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Best Midsize Cities for New Grads 2018

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Methodology

For this analysis, we ranked 204 U.S. metropolitan and micropolitan statistical areas that had a population between 150,000 and 750,000, according to the five-year American Community Survey estimates from the U.S. Census Bureau. We then selected the largest city from 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

Additional 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
  • 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
  • Cost of Living Index: Quarter 2, 2017, The Council for Community and Economic Research, accessed September 2017, coli.org/
  • 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
  • Long-Term Occupational Projections by State, Projections Central, 2014-24, accessed July 2017, http://www.projectionscentral.com/Projections/LongTerm
  • 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
  • About Fayetteville, City of Fayetteville, Arkansas, Accessed September 2017, http://www.fayetteville-ar.gov/902/About-Fayetteville
  • City of Amarillo, City of Amarillo, Accessed September 2017, http://amarillo.gov/
  • City of Boulder Colorado, City of Boulder, Accessed September 2017, https://bouldercolorado.gov/visitors
  • City of Lincoln, City of Lincoln, Accessed September 2017, http://www.lincolnca.gov/
  • City of Little Rock, City of Little Rock, Accessed September 2017, https://www.littlerock.gov/for-residents/bikeped-little-rock/
  • Durham, North Carolina, City of North Carolina, Accessed September 2017, http://durhamnc.gov/
  • Explore and Learn, Colorado Springs, Accessed September 2017, https://www.visitcos.com/things-to-do/
  • Events, City of Corpus Christi, Accessed September 2017, http://www.visitcorpuschristitx.org/trip-ideas/events/
  • Lexington, Lexington-Fayette Urban County Government, Accessed September 2017, https://www.lexingtonky.gov/
  • Visit Lubbock, City of Lubbock, Accessed September 2017, http://www.visitlubbock.org/
  • Play Madison Parks, City of Madison, Accessed September 2017, http://www.cityofmadison.com/parks/facilities/beaches.cfm
  • Riverfest, Wichita River Fest, Accessed September 2017, http://www.wichitafestivals.com/events/riverfest/
  • The City of Fargo Far More, City of Fargo, Accessed September 2017, http://fargond.gov/work/improving-fargo
  • Waco and the Heart of Texas, Waco Visitor Information Center, Accessed September 2017, https://wacoheartoftexas.com/
  • Welcome to the City of Santa Maria, City of Santa Maria, Accessed September 2017, https://www.cityofsantamaria.org/
  • Wichita, Kansas, City of Wichita, Accessed September 2017, http://wichita.org/
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Anyone ready for life after college could have city living at the top of their mind. Of course, cities come in a range of sizes from small to large, but this list takes a look at those cites that could be fantastic for their mid-range size.

In fact, midsize is just another way to say the best of both worlds, since midsize can blend big-city amenities with small-town hospitality. Because of the appeal of cities of midsize, OnlineDegrees.com ranked 204 of the nation's metropolitan areas that have a population between 150,000 and 750,000. We then looked at the largest city in each of those areas.

A 10-point scale was used to drive the metrics, which comprised components such as percentage of young adults living there, median rent and the numbers of restaurants, bars and performing arts centers. Overall, we looked at eight different data points to make a cogent argument for our list of best midsize cities for recent college grads, but don't take our word for it. To see a detailed breakdown of our methodology, look further down on this page.

Our list for 2018 features newcomers to our annual ranking as well as repeat performers. Cities across the nation are represented, located from the East Coast to the West Coast, including Plains and Mountain states, and states North and South. This year, Texas take four of the spots; Colorado and Arkansas both can claim two placements. There's clearly something for every new grad on this list, including a few charming surprises.

The Best Midsize Cities for New Grads

1. Fayetteville, Arkansas

Fayette

Fayetteville, the number one city on our midsize list, is a newcomer this year, but clearly at the top for low median rent and high median earnings. Anyone seeking to settle down in a city with historic neighborhoods, live local music, free concerts, sporting events and a mountainous location could love Fayetteville. The city is the third largest in Arkansas and home to the flagship campus of the University of Arkansas, also a well-known public research institution.

With more than 200 days of sunshine a year, there are lakes, hiking trails and rivers to explore. New grads can also visit Fayetteville's museums, performing arts centers and more than 800 restaurants. All of these outdoor and indoor options mean young people who call Fayetteville "home" are sure to find an enjoyable lifestyle.

  • Percent of population between 20 and 34, 2015: 22.6%
  • Median rent, 2015: $577
  • Median earnings for bachelor's degree holders, 2015: $50,985
  • Average projected job growth statewide, 2014-24: 9.40%

2. Lexington, Kentucky

Lexington

Returning again to a top spot on our list of 15 best midsize cities for new grads is Lexington, also known by the moniker "Horse Capital of the World." In addition to its two horse-racing tracks, the city is home to six dog parks, a nature sanctuary and a 12-mile paved greenway biking and running trail.

New grads who want to make Lexington their home can enjoy seasonal events such as the Mayfest Arts Fair, Kentucky Sheep and Fiber Festival, the Southland Jamboree or Free Friday Flicks at Jacobson Park. Lexington also boasts numerous performing arts venues, bars and restaurants, giving it 5th place on our overall metric for entertainment out of all the cities on our "top 15" list. On the economic front, the state's high projected growth rate also indicates a promising start for new residents.

  • Percent of population between 20 and 34, 2015: 23.6%
  • Median rent, 2015: $622
  • Median earnings for bachelor's degree holders, 2015: $45,530
  • Average projected job growth statewide, 2014-24: 15.19%

3. Amarillo, Texas

Amarillo

Amarillo's affordability, low unemployment rate, and the state's double-digit job growth can go a long way toward supporting new grads. Out of the 15 cities on our list, its above-average earnings and below-average rent make for a very attractive combo. Amarillo, situated in the Texas Panhandle, returns for another year to our list of 15 best midsize cities for new grads.

The city has plenty of entertainment choices to choose from, thanks to the Amarillo Civic Center Complex, which features Amarillo Bulls hockey games, musical performances and even Wild Texas film tours. For more active options, new graduates can head out to the dragway or golf courses. Amarillo also hosts an annual People, Pints, Petals pub crawl. Out of the 15 top cities on our list, Amarillo garnered the 4th-place spot for performing arts venues and 3rd place for restaurants.

  • Percent of population between 20 and 34, 2015: 22.1%
  • Median rent, 2015: $621
  • Median earnings for bachelor's degree holders, 2015: $48,372
  • Average projected job growth statewide, 2014-24: 17.71%

4. Waco, Texas

Waco

Waco is new on our list of 15 best midsize cities for new grads. The city also has an active cultural and historic district to appreciate, nearly 400 different restaurants, vineyards and craft breweries. Of special note is the downtown shopping available at Magnolia Market — a place likely to be familiar to HGTV fans. The city also boasts numerous performance arts venues, taking the sixth-place spot on this metric out of all 204 cities considered for this list. And for those interested in furthering their education, Baylor University offers more than 100 graduate-level programs.

Located in the center of Texas along the Dallas-Austin corridor, Waco's diversified industry base, from aerospace and defense, to health care, supply chain management, professional and financial services, and advanced manufacturing, can translate into a variety of opportunities for those at the start of their career.

  • Percent of population between 20 and 34, 2015: 23.0%
  • Median rent, 2015: $589
  • Median earnings for bachelor's degree holders, 2015: $46,750
  • Average projected job growth statewide, 2014-24: 17.71%

5. Lubbock, Texas

Lubbock

Coming back for another year on our list is Lubbock. Also known as the "Hub City" because it's surrounded by five major cities, Lubbock is located in the northwestern part of the state. Major employers in the city include Texas Tech University, Texas Tech Health Science Center and the City of Lubbock.

New grads looking to connect with others their age will find a large percentage of residents between 20 and 34 — one of the highest percentages on our list. Lubbock can also claim high placements on our metrics for museums and performing arts venues — both coming in at No. 2 out of the top 15 cities. And Lubbock's placement is likely to go even higher next year: in 2017, the city broke ground on its new Buddy Holly Hall of Performing Arts.

  • Percent of population between 20 and 34, 2015: 27.0%
  • Median rent, 2015: $645
  • Median earnings for bachelor's degree holders, 2015: $44,357
  • Average projected job growth statewide, 2014-24: 17.71%

6. Madison, Wisconsin

Madison

Catch free movies in the park, find fresh food at indoor and outdoor farmers markets and enjoy street vending and sidewalk cafes in Wisconsin's capital city. In addition to all this activity for new grads who choose to become residents, Madison features public art installations, 6,000 acres of parkland and 11 beach fronts along various lakes in the city for attractions. In fact, Madison took the No. 1 spot for entertainment on our list, based on its scores for restaurants, bars, museums, and performing arts venues.

The state's capital, Madison is home to the University of Wisconsin-Madison and has major employers that include Kraft Foods, American Family Insurance and Covance Laboratories. Those just out of college can look forward to some of the highest wages on our list and one of the lowest unemployment rates.

  • Percent of population between 20 and 34, 2015: 24.3%
  • Median rent, 2015: $801
  • Median earnings for bachelor's degree holders, 2015: $49,129
  • Average projected job growth statewide, 2014-24: 12.95%

7. Santa Maria, California

Santa Maria

Santa Maria makes arts, entertainment and the outdoors a front-and-center focus of civic activities. Residents can enjoy concerts in the park and the opportunity to see artist-decorated public utility boxes. There also are wineries, biking trails and 12 miles of Pacific coastline to enjoy in this city in Santa Barbara County. Santa Maria also has a youthful population — about one in four are between 20 and 34 — meaning that new grads are likely to find it easy to connect with others their age.

Located along Highway 101 near the coast, the city boasts industries that include aerospace, communications, energy production and high-tech research -- just right for many new college graduates. The nearby Vandenberg Air Force base also employs many residents in Santa Maria.

  • Percent of population between 20 and 34, 2015: 24.4%
  • Median rent, 2015: $1,278
  • Median earnings for bachelor's degree holders, 2015: $53,659
  • Average projected job growth statewide, 2014-24: 4.47%

8. Lincoln, Nebraska

Lincoln

Get out the golf clubs in Lincoln. Nebraska's capital city boasts five city golf courses, as well as seven recreation centers and 133 miles of trails for fun and entertainment. As well, the city ranks highly for the size of its Millennial population — about one in four residents is between the ages of 20 and 34.

Lincoln's low unemployment rate and the state's extremely high projected job growth rate are good indicators for new grads looking for a midsize city to make their home. While the state of Nebraska is the largest employer in the city, anyone interested in business opportunities should be sure to attend the city's annual Lincoln Business Expo.

  • Percent of population between 20 and 34, 2015: 25.5%
  • Median rent, 2015: $614
  • Median earnings for bachelor's degree holders, 2015: $42,499
  • Average projected job growth statewide, 2014-24: 22.02%

9. Boulder, Colorado

Boulder

This Rocky Mountain city made our list of 15 best midsize cities for new grads for multiple reasons. While it performed well across multiple metrics, Boulder's solid ranking in median earnings, a significant young adult population and a high number of performing arts centers are among its most noteworthy assets. Residents are also highly educated, with more than 70 percent holding a bachelor's degree or higher.

This Rocky Mountain city has more than 300 days of sunshine a year and is home to 60 urban parks and more than 150 acres of trails. For those interested in active lifestyles and who enjoy fine cuisine and drink, Boulder, "America's Foodiest Town" (according to Bon Appetit magazine) might be a great place to start your post-college life.

  • Percent of population between 20 and 34, 2015: 24.0%
  • Median rent, 2015: $1,100
  • Median earnings for bachelor's degree holders, 2015: $48,722
  • Average projected job growth statewide, 2014-24: 9.07%

10. Fargo, North Dakota

Fargo

New on our list of 15 best midsize cities for new grads is Fargo, which has its own theater (known as Fargodome) and even a civic center. The city clearly attracts young people as nearly 30 percent of residents there are between the ages of 20 and 34 — the highest number of all 15 top cities on our list.

As for the economy, Fargo had the lowest unemployment rate of any of the cities included on this "top 15" list, at 3.5 percent. In fact, Fargo ranked No. 2 out of all 204 midsize cities we considered. The city established a Renaissance Zone in its downtown area to encourage investments and economic opportunities. The largest industry in the city is health care, followed by K-12 and higher education.

  • Percent of population between 20 and 34, 2015: 28.2%
  • Median rent, 2015: $641
  • Median earnings for bachelor's degree holders, 2015: $42,001
  • Average projected job growth statewide, 2014-24: 7.271%

11. Corpus Christi, Texas

Corpus Christi

Residents in this Gulf Coast city can enjoy downtown farmers' markets, a rodeo, a jazz festival and Surftoberfest, Corpus Christi's version of Octoberfest. This annual event features more than 50 beers on draught from local breweries. In fact, out of all 204 cities analyzed, Corpus Christi ranks 22nd the metric for the number of bars. It performs even better on the performing arts metric, garnering the 11th-place spot overall. There is fun in the sun there, too, with the city's many beaches and nearby island to explore.

New grads looking to start their career in Corpus Christi should consider the state's high projected job growth rate, along with the industries in the city that employ the most people: trade, transportation and utilities, government, education and health services, and leisure and hospitality.

  • Percent of population between 20 and 34, 2015: 21.1%
  • Median rent, 2015: $702
  • Median earnings for bachelor's degree holders, 2015: $48,088
  • Average projected job growth statewide, 2014-24: 17.71%

12. Durham, North Carolina

DurhamWhether its sports, music festivals, higher education or bars and nightlife, the city of Durham provides it all. In fact, Durham, North Carolina is such a good midsize city for new college grads that it returns again to be on our list of top 15. On the overall entertainment metric, Durham had the fourth-highest overall score out of all 15 featured cities. Other ways to enjoy the city include catching a Durham Bulls baseball game, or going fishing or boating at one of the city's lakes.

For college graduates just beginning a career can consider the range of opportunities that may be available due to this city's location in the state's Research Triangle Region. Top industries in the city include biotech, financial services, information technology and life sciences.

  • Percent of population between 20 and 34, 2015: 23.3%
  • Median rent, 2015: $739
  • Median earnings for bachelor's degree holders, 2015: $45,495
  • Average projected job growth statewide, 2014-24: 10.06%

13. Little Rock, Arkansas (tie)

Little Rock

Besides being a major government and business hub, this thriving capital city has plenty of open spaces, river and hiking trails, a bicycle-and-pedestrian friendly attitude and golfing. Little Rock is also rich in southern history and features a variety of museums, including the Clinton Presidential Center and major performance arts centers, ranking 14th on the museum metric out of all 204 ranked cities. When you're ready to relax in the evening or on the weekend, residents can enjoy the food trucks, local breweries and wineries and other specialty food and drink venues.

Little Rock offers new grads a plethora of potential career paths, from state and local government positions, to jobs in health care or even with charities like Heifer International, which calls this city "home."

  • Percent of population between 20 and 34, 2015: 21.8%
  • Median rent, 2015: $595
  • Median earnings for bachelor's degree holders, 2015: $45,705
  • Average projected job growth statewide, 2014-24: 9.40%

13. Wichita, Kansas (tie)

Wichita

Tying for the 13th-place spot on our list is Wichita, the largest city in Kansas, which boasts an art museum, grand opera, McConnell Air Force Base and several universities, including Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University. Recent college graduates can find a supportive environment in which to grow their careers by connecting with the more than 3,000-member Young Professionals of Wichita group.

The city's nine-day Riverfest is one of the largest community events in the state, featuring water activities, competitions, food and fun. Although one of the city's nicknames is "Cowtown," the other one is "Air Capital of the World." Wichita is well-known for its businesses focused on aeronautics and aviation industry is the city's top employer. Other key industries include bioscience and renewable fuels.

  • Percent of population between 20 and 34, 2015: 20.5%
  • Median rent, 2015: $549
  • Median earnings for bachelor's degree holders, 2015: $45,787
  • Average projected job growth statewide, 2014-24: 7.98%

15. Colorado Springs, Colorado

Colorado Springs

This city of more than 450,000 returns again to our list of 15 best midsize cities for new grads, with a notable second-place ranking in the entertainment metric. That means Colorado Springs is one of the best overall midsize cities overall in terms of museums, restaurants, performing arts and bars.

Located near the base of Pikes Peak, Colorado Springs is more than a mile above sea level. Any new grad locating there is sure to find gorgeous mountain views, opportunities for skiing and the chance to throw back a local brew. Those looking for their first job after college can consider exploring opportunities in the city's cybersecurity, life sciences, defense, sports, and health care and medical technology industries, among others. This Rocky Mountain city is also home to the U.S. Olympic Committee.

  • Percent of population between 20 and 34, 2015: 23.1%
  • Median rent, 2015: $835
  • Median earnings for bachelor's degree holders, 2015: $46,529
  • Average projected job growth statewide, 2014-24: 6.39%

Rankings Archive

The 15 Best Midsize Cities for New Grads 2016

  1.  Lexington, Kentucky
  2. Amarillo, Texas
  3. Madison, Wisconsin
  4. Colorado Springs, Colorado
  5. Lubbock, Texas
  6. Durham, North Carolina
  7. Tallahassee, Florida
  8. Honolulu, Hawaii
  9. Lincoln, Nebraska
  10. Omaha, Nebraska
  11. Salt Lake City, Utah
  12. Fort Collins, Colorado
  13. Columbus, Georgia
  14. Laredo, Texas
  15. Anchorage, Alaska
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