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Best Big Cities for New Grads 2018

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Methodology

For this analysis, we ranked 59 U.S. metropolitan and micropolitan statistical areas that had a population of more than 750,000, according to 2015 estimates from the U.S. Census Bureau. We then selected the largest city for each area and ranked those cities on a 10-point scale, using the following eight data points.

  1. Median monthly rent, American Community Survey, 2015
  2. Percent of housing units that are occupied by renters rather than owners, American Community Survey, 2015
  3. Percent of the population between the ages of 20 and 34, American Community Survey, 2015
  4. Median earnings for bachelor's degree holders, American Community Survey, 2015
  5. Arts & 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, 2015; County Business Patterns, 2015
  6. State job growth projections: The average projected growth rate and the projected number of new jobs per 100 people in each metro area, 2014-24, Projections Central, 2015
  7. Employment Status, American Community Survey 5-Year Estimates, 2011-15
  8. Cost of Living Index, Second Quarter, 2017

Sources

  • Annual Estimates of the Resident Population: April 1, 2010 to July 1, 2015, U.S. Census Bureau, accessed July 2017, https://factfinder.census.gov/faces/tableservices/jsf/pages/productview.xhtml?pid=ACS_15_5YR_B01003&prodType=table
  • Arizona Commerce Authority, https://www.azcommerce.com/industries/, accessed December 2017
  • Baltimore Area Economic Summary, updated November 30, 2017, Bureau of Labor Statistics, https://www.bls.gov/regions/mid-atlantic/summary/blssummary_baltimore.pdf
  • City of San Antonio, http://www.sanantonio.gov/, accessed December 2017
  • Colorado Office of Economic Development and International Trade, https://choosecolorado.com/key-industries/, accessed December 2017
  • Cost of Living Index: Quarter 2, 2017, The Council for Community and Economic Research, accessed September 2017, coli.org/
  • Economic Development, City of Columbus, Ohio, https://www.columbus.gov/development/economic-development/Major-Employers/, accessed December 2017
  • Economic Development, Indy Chamber, http://www.indychamber.com/economic-development/emerging-industries/, accessed December 2017
  • Employment Status, 2011-2015, American Community Survey 5-Year Estimates, accessed July 2017, https://factfinder.census.gov/faces/tableservices/jsf/pages/productview.xhtml?pid=ACS_15_5YR_S2301&prodType=table
  • Greater Omaha Economic Development Partnership, http://www.selectgreateromaha.com/Why-Us/Major-Employers.aspx, accessed December 2017
  • Key Industries, Greater Oklahoma City, http://www.greateroklahomacity.com/industries/key-industries/, accessed December 2017
  • Key Industries in Austin, https://www.austinchamber.com/economic-development/key-industries, accessed November 2017
  • Long-Term Occupational Projections by State, Projections Central, 2014-24, accessed July 2017, http://www.projectionscentral.com/Projections/LongTerm
  • Nashville Area Economic Summary, updated November 30, 2017, Bureau of Labor Statistics, https://www.bls.gov/regions/southeast/summary/blssummary_nashville.pdf
  • No. of establishments by MSA for NAICS codes 71: Arts, Entertainment and Recreation and 72: Accommodation and Food Services, County Business Patterns, 2014, accessed July 2017, https://factfinder.census.gov/faces/nav/jsf/pages/searchresults.xhtml?refresh=t
  • Phoenix Relocation Guide, http://www.phoenixrelocationguide.com/Top-Major-Employers-and-Businesses/, accessed December 2017
  • QuickFacts for Minneapolis City, Minnesota, U.S. Census Bureau, https://www.census.gov/quickfacts/fact/table/minneapoliscityminnesota,MN/PST045216, accessed December 2017
  • Table B25058: Median Contract Rent, American Community Survey 5-Year Estimates, 2015, accessed July 2017, https://factfinder.census.gov/faces/tableservices/jsf/pages/productview.xhtml?pid=ACS_15_5YR_B25058&prodType=table
  • Table B25003: Selected Housing Characteristics, American Community Survey 5-Year Estimates, 2015, accessed July 2017, https://factfinder.census.gov/faces/tableservices/jsf/pages/productview.xhtml?pid=ACS_15_5YR_B25003&prodType=table
  • Table S0101: Age and Sex, American Community Survey 5-Year Estimates, 2015, accessed July 2017, https://factfinder.census.gov/faces/tableservices/jsf/pages/productview.xhtml?pid=ACS_15_5YR_S0101&prodType=table
  • Table S2001: Median Earnings in the Past 12 Months (in 2015 Inflation-Adjusted Dollars) by Sex by Educational Attainment for the Population 25 Years and Over, American Community Survey 5-Year Estimates, accessed July 2017, https://factfinder.census.gov/faces/tableservices/jsf/pages/productview.xhtml?pid=ACS_15_5YR_S2001&prodType=table
  • Visit Houston, https://www.visithoustontexas.com/events/, accessed December 2017
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Graduating college is an exciting milestone, but the best may be yet to come. Once you're done earning your college degree, you get the opportunity to spread your wings, ease into adulthood, and build the life you've been dreaming of.

Part of the journey includes deciding where you'll live. While some people might choose their new city based on their job search alone, others might choose a destination based on recreation activities, additional educational opportunities, or their appreciation of the arts. And no matter what, almost every new graduate has to look at any city they're considering through the lens of affordability. Even if they want to live in a specific destination, can they actually afford to?

If you're currently weighing your options, OnlineDegrees.com has ranked the best cities for U.S. college graduates in terms of affordability, employment opportunities, nightlife, and other factors. For 2018, we once again compiled three different rankings for small, midsize, and big cities, depending on what size urban environment might best suit you.

In this particular ranking, we profiled 59 U.S. metropolitan areas with a population of more than 750,000. Taking the largest city in each of those metro areas, we then ranked the cities on a 10-point scale for factors such as average rent, cost of living, nightlife, percentage of young people, median earnings, and the job market. Whether you're looking for a place to settle down now or once you graduate from college, explore our list of the best big cities for new college graduates.

Best Big Cities for New Grads

1. Houston, Texas

Houston, Texas

Houston once again made our ranking as one of the top big cities for new graduates. Although Houston recently suffered considerable damage due to flooding caused by Hurricane Harvey, several factors kept it at the top of our list. Not only does it boast a diverse culture, but it is home to numerous Fortune 500 company headquarters and offers excellent potential for job growth in the future. Houston also features low rent and high earnings — a combination every new graduate looks for in their future city.

Sports fans can look forward to professional football, soccer, basketball and baseball games, including those by the 2017 World Series champions, the Houston Astros. And residents who are interested in things far above ground can enjoy the goings-on at NASA's Johnson Space Center.

  • Percent of population between 20 and 34, 2015: 22%
  • Median rent, 2015: $764
  • Median earnings for bachelor's degree holders, 2015: $58,244
  • Average projected job growth statewide, 2014-24: 17.71%

2. Austin, Texas (tie)

Austin, Texas

Another Texas city, Austin, tied for the second spot on our list due to a low cost of living, the large number of tech companies in the area, low unemployment and exceptional job growth. Grads looking for employment opportunities might consider looking at Austin's key industries, including clean energy and power, creative and digital media, advanced manufacturing, data management and life sciences.

Texas's capital city is also well known for its amazing live music scene, along with the fact it has had as many as 339 bars and more than 340 performing arts venues! With an array of nightlife options and exceptional predicted job growth, it's no wonder such a large percentage of young adults call Austin home. In fact, Austin has the highest percentage of millennials of all the 59 metro areas analyzed for our ranking.

  • Percent of population between 20 and 34, 2015: 24.9%
  • Median rent, 2015: $876
  • Median earnings for bachelor's degree holders, 2015: $50.854
  • Average projected job growth statewide, 2014-24: 17.71%

2. San Antonio, Texas (tie)

San Antonio, Texas

San Antonio made our list of best big cities for new grads for a second year in a row, and for good reason. Based on affordability alone, this city can claim the No. 2 ranking for the lowest cost of living out of all 16 cities featured in our list.

But affordability alone doesn't make it one of the best big cities for newly minted college graduates, there's plenty to do and see in San Antonio. From the annual springtime Fiesta, the "Party with a Purpose," to dining, shopping, or simply strolling along the famed verdant River Walk, new residents to San Antonio can look forward to living in a historically rich city that both "remembers the Alamo" and supports 21st-century industry sectors like aerospace, bioscience and cybersecurity.

  • Percent of population between 20 and 34, 2105: 21.9%
  • Median rent, 2015: $727
  • Median earnings for bachelor's degree holders, 2015: $50,261
  • Average projected job growth statewide, 2014-24: 17.71

4. Denver, Colorado

Denver, Colorado

Colorado's capital city, Denver, is a hotspot for young people. Located just east of the Rocky Mountains, it's an ideal spot for outdoor recreation fans of all kinds, whether they want to hike, ski or climb through the great outdoors. Residents can also enjoy indoor activities, such as dining in one of the more than 5,000 restaurants, or imbibing at one of the 370-plus cocktail lounges, pubs, breweries or distilleries.

Colorado has the highest predicted job growth rate of any we profiled, and Denver has one of the lowest unemployment rates. Those combined facts can translate into good employment opportunities for new grads, especially in one of the city's top industries, such as financial services, advanced manufacturing, bioscience, defense and homeland security, and energy and natural resources.

  • Percent of population between 20 and 34, 2015: 22.1%
  • Median rent, 2015: $929
  • Median earnings for bachelor's degree holders, 2015: $52,912
  • Average projected job growth statewide, 2014-24: 22.02%

5. Columbus, Ohio

Columbus, Ohio

As the capital city of Ohio — and the largest city in the state — Columbus has much to offer young people who want to start their post-college life. In terms of career potential, new grads can pursue jobs with major employers like the state or federal government, Nationwide Insurance, Ohio State University, JP Morgan Chase, Ohio Health, Limited Brands and Honda of America.

For life outside of work, Columbus residents can enjoy multiple concert venues, numerous museums, and professional sports events such as hockey, soccer and baseball. Foodies will find more than 3,200 restaurants and 340 bars to choose from as well. And the city boasts miles of multi-use trails. Columbus offers new grads an extremely low cost of living, including the third-lowest rent of any city on our featured list.

  • Percent of population between 20 and 34, 2015: 22.1%
  • Median rent, 2015: $664
  • Median earnings for bachelor's degree holders, 2015: $51,514
  • Average projected job growth statewide, 2014-24: 3.58%

6. San Diego, California

San Diego, California

While San Diego is one of the more expensive places to live on our list, it's hard to deny the allure of this Southern California city. San Diego has it all, from its mild climate and beautiful beaches to its nightlife and foodie scene. It's a great place to settle down if you love the outdoors and want to live an active lifestyle throughout the year, whether it is hiking in Torrey Pines State Reserve, bicycling up the Pacific Coast Highway or surfing in La Jolla.

In terms of our ranking, San Diego featured the second-highest percentage of young people of all cities we looked at. That fact — and strong job market — helped it earn a spot on our list for the second year in a row.

  • Percent of population between 20 and 34, 2015: 24.3%
  • Median rent, 2015: $1,255
  • Median earnings for bachelor's degree holders, 2015: $53,601
  • Average projected job growth statewide, 2014-24: 12.95%

7. Phoenix, Arizona

Phoenix, Arizona

A brand-new city to make our list of best big cities for college grads this year is Arizona's capital, Phoenix. This Southwestern desert city offers so much for young people to see and do, with its ample opportunities for outdoor recreation like climbing and hiking, to its numerous museums, more than 6,400 restaurants, bars, and professional sports arenas.

The state featured the fourth-highest predicted job growth rate of all 59 metropolitan areas we profiled, so its future looks very bright in terms of economic health. New grads who choose to move to Phoenix can seek employment in top industries like health care, finance, government, mining, aerospace and education. The city's largest employers include the State of Arizona, Wal-Mart Stores, Banner Health, Wells Fargo, Intel Corp., US Airways and Boeing Co.

  • Percent of population between 20 and 34, 2015: 21%
  • Median rent, 2015: $804
  • Median earnings for bachelor's degree holders, 2015: $50,982
  • Average projected job growth statewide, 2014-24: 18.63%

8. Boston, Massachusetts

Boston, Massachusetts

Boston is a city of significant historical importance to the U.S., and it's also ripe with modern-day action and activities for fresh college graduates. The city features numerous landmarks, a rich economy perfect for building any career, and world-class colleges and universities like Harvard, MIT, and Tufts, for those who might want to pursue an advanced degree or who simply want to live in an area that's buzzing with intellectual activity.

This northeastern hub city also featured some of the highest median wages of all cities we profiled, making it a top contender for college graduates who want to maximize their income potential once they graduate. Boston is definitely a food-oriented town. In fact, the city has 9,800-plus restaurants — more than any other place featured in our top rankings.

  • Percent of population between 20 and 34, 2015: 21.7%
  • Median rent, 2015: $1,114
  • Median earnings for bachelor's degree holders, 2015: $60,058
  • Average projected job growth statewide, 2014-24: 4.07%

9. San Jose, California

San Jose, California

San Jose, California, made its way into our ranking of top big cities for new grads for the first time this year. This has a lot to do with the city's bustling job market. As the third-most populous city in the state, San Jose is home to numerous large corporations within the booming tech and e-commerce industries. Because of its economic prowess, San Jose is expected to see amazing job growth over the next decade. Not only that, but the city reported the highest wages of all cities we profiled for this study.

San Jose residents can enjoy the California lifestyle of easy visits to the Napa and Sonoma wine regions, gorgeous coastal towns like Carmel, and the Lake Tahoe area for weekend ski trips.

  • Percent of population between 20 and 34, 2015: 21.5%
  • Median rent, 2015: $1,605
  • Median earnings for bachelor's degree holders, 2015: $75,038
  • Average projected job growth statewide, 2014-24: 12.95%

10. Baltimore, Maryland

Baltimore, Maryland

Baltimore is another popular location for young people to build their post-college life. This city features high wages for bachelor's degree holders — in fact, the second-highest earnings of all cities in this ranking. And Maryland's potential job growth over the next decade is far above average. New grads can seek jobs in these top-employing sectors: education and health services, professional and business services, government, and trade, transportation and utilities.

This historical seaport city is also home to plenty of non-work-related perks. Benefits of Baltimore living include having access to some of the nation's best seafood, being close to all the boating and sailing you can handle, and being a short drive away from the nation's capital.

  • Percent of population between 20 and 34, 2015: 21.1%
  • Median rent, 2015: $970
  • Median earnings for bachelor's degree holders, 2015: $60,225
  • Average projected job growth statewide, 2014-24: 15.47%

11. Oklahoma City, Oklahoma

Oklahoma City, Oklahoma

Out of all the places in this "best big cities" ranking, Oklahoma City took the No. 1 spot for its overall affordable cost of living. Cost-conscious new grads can enjoy the lowest average rents of all the big cities we profiled, along with low costs for everything else including food, insurance and medical care. Oklahoma City also claims the No. 2 spot — out of all 59 metro areas analyzed — for its low unemployment rate, no doubt helped by the city's diversified economic base, which includes aerospace, biotech, energy and logistics.

This Midwestern capital is also home to numerous museums such as the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum, gorgeous parks, and plenty of opportunities for nightlife.

  • Percent of population between 20 and 34, 2015: 22.7%
  • Median rent, 2015: $611
  • Median earnings for bachelor's degree holders, 2015: $45,024
  • Average projected job growth statewide, 2014-24: 7.78%

12. Nashville, Tennessee

Nashville, Tennessee

Nashville is known as "Music City U.S.A." for good reason, as it is home to numerous bars featuring live music as well as performing arts venues featuring country music favorites. The capital city is practically bursting with things to do and see, from the Grand Ole Opry to Ryman Auditorium, the Country Music Hall of Fame, and its bustling downtown area filled with fun bars and famous eateries.

Nashville is also an affordable place to live, with low rents and an affordable cost of living compared to most big cities. Unsurprisingly, the leisure and hospitality industry is a key employer in Nashville, but job-seekers may also find opportunities in professional and business services, education and health services, and trade, transportation and utilities.

  • Percent of population between 20 and 34, 2015: 21.9%
  • Median rent, 2015: $712
  • Median earnings for bachelor's degree holders, 2015: $46,417
  • Average projected job growth statewide, 2014-24: 11.45%

13. Omaha, Nebraska

Omaha, Nebraska

Omaha is another city that made our ranking for the first time this year. One factor that propelled it onto this "best big cities" list is its unemployment rate. In fact, Omaha took the No. 1 spot on this metric out of all 59 metro areas analyzed for this ranking. For young college grads, Omaha also features low rents and a very affordable cost of living overall.

Several Fortune 500 companies make their base in Omaha, including Berkshire Hathaway and Union Pacific. Other jobs for college degree holders may be found in the city's top-employing health care or data sectors. There is plenty to do in this big city, from its zoo to its many art and history museums, craft breweries and 1,400-plus restaurants.

  • Percent of population between 20 and 34, 2015: 21.3%
  • Median rent, 2015: $674
  • Median earnings for bachelor's degree holders, 2015: $47,972
  • Average projected job growth statewide, 2014-24: 9.07%

14. Indianapolis, Indiana

Indianapolis, Indiana

If you're looking for an exciting place to settle down that's also affordable, newly minted grads should check out Indianapolis, Indiana. The city features the best of all worlds — a diverse job market, plenty of nightlife, the big-city amenities of a capital city and plenty of natural beauty. Sports lovers will also relish in the fact you can cheer for multiple professional sports teams like the Indianapolis Colts and Indiana Pacers within city limits.

Job seekers with college degrees can consider starting their career by exploring opportunities in a wide range of industries, from digital and clean tech, to logistics, life sciences, defense and aerospace, and motorsports. Another bonus: Indianapolis features insanely low rents.

  • Percent of population between 20 and 34, 2015: 20.5%
  • Median rent, 2015: $647
  • Median earnings for bachelor's degree holders, 2015: $49,535
  • Average projected job growth statewide, 2014-24: 8.26%

15. Minneapolis, Minnesota (tie)

Minneapolis, Minnesota

Minneapolis made its debut on our "best big cities for new grads" list, mostly due to its affordability and its ample opportunity for young people. Minneapolis and neighboring Saint Paul are teeming with large companies, which is part of the reason Minneapolis features such a low unemployment rate.

This major Minnesota city is highly educated — as of 2016, almost half of the population held at least bachelor's degree. But this might not be  surprising given the number of colleges and universities who call it "home." Minneapolis also claimed the No. 3 overall spot on our entertainment metric: New grads that choose to live here can look forward to plenty of activities including professional sports, arts and leisure, and bars.

  • Percent of population between 20 and 34, 2015: 21%
  • Median rent, 2015: $850
  • Median earnings for bachelor's degree holders, 2015: $54,313
  • Average projected job growth statewide, 2014-24: 2.33%

15. Bakersfield, California (tie)

Bakersfield, California

The final newcomer to our ranking is California's Central Valley city, Bakersfield. Although it's the smallest big city on our list in terms of population, Bakersfield still offers plenty of opportunities for new college graduates in terms of jobs and recreation. Residents can enjoy whitewater rafting on the Kern River or hiking in the Southern Sierra.

Bakersfield and its surrounding area is a major location for agriculture and oil production, making it a smart option for grads looking to work in those industries. Career options can also be found in the large health care sector. While Bakersfield could see huge job growth over the next decade, given the state's higher-than-average projected job growth rate, degree-holding residents in the city already see high earnings.

  • Percent of population between 20 and 34, 2015: 23.1%
  • Median rent, 2015: $741
  • Median earnings for bachelor's degree holders, 2015: $58,423
  • Average projected job growth statewide, 2014-24: 12.95%

Rankings Archive

Rankings Archive The 15 Best Big Cities for New Grads 2016

  1. Austin, Texas
  2. San Francisco, California
  3. Houston, Texas
  4. Columbus, Ohio
  5. San Antonio, Texas
  6. Seattle, Washington
  7. Dallas, Texas
  8. Denver, Colorado
  9. San Diego, California
  10. San Jose, California
  11. Boston, Massachusetts
  12. Washington, D.C.
  13. New York, New York
  14. Cincinnati, Ohio
  15. Nashville, Tennessee
Article Sources
Best Big CitiesMedian EarningsJob Growth Statewide
Denver, Colorado$52,83321.7%
Austin, Texas$50,89221.5%
Houston, Texas$57,36621.5%
San Antonio, Texas$50,27921.5%
Dallas, Texas$54,52021.5%
Seattle, Washington$58,62417.5%
San Francisco, California$63,95415.9%
San Diego, California$53,92515.9%
San Jose, California$75,10315.9%
Nashville, Tennessee$46,16713.8%
Boston, Massachusetts$59,11812.8%
New York, New York$59,23811.4%
Columbus, Ohio$51,79410.5%
Cincinnati, Ohio$51,95110.5%
Washington, D.C.$66,01310.3%