There are many factors to consider when deciding where to live after college. Apart from proximity to family and friends, the perfect location should offer good employment opportunities and salary. It should also be a place in which buying a house is a realistic, affordable option.
Unfortunately, while the median listing price for a home has increased by six percent nationally since 2014, according to Realtor.com, the earning potential of many careers have not kept pace. That means college graduates may find themselves in a pinch when it comes to realizing the dream of home ownership.
To help graduates get started on the right foot, we’ve analyzed which states offer the best opportunities for degree holders, and which offer the worst. The states that top our list of worst places to settle in post-college are burdened by a combination of poor job prospects, low median salaries, and expensive housing markets. To see which states show the most promise for degree holders, check out the 25 Best States to Start Your Post-College Life.
For each of the top 25 degrees featured in OnlineDegrees.com’s Most Employable Degrees 2015, we ranked every state on the four data points listed below:
- 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).
- 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).
- 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).
- 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 in this list were ranked based on which had the lowest 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 Worst States to Start Your Post-College Life
Hawaii tops the list of worst states for graduates to move to post-college, as the combination of one of the country’s most expensive housing markets and relatively low employment opportunities means there is limited opportunity for degree holders to purchase a home. However, health care is an emerging and growing industry, one that offers solid career and earning potential in several areas, including dental hygiene and sonography.
- Average score: 4.10/40
- Median house value: $500,400
- Median annual salary: $58,070
- Cost of living: 50th
2. West Virginia
On one hand, West Virginia is a relatively inexpensive place to live. On the other, it is home to a weak economy with below-average employment prospects and one of the country’s highest unemployment rates. Yet, as with Hawaii, health care is a silver lining, with growth expected in fields such as radiation therapy, diagnostic medical sonography, surgical technology, and dental hygiene.
- Average score: 10.82/40
- Median house value: $122,600
- Median annual salary: $46,928
- Cost of living: 24th
Vermont has a blend of low employment growth and a relatively expensive housing market. The size of the state means there are limited economic growth potential and fewer jobs. Although Vermont has a low unemployment rate (tied for fourth nationally), there isn’t much excitement around employment opportunities. Health care remains a bright spot with projected job gains in multiple fields, such as physical therapy, surgical technology, and diagnostic medical sonography.
- Average score: 10.96/40
- Median house value: $222,900
- Median annual salary: $58,995
- Cost of living: 41st
Montana is an affordable option for college graduates, but it’s saddled with low salary potential and an economy that lacks a diverse range of growing career fields. Earning power is the largest issue confronting degree holders. For example, technology occupations that are some of the best paying careers in the country only average in the mid-$40,000 to low $50,000 range in Montana, and the state isn’t in the top tier for affordability. However, positive professional opportunities do exists, particularly in health care and the energy (oil and gas) industries.
- Average score: 11.92/40
- Median house value: $206,200
- Median annual salary: $52,900
- Cost of living: 30th
5. North Dakota
Montana’s neighbor, North Dakota, rounds out the worst five states for college graduates to settle down in. The state falls in the middle nationally for cost of living and has simply average employment projections and earning potential for most major industries. Conversely, the energy industry represents real potential, especially in petroleum engineering and related fields.
- Average score: 13.40/40
- Median house value: $169,400
- Median annual salary: $54,668
- Cost of living: 29th
Maine is in a similar situation to Vermont: It’s a small state with a small economy. The housing market is affordable, and median salaries are competitive, but employment opportunity is constrained to a few industries, particularly technology and health care. In addition, several industries are expected to experience employment losses between 2012 and 2022. The top job opportunities are concentrated in the medical field, in areas such as radiation technology, respiratory therapy, and diagnostic medical sonography.
- Average score: 14.62/40
- Median house value: $178,800
- Median annual salary: $56,030
- Cost of living: 38th
Employment opportunities are limited in Alaska, and the state has the fourth-highest unemployment rate in the country. It ranks in the bottom five nationally for cost of living, which depresses how far post-graduation salaries can go. Nevertheless, the state has strong oil and gas and tourism industries and an expanding health care sector — each of which could offer solid earning potential.
- Average score: 15.04/40
- Median house value: $266.800
- Median annual salary: $66,602
- Cost of living: 47th
8. South Dakota
Even with median house values in the $150,000 range, salaries are not keeping pace in South Dakota to make home buying easily affordable. There is, however, decent employment growth projected in some health care and mining or petroleum professions. Business careers can pay into the low $60,000 range, which means prospective residents should be intentional about which fields of study they pursue.
- Average score: 16.20/40
- Median house value: $152,300
- Median annual salary: $61,050
- Cost of living: 35th
Louisiana has the sixth-highest unemployment rate in the country, and below-average wages affect the overall affordability of the housing market. Even though the state is projected to experience good growth potential in areas such as health care and technology, those occupations are not as lucrative as they are in other areas of the country. Yet, software development, computer science, and computer systems analysis are three example career areas projected to see higher than average employment gains between 2012 and 2022.
- Average score: 16.48/40
- Median house value: $161,400
- Median annual salary: $53,475
- Cost of living: 20th
10. South Carolina
South Carolina is faced with the third-highest unemployment rate in the country, middling wages, and mediocre projected employment growth. Even occupations that have high growth potential are limited in total number in the state. Certain areas of health care, business, and technology (such as marketing and information security) could see solid job growth, which presents opportunity to some grads.
- Average score: 16.76/40
- Median house value: $155,500
- Median annual salary: $53,252
- Cost of living: 21st
Mississippi is a state of contrasts. Although it ranks first nationally for affordability, it ranks next to last for median income. That means earning potential doesn’t offset the actual cost of living in the state. Additionally, Mississippi faces high unemployment figures — fifth-highest in the country — and mixed job growth in multiple industries. The best opportunities should be in business (e.g. retail management, accounting) and some health care careers between 2012 and 2022.
- Average score: 17.12/40
- Median house value: $121,700
- Median annual salary: $50,000
- Cost of living: 1st
Wyoming falls in the middle of the road for both cost of living and economic growth. The state’s small population and limited economic growth poses an issue for new college graduates. There are positives, however: Wyoming has a low unemployment rate and more than 100 occupations have projected growth rates of above 20 percent between 2012 and 2022.
- Average score: 17.34/40
- Median house value: $205,200
- Median annual salary: $57,370
- Cost of living: 18th
Arkansas is affordable and has decent employment growth in several industries but still makes the list of worst states for college graduates. The reason? Overall, unemployment figures are higher than the national average, and job growth for skilled careers is limited, which may not bode well for individuals with a college education. However, health care remains a bright spot in the state, with several occupational fields — radiation therapy and occupational therapy, for example — topping the list of fastest-growing careers in the state between 2012 and 2022.
- Average score: 17.48/40
- Median house value: $124,700
- Median annual salary: $50,663
- Cost of living: 12th
14. New Hampshire
New Hampshire is an expensive place to live, but it also boasts low unemployment rates and decent pay. The problem? The limited career opportunities due to a small job market pose problems for college graduates. The fastest-growing occupational fields are often low-paying or unskilled career areas, such as home health care. There are some opportunities in business and technology jobs, such as software development, that are expected to experience decent growth and offer salaries above the state median.
- Average score: 18.94/40
- Median house value: $239,500
- Median annual salary: $65,680
- Cost of living: 39th
Oklahoma offers a friendly housing market, and its unemployment is hovering just above four percent, which is below the national average. However, salaries are generally below average and total job growth is limited. On the plus side, health care is emerging as a growing industry with occupations in physical therapy and diagnostic medical sonography showing promise.
- Average score: 19.08/40
- Median house value: $130,200
- Median annual salary: $51,696
- Cost of living: 5th
Nevada faces both the highest unemployment rate of any U.S. state and a higher-than-average cost of living. The best job growth is reserved for unskilled positions, and occupations requiring a college degree are projected to see minimal employment gains between 2012 and 2022. Health care remains a silver lining with good job openings expected in areas such as occupational therapy and diagnostic medical sonography.
- Average score: 19.44/40
- Median house value: $169,000
- Median annual salary: $61,173
- Cost of living: 33rd
Kentucky is home to an affordable housing market, but earning potential constrains what college graduates can afford. Two important sectors — business and technology — are not keeping pace with growth rates in other states, and overall economic opportunity is limited. Again, health care is a strong industry, one that is expected to see market gains in areas including dental hygiene, diagnostic medical sonography, and occupational therapy.
- Average score: 19.80/40
- Median house value: $137,400
- Median annual salary: $51,585
- Cost of living: 6th
The fastest-growing career fields in Wisconsin don’t align with best-paying ones, and job growth is not as strong as in surrounding Midwest states. Overall economic movement in technology and business is slow, and employment gains in the business sector are decent at best. Health care occupations in areas such as surgical technology and diagnostic medical sonography are projected to see the largest employment gains, making health care the primary economic bright spot.
- Average score: 20.26/40
- Median house value: $168,300
- Median annual salary: $58,354
- Cost of living: 26th
Oregon is a state of averages: average economic growth, average housing market, average salaries. The state has an unemployment rate slightly above five percent (close to the U.S. average), and many of the top occupations don’t align with market value nationally. However, health care and technology are emerging as strong industries, with occupations in computer systems analysis and dental hygiene standing out as solid options for college graduates looking to afford a home in Oregon.
- Average score: 20.46/40
- Median house value: $238,900
- Median annual salary: $66,525
- Cost of living: 44th
Idaho has an affordable housing market and low unemployment rates — both positives for grads seeking to buy a home and find a job. But those are largely offset by the below-average earning potential across multiple industries. Employment prospects are decent in areas such as technology and business, but are limited overall because of the size of the state’s economy. There are good job prospects in health care, including osteopathy and dental hygiene, but wages are still lagging behind national averages.
- Average score: 20.48/40
- Median house value: $162,700
- Median annual salary: $52,768
- Cost of living: 3rd
21. New Mexico
New Mexico is hampered by a relatively small economy that lacks diversity. The unemployment rate ranks 40th nationally, just over six percent. Numerically, the state is expected to see job growth in some areas, such as retail management, but those figures drop when the rest of business-related occupations are factored in. However, the below-average cost of living is a strength, and health care and tech are projected to see better-than-average job gains.
- Average score: 21.32/40
- Median house value: $172,700
- Median annual salary: $57,370
- Cost of living: 13th
Iowa benefits from an affordable housing market and low unemployment, but still struggles with a limited economic environment that is not projected to produce significant job growth between 2012 and 2022. The occupations expected to see the biggest gains do not offer the highest salaries, but there are still opportunities for grads looking to make enough money to afford a home. The best are in retail management and accounting, with some health care growth figured for areas such as dental hygiene and osteopathy.
- Average score: 21.56/40
- Median house value: $136,600
- Median annual salary: $56,027
- Cost of living: 14th
23. Rhode Island
Rhode Island is one of the most expensive places to live in the country, and it also has one of the higher unemployment rates in the nation. Coupled with its small size (only one major city), economic growth is projected to be limited, which can make it a tough place to buy a home. However, earning potential is strong in the state, especially in health care and tech.
- Average score: 21.68/40
- Median house value: $233,400
- Median annual salary: $69,747
- Cost of living: 42nd
24. New York
New York trails only Connecticut and Hawaii as one of the most expensive states in which to live, with the sixth-highest median home value in the U.S. The size of the population means more competition, especially for attractive occupations in industries such as health care and technology. But in many cases, salaries are keeping pace with the cost of living — New York City is an exception — which means home ownership is still a legit possibility here.
- Average score: 21.70/40
- Median house value: $239,900
- Median annual salary: $72,269
- Cost of living: 48th
Nebraska falls just outside the list of the top 25 states for degree holders to move to after college. The state boasts the lowest unemployment rate in the country — just 2.5 percent — and has an affordable housing market. However, earning potential and job growth are both merely average. Nebraska does offer a diversity of employment options in expanding industries, such as tech and health care, which presents opportunity to prospective homebuyers.
- Average score: 22.70/40
- Median house value: $141,500
- Median annual salary: $58,216
- Cost of living: 8th