rent and high job prospects. Companies headquartered in the city include Aflac, Synovus, TSYS, and Carmike Cinemas.

  • Percent of population between 20 and 34, 2014: 23.1%
  • Median rent, 2014: $605
  • Median earnings for bachelor's degree holders, 2014: $45,271
  • Average projected job growth statewide, 2012-22: 21.2%

Laredo

14. Laredo, Texas

Perhaps the most surprising name to make the list, Laredo is a Mexican border town, and the largest inland port on the United States-Mexican Border. Running along the northern banks of the Rio Grande River, kayaking is a popular pastime, as is enjoying authentic Mexican cuisine.

Laredo is a very affordable place to live, with the lowest median rent in the top 15. Home to Texas A&M International University, the city is all about multicultural appreciation, but patriotism runs high as well. The annual Washington's Birthday Celebration is among the biggest celebrations for our founding father in the country.

  • Percent of population between 20 and 34, 2014: 21.4%
  • Median rent, 2014: $567
  • Median earnings for bachelor's degree holders, 2014: $45,554
  • Average projected job growth statewide, 2012-22: 21.5%

Anchorage

15. Anchorage, Alaska

If you want to leave the continental states, Anchorage is a great choice, as it boasts the highest median earnings for bachelor's degree holders on the list. And don't worry, it's not as freezing cold as other big cities in Alaska.

Residents get to enjoy lots of outdoor recreation, including at Chugach State Park, the third-largest state park in the nation. Anchorage is also where the famous Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race holds its ceremonial start each March, and seeing the Northern Lights is a yearly treat. Those interested in tourism and transportation will do well in this large port city.

  • Percent of population between 20 and 34, 2014: 24.0%
  • Median rent, 2014: $1,064
  • Median earnings for bachelor's degree holders, 2014: $56,778
  • Average projected job growth statewide, 2012-22: 10.2%

Methodology

Each city was ranked on a 10-point scale, using the following seven data points (weights are specified):

  1. Median monthly rent, American Community Survey, 2014: 15%
  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: 20%
  4. Median earnings for bachelor's degree holders, American Community Survey, 2014: 15%
  5. Arts and entertainment: The number of performing arts, spectator sports and related industries; and museums and historical sites per 100,000 residents in each metro area, U.S. Census Population Estimates, 2014; County Business Patterns, 2014: 15%
  6. 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%
  7. Metro area unemployment rate, Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2015: 15%

Additional Sources:
QuickFacts: Lexington-Fayette, Kentucky, United States Census Bureau, Accessed August 16, 2016, http://www.census.gov/quickfacts/table/PST045215/2146027
"7 Scenic Natural Wonders of Dane County," Wisconsin Depart of Tourism, June, 7, 2016, Amy Bayer, http://www.travelwisconsin.com/article/natural-attractions-and-parks/seven-scenic-natural-wonders-of-dane-county
QuickFacts: Madison city, Wisconsin, United States Census Bureau, Accessed August 16, 2016, http://www.census.gov/quickfacts/table/PST045215/5548000
Did You Know… Lubbock Fun Facts, Lubbock Convention and Visitors Bureau, Accessed August 16, 2016, http://www.visitlubbock.org/funfacts/
"Best Places for STEM Grads 2016," NerdWallet, April 26, 2016, Sreekar Jasthi & Laura McMullen, https://www.nerdwallet.com/blog/studies/best-places-stem-grads-2016/
"The 25 Most and Least Educated Cities in America," Forbes, September 16, 2015, Kathryn Dill, http://www3.forbes.com/leadership/the-25-most-and-least-educated-cities-in-america/15/
"Lincoln, Neb., Bests All Cities in Wellbeing in 2012," Gallup, March 26, 2013, Dan Witters, http://www.gallup.com/poll/161483/lincoln-neb-bests-cities-wellbeing-2012.aspx
"The Best Places For Business And Careers," Forbes, Accessed August 16, 2016, http://www.forbes.com/best-places-for-business/list/
Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race, Anchorage Convention and Visitors Bureau, Accessed August 16, 2016, http://www.anchorage.net/winter/events/iditarod-sled-dog-race/