dcsimg
Print
Email

Best States to Start Your Post-College Life

Now that you've got your degree, it's time to decide where you want to put down roots and start a career. Transitioning into the "real world" can be difficult, especially when you start to consider long-term goals, like buying a house and starting a family. Home ownership remains firmly a part of the traditional American dream, after graduating college and landing a job. However, for soon-to-be or recent college graduates, not all housing markets are created equal. The best locations should provide the ability to purchase a house and live comfortably after making mortgage payments.

To help grads find the right place to settle down, we investigated the economic prospects and cost of living in all 50 states to determine if, in fact, the American dream is still attainable and how much it actually costs. The states that top the list share two common traits: First, they have excellent projected employment growth rates; and second, they offer earning potential that is relative to the housing prices in the state.

Jump to the 25 Best States to Start Your Post-College Life

Methodology

For each of the top 25 degrees featured in OnlineDegrees.com's Most Employable Degrees, we ranked every state on the four data points listed below:

  1. Average salary -- The median annual salary for graduates holding this specific degree in this state (based on data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics and National Center for Education Statistics).
  2. Leftover salary -- How much money a degree holder can expect to have left over after mortgage payments on a median-priced home (based on data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, National Center for Education Statistics, and the American Community Survey, 2013).
  3. Job potential -- How many new jobs are projected for careers associated with this degree in the state between 2012 and 2022 (based on data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, Projections Central, the Michigan Bureau of Labor Market Information and Strategic Initiatives, and Workforce West Virginia).
  4. Cost of living -- How affordable the state is to live in overall (based on data from the Council for Community and Economic Research, 2014).

Each category was scored out of a possible 10 points, then added together for a total score of up to 40. Once we had a total score for each of the top 25 degrees, we averaged the state's scores together to see which scored highest overall across all degrees. The states were ranked based on which had the highest average out of 40 points.

Note: The median annual salaries listed for each state are only for careers related to the 25 degrees included in our study.

25 Best States to Start Your Post-College Life

Texas

1. Texas

In Texas, a college graduate's dollar goes further in the housing market than any other state in the country. The state is home to three of the five fastest growing cities in the U.S. -- Houston, Austin, and San Antonio -- as well as a booming economy. Between 2012 and 2022, there are projected to be 7,000 job openings in the technology sector alone.

  • Average score: 31.68/40
  • Median house value: $149,600
  • Median annual salary: $64,795
  • Cost of living: 15th

Virginia

2. Virginia

Chasing Texas for the top spot is Virginia, a state that offers college graduates a growing economy and an affordable housing market. Employment projections are strong in the technology sector, with more than 7,400 job openings expected for individuals with degrees in subjects like computer programming and software development between 2012 and 2022.

  • Average score: 31.30/40
  • Median house value: $262,000
  • Median annual salary: $70,305
  • Cost of living: 25th

Georgia

3. Georgia

The blend of career opportunity and low cost of living earns Georgia a top three ranking on this year's list. As the state's economy grows, job prospects are expected to be particularly strong in tech and business. The largest employment gains between 2012 and 2022 are expected in accounting, entrepreneurship, and retail management occupations.

  • Average score: 30.24/40
  • Median house value: $152,400
  • Median annual salary: $62,155
  • Cost of living: 16th

North Carolina

4. North Carolina

North Carolina lands in the top five thanks to a job market and economy that together represent a great opportunity for degree holders both to bring home a decent paycheck and purchase a house. Two rapidly growing markets include business and health care, with job prospects especially strong for dental hygienists.

  • Average score: 29.26/40
  • Median house value: $165,500
  • Median annual salary: $65,980
  • Cost of living: 23rd

Washington

5. Washington

Rounding out the top five is Washington, a state that has a growing and diverse economy which offers graduates the fourth-highest median salary nationally based on our study. A technology hub, the state is fostering growth in its technology sector, with the software development and computer programming industries projected to add at least 6,660 new jobs between 2012 and 2022.

  • Average score: 29.06/40
  • Median house value: $259,700
  • Median annual salary: $72,443
  • Cost of living: 36th

Colorado

6. Colorado

Colorado joins the top 10 powered by strong employment growth in multiple industries and median house values under $250,000. Multiple cities -- Fort Collins, Boulder, and Denver -- are high-growth startup centers in the tech sector, and the state is also experiencing rapid growth in multiple business fields, including accounting and entrepreneurship.

  • Average score: 28.40/40
  • Median house value: $246,500
  • Median annual salary: $69,530
  • Cost of living: 31st

Alabama

7. Alabama

Two of the biggest advantages in Alabama are its low cost of living and sub-$150,000 median housing market. The business sector is projected to have the biggest employment gains between 2012 and 2022, while health care offers a diverse mix of occupations with upward movement, including dental hygienist -- the third-fastest-growing career in the state.

  • Average score: 26.90/40
  • Median house value: $141,400
  • Median annual salary: $61,583
  • Cost of living: 10th

Michigan

8. Michigan

Michigan grabs a spot in the top 10 with an excellent mixture of low housing prices and a high ranking for affordability. Although the state is experiencing employment gains in several industries, the strongest job growth is expected to be in technology, particularly networking, software development and programming, and computer systems analysis.

  • Average score: 26.34/40
  • Median house value: $130,200
  • Median annual salary: $60,720
  • Cost of living: 7th

Minnesota

9. Minnesota

Although Minnesota is not as affordable as some of its Midwest counterparts, solid economic growth and earning potential offset a slightly more expensive housing market. The degree areas expected to see the biggest employment gains are all in business (ex. entrepreneurship and management) and technology (ex. information technology and computer systems analysis).

  • Average score: 26.28/40
  • Median house value: $188,700
  • Median annual salary: $65,413
  • Cost of living: 32nd

Ohio

10. Ohio

Rounding out the top 10 is Ohio, a state with median house values under $140,000, good earning potential for college graduates, and a mixture of diverse occupational opportunities in multiple industries. The largest job gains through 2022 are expected to be concentrated in information technology, entrepreneurship, and retail management.

  • Average score: 25.58/40
  • Median house value: $135,900
  • Median annual salary: $59,560
  • Cost of living: 19th

Arizona

11. Arizona

Arizona offers balanced economic opportunity and cost of living for college graduates -- both are right in the middle nationally. The state offers good potential in the technology sector, but the biggest growth is expected to be in business, specifically business administration and accounting.

  • Average score: 25.54/40
  • Median house value: $178,200
  • Median annual salary: $61,940
  • Cost of living: 28th

Maryland

12. Maryland (tie)

Although Maryland is home to one of the country's more expensive housing markets, the median salary for the most employable degrees (third nationally) might help offset that cost. There are strong employment opportunities in both business and technology between 2012 and 2022. Entrepreneurship is projected to experience the most growth, outpacing the second-fastest-growing career field (retail management) by a whopping 60.8 percent.

  • Average score: 25.00/40
  • Median house value: $287,600
  • Median annual salary: $72,446
  • Cost of living: 40th

New Jersey

12. New Jersey (tie)

Although New Jersey has a higher-than-average cost of living, its median salary ranks first nationally. Job growth is expected to be diverse, with an economic climate projected to see significant gains in technology, marketing, and business administration. Software development, computer programming, and information technology are three fields anticipated to experience some of the largest job growth numerically between 2012 and 2022.

  • Average score: 25.00/40
  • Median house value: $287,600
  • Median annual salary: $76,442
  • Cost of living: 45th

Illinois

14. Illinois

Illinois makes the top 15 as a state that offers good salaries and a relatively affordable housing market. The industries with the largest employment growth, like many other states, are expected to be in business (ex. retail management), but tech fields such as information technology, software development, and computer programming show promise as well.

  • Average score: 24.56/40
  • Median house value: $179,700
  • Median annual salary: $62,893
  • Cost of living: 22nd

Utah

15. Utah

Utah is one of the country's more affordable states, where housing values are just slightly north of $200,000. Relative to the state's population, employment growth is expected to be strong in health care -- especially dental hygiene -- as well as a mix of technology and business-related occupations, including entrepreneurship.

  • Average score: 24.32/40
  • Median house value: $214,300
  • Median annual salary: $58,485
  • Cost of living: 11th

Indiana

16. Indiana

Indiana joins the top 25 as another Midwest state that offers college graduates an opportunity for post-graduation success. One of the most affordable regions in the country, Indiana is also home to a surging job market, particularly in health care, ranking in the top 11 nationally for all the health-related fields in our study.

  • Average score: 24.26/40
  • Median house value: $129,900
  • Median annual salary: $54,423
  • Cost of living: 4th

Massachusetts

17. Massachusetts

Excellent earning potential offsets the relatively high cost of living in Massachusetts, coupled with strong job growth in business and technology. Computer programming, software development, and entrepreneurship are just a few examples of occupational areas expected to see continual gains between 2012 and 2022.

  • Average score: 24.18/40
  • Median house value: $330,600
  • Median annual salary: $69,902
  • Cost of living: 43rd

Delaware

18. Delaware

At No. 18, Delaware is another East Coast state that offers good opportunity for college graduates to put their post-graduation earnings to work. Although the state has an above-average cost of living, it boasts the second-highest median salary in the degree areas surveyed. For job growth, accounting is the fastest-growing occupational field in Delaware, followed by the technology sector.

  • Average score: 24.10/40
  • Median house value: $233,900
  • Median annual salary: $74,213
  • Cost of living: 37th

Missouri

19. Missouri

The sixth Midwestern state in the top 25, Missouri is expected to have strong professional opportunities in the business sector, particularly entrepreneurship and accounting. With median housing values below $150,000, the state offers college degree holders both affordability and career mobility.

  • Average score: 23.82/40
  • Median house value: $144,200
  • Median annual salary: $58,760
  • Cost of living: 17th

Pennsylvania

20. Pennsylvania

Pennsylvania offers college graduates a combination of affordable housing, solid earning potential, and job growth across a variety of industries. Marketing represents the strongest academic area for future career success in the state, and for job growth, business and technology professions are both projected to experience strong gains between 2012 and 2022.

  • Average score: 23.68/40
  • Median house value: $178,000
  • Median annual salary: $65,050
  • Cost of living: 34th

Connecticut

21. Connecticut

Although Connecticut is one of the most expensive areas to live in the country -- second only to Hawaii -- those high costs are offset by a strong job outlook and higher-than-average salaries. The strongest employment opportunities are expected to be in technology and business, especially in accounting and marketing.

  • Average score: 23.60/40
  • Median house value: $272,800
  • Median annual salary: $70,767
  • Cost of living: 49th

Kansas

22. Kansas

Kansas ranks in the top 10 nationally for affordability and has a sub-$150,000 median home value. The low cost of living represents real opportunity for degree holders, especially those pursuing careers in business, technology, and health care. Those three industries are expected to experience the largest employment gains numerically in the state between 2012 and 2022.

  • Average score: 23.52/40
  • Median house value: $147,400
  • Median annual salary: $56,790
  • Cost of living: 9th

California

23. California

California is the second West Coast state to make the top 25. Although cost of living is significantly higher than the national average, a positive job outlook and solid professional opportunities in the technology sector place the state on this year's list. Nine of the 10 top-scoring degrees for California are in tech, with information science topping our list.

  • Average score: 23.28/40
  • Median house value: $383,200
  • Median annual salary: $71,943
  • Cost of living: 46th

Florida

24. Florida

Florida is projected to see strong employment growth in health care, with two occupations -- osteopathy and occupational therapy -- ranking in the top 10 nationally for overall job openings in the field. Salaries and cost of living are both middle-of-the-road, placing the state near the bottom of the best states for housing affordability after graduation, but still in the top 25.

  • Average score: 23.20/40
  • Median house value: $163,600
  • Median annual salary: $61,070
  • Cost of living: 27th

Tennessee

25. Tennessee

The low cost of living in Tennessee is a strong enough factor to earn it a place in the top 25. On the other hand, job growth is primarily strong for lower-paying occupations, particularly in health care. Occupational therapy and surgical technology are two of the best occupations for Tennessee degree holders, based on growth projections.

  • Average score: 23.16/40
  • Median house value: $147,400
  • Median annual salary: $54,342
  • Cost of living: 2nd