The Best Cities for College Grads (Updated for 2024)

Evelyn Long

May 3, 2024

woman wearing a cap and gown walking on a path with tall buildings in background

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With your college graduation finally within reach, you’re probably dreaming about where you can go once you finish school. Most students start formulating their post-graduation plans well in advance of walking across the stage, but you can get started anytime.

The first thing you need to do to come up with the best plan for your future is to decide what you want. There’s so much of life to experience, so make a list of priorities.

You can use that list to decide where to go with your new diploma. Check out the best cities for college grads in 2024 and discover which ones are best for your goals. You might find a few that share similarities, so you don’t have to miss out on anything you want out of life.

.Jump to the right category:

Cities Where You Can Find a Great Job

Most students would agree that they chose their degree so they could get a great job. Even with great grades and a diploma in hand, your salary depends mostly on where you live.

Take nursing as an example. You might love the idea of moving to Orlando, Florida, but nurses only make roughly $55,000 per year there, even after having years of experience in the field. That’s a lot for someone fresh out of college, but after taxes and bills, you might not have as much left as you expect. Instead, you could move to a place like Boston, MA and earn over $100,000 per year with the same skillset. Just make sure you do the math to decide if the pay increase is offset by the higher cost of living.

Grads have also found great jobs in cities like Seattle, WA, which has a median pay of $115,000 per year for many jobs that require college degrees. Research your career by state to compare median and beginning salaries for the positions that interest you. Then, keep an eye on which industries are booming in your target cities. Prestige, pay and available opportunities all play a role in the type of career you can build.

Sometimes, the nature of your profession determines the best city for you as a college grad. For example, you’ll gravitate toward coastal regions with your marine biology degree. Conversely, those whose passion lies in clean energy through wind power may prefer the inland plains. 

Cities Where You Can Live With Other Young People

You might be concerned about jumping into a workplace filled with people older than you. It might seem hard to meet peers your age when you spend your entire week at work, so why not move somewhere that’s already popular with college grads?

Students in Columbia, South Carolina, often stay to live in-state after they graduate because so many young people are already there. The same goes for Jacksonville, Florida, where grads enjoy life with young people in a city with so much to do. Don’t forget about Colorado Springs, CO, which Zillow recently named as the best city in the US for college graduates. 

Check out the age breakdown of cities you’re interested in to get a feel for how “young” the population is. In Chicago, Illinois, for example, about 26% of the population is between 20 and 34 years old. This will give you plenty of potential roommates to pick from in a city with a relatively higher cost of living.

Cities Where You Can Pay Affordable Rent

Rent typically takes a considerable chunk out of anyone’s income, but especially when you’re a recent college grad just getting started in your career. While paying more than $2,000 per month is the norm in many high-cost-of-living cities like San Francisco, not every area of the country charges such pricy rates. 

Do you need to be near a coast? You might want to live somewhere with affordable rent, so check out a place like Virginia Beach, Virginia. The average renter there pays only $1,644 per month for a studio apartment. 

Witchita, Kansas, also offers plenty of affordable rental units. Many young people move there because rent could cost as little as $791 for a studio apartment, even in a city where there are major employers. Omaha, Nebraska, may call your name, too. The city offers reasonable rent prices in addition to an abundance of jobs and activities.

Cities Where You Can Continue Your Education

After you graduate, you might have big dreams to pursue your master’s degree one day. Give yourself the chance to choose between online and in-person classes by living somewhere with great education options.

Start by looking into Ann Arbor, Michigan, which has multiple universities and colleges within 100 miles for students to enter once they’re ready to continue learning. Pasadena, California, also presents many continuing education opportunities with local campuses. You’ll want to live somewhere like these cities where in-state tuition matches your future budget.

The best city for continuing your education might not lie within the United States. Many countries in Europe allow eligible students to study for their master’s degree or higher for free. Germany, Finland, Iceland and the Czech Republic are four notable examples. Your ideal city as a college grad may be Helsinki, Prague, Berlin or Reykjavik. 

Cities Where You Can Go on New Adventures

You spent years of your life sitting in classrooms when all you wanted to do was see the world. Do that after you graduate by picking a city known for adventures. Many wandering hearts end up in New York City because you can always find something fun to do that’s different from anything you’ve experienced before. Craving sushi at 3 a.m.? While you’re out of luck elsewhere, your Big Apple neighborhood likely boasts at least one such late-night spot. 

Are you looking for something on the West Coast? Consider moving to San Francisco, CA to explore a variety of city activities paired with outings to nearby wineries or a trip north to the giant redwoods. What if you’re an inveterate outdoor adventurer? You can’t do better than Moab, Utah. This small town is an adventure mecca for off-roaders, mountain bikers and hikers. Furthermore, the state boasts five national parks where you can find plenty of wide open spaces to explore. 

Cities Where You Can Begin Your Future Family

Many college grads want to leave school behind and start their future family, but only in a city that can support them and give their kids a great life. That’s precisely why many young people move to Bellevue, Washington. Located just outside of Seattle, it’s a cute suburb that always has plenty to do for people of all ages, not to mention the great schools in the area.

Raleigh, North Carolina, is also one of the top cities for growing families. It hosts exciting events, features a top-rated school system for kids from preschool to high school and offers affordable housing. You’ll know the best place for your family when you imagine what you want them to experience, like rigorous classwork or access to nature walks on the weekends.

The Best Cities for College Grads

Where you end up moving after college depends on what you prioritize. Do you want an affordable place to live, a home for your future family or a great platform to launch your career? Once you list what you want, you’ll discover the best cities for college grads that meet your criteria. Depending on which you pick, you can get everything you want from your post-college life.

Original publish date: 4/14/2020. Updated 4/30/2024.

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