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Best Cities for Fresh College Graduates

May 30, 2013
Personal Finance
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For 2013 college graduates, only 45% have a job offer post-graduation.  It’s a tough economy for college seniors embarking on their job search, and certain cities can provide more opportunities for recent college graduates than others.  NerdWallet crunched the numbers to rank the top ten U.S. cities for recent college graduates.

NerdWallet ranked U.S. cities according to the following questions:

  1. Will you have peers and others your age?  Fresh grads want to live in young cities with plenty of twenty-somethings to meet.  We included the percentage of the population between the ages of 18 and 24 in our analysis.
  2. Will you have an active social life?  We proxied social life by the number of bars per 1,000 residents
  3. Is the city walkable?  Can you live there without a car? Most recent grads don’t have cars or savings to buy a car, so we included the city’s Walk Score, which measures how easily you can get around without having a car.
  4. Can you afford to live there?  Recent grads often have low salaries and no savings, so we included the median cost of rent.
  5. Can you get a job?  To assess the availability of jobs and local economy, our calculations include each city’s unemployment rate.

For more information, check out our Cost of Living Calculator and City Life tool.

Top Ten Cities for Recent Graduates

1.       Boston, Massachusetts

Boston, Massachusetts has the most 18 to 24 year olds of any city, the fourth most bars per capita, and the third highest Walk Score, making it a great place for twenty-somethings to pursue an active social life.  Although the city has a high cost of living, coming in as the fourth most expensive for housing, the low unemployment rate (the second lowest rate in this study) ensures that recent college grads have a pretty good shot at snagging a job.  Boston’s top industries include research (due to the many universities in the area), healthcare and finance.

2.       Seattle, Washington

Seattle has the second most bars per capita and is home to a large population of 18 to 24 year-olds.  The cost of living is fairly high, although not as high as the largest cities like New York and San Francisco, and unemployment rates are on the low side.  The city has a great social scene, with the second most bars per capita and a highly walkable layout, and the laid-back West Coast culture makes this city a great place for recent grads to start out.  Biotechnology, healthcare and clean technology startups are a few of the top industries in this area.  There are tech jobs in Seattle as well, as Microsoft is located there.

3.       Denver, Colorado

Denver has a great and affordable social life for recent college graduates, boasting the most bars per capita and a low cost of living.  This laid-back city has a moderate unemployment rate, making it easier to find a job here than most other cities, and Denver’s residents have easy access to mountains and nature just a few hours’ drive away.  Denver’s top industries are aerospace, broadcasting and telecommunications, energy and healthcare.

4.       Baltimore, Maryland

Baltimore has a large population of young people, a fairly walkable layout, and a moderate cost of living, making it a great choice for young college graduates.  Home to Johns Hopkins Hospital, Baltimore is a center of medicine and life sciences.

5.       Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

With the fifth most 18 to 24 year olds of any city and a high walkability score, Philadelphia is an excellent choice for recent college graduates.  The cost of living is moderate and the unemployment rate is average as well, so while the city is not overflowing with jobs, there are still opportunities for young graduates, particularly in Philadelphia’s booming healthcare industry.

6.       Washington, D.C.

As the center of American politics, Washington, D.C. has always been popular with recent college graduates, as evidenced by its rank as the second-most populous place for 18 to 24 year-olds.  The city is highly walkable and has a moderate unemployment rate, making it likely that you’ll be able to afford that sky-high rent.  The city attracts politically active students for jobs with politicians and thinktanks.

7.       Columbus, Ohio

Columbus is an up-and-coming Midwestern college town-turned-entrepreneurial center.  With the fourth most 18 to 24 year olds, the fourth lowest unemployment rate and a very low cost of living (they have the cheapest movie tickets of any city on our list!), this city is extremely friendly to recent grads with minimal savings.  Although the city is not particularly walkable, the low cost of living means that having and parking a car is much more affordable than it is in other large cities.

8.       Austin, Texas

Austin, Texas has it all: the third most 18 to 24 year-olds of any city, a low cost of living and the lowest unemployment rate.  This sunny town with a big music scene is a great choice for recent college grads.  Austin is growing particularly quickly in the tech industry, and Dell and IBM are headquartered there.  Biotechnology is a growing field in Austin as well.

9.       Chicago, Illinois

Chicago is the fourth most walkable city, although the blustery weather might preclude walking in the winter.  With its extensive public transportation network, large population of young people and moderate cost of living, this city is especially welcoming to recent college graduates.  Chicago’s industries include publishing and finance.

10.    San Francisco, CA

Although San Francisco has a very high cost of living, its walkable layout and great social scene make it a great place for new grads to start out.  With nearby Silicon Valley and downtown SOMA, computer-savvy young grads will find plenty of tech companies to work with, including tech giants such as Google, Facebook and Twitter.

City Percent 18-24 years old Unemployment rate 2-BR apartment rent cost Bars per 1,000 people Walkability (how easy is it to live without a car) 12-inch Pizza Hut pizza cost Movie ticket cost 6-pack of Heineken cost Overall score for recent grads
1 Boston, MA 19.4% 7.1% $1,819 0.77 79.2 $8.61 $11.06 $8.12 87.7
2 Seattle, WA 11.8% 7.5% $1,417 0.82 73.7 $10.21 $10.39 $8.61 73.5
3 Denver, CO 10.4% 9.1% $931 0.84 60.4 $8.00 $10.44 $8.35 66.8
4 Baltimore, MD 12.6% 10.5% $1,307 0.76 63.9 $8.00 $10.45 $8.69 66.0
5 Philadelphia, PA 13.3% 10.8% $1,242 0.56 74.1 $9.86 $10.61 $8.24 65.6
6 Washington, DC 14.5% 10.2% $1,823 0.57 73 $8.00 $11.34 $8.31 65.4
7 Columbus, OH 14.1% 7.6% $768 0.51 47.4 $8.99 $8.55 $7.99 63.1
8 Austin, TX 14.5% 6.2% $968 0.44 46.7 $10.00 $10.06 $8.16 62.6
9 Chicago, IL 11.2% 11.3% $1,200 0.51 74.3 $10.33 $10.13 $8.97 59.6
10 San Francisco, CA 9.6% 13.6% $2,702 0.72 84.9 $8.00 $11.25 $9.14 54.0


The overall score for recent graduates was made using the following measures:

  1. Demographics: cities with the largest population of people between the ages of 18 and 24
  2. Social life: cities with the most bars per 1,000 residents
  3. Accessibility: cities with the highest Walk Score
  4. Cost of living: cities with the lowest average rent for a 2-bedroom apartment
  5. Availability of jobs and local economy: cities with the lowest unemployment rate

We included the 25 biggest cities in this analysis.

For your edification, we included the cost of pizza, a movie and beer in the table, but these prices do not factor into the city’s ranking.

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