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Top 10 Most Educated Places in America 2016

July 14, 2016
Student Loans
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We adhere to strict standards of editorial integrity. Some of the products we feature are from our partners. Here’s how we make money.

In America’s most educated cities and towns, it’s hard to find someone who doesn’t hold a bachelor’s degree, and in many of these places, every other adult you meet will also have a master’s degree or higher, according to a new study from NerdWallet.

The personal finance website determined the most educated places in America by analyzing where the highest percentage of degree holders live. NerdWallet looked at data from the U.S. Census Bureau on degrees obtained by residents 25 or older in places with a population of at least 25,000. Among 17,000 places, these are the top 10 with the highest percentages of residents with associate or bachelor’s, master’s,  professional or doctorate.

Top 10 most educated places in America

  1. Bethesda, Maryland
  2. Brookline, Massachusetts
  3. Princeton, New Jersey
  4. Potomac, Maryland
  5. Palo Alto, California
  6. McLean, Virginia
  7. Wellesley, Massachusetts
  8. Wilmette, Illinois
  9. Newton, Massachusetts
  10. Lexington, Massachusetts

NerdWallet’s analysis

Educated residents flock to suburbs in major metro areas

Suburbs draw the most educated residents, who cluster in big and small places outside major cities. Brookline, Lexington, Newton and Wellesley are all outside of Boston. Wilmette is a suburb of Chicago. The two places in Maryland, Bethesda and Potomac, along with the lone Virginia town of McLean are all suburbs of Washington, D.C. Palo Alto in the heart of Silicon Valley is 30 miles from San Francisco, the furthest place from a major U.S. city on the list.

Places with distinction

Most places on the list have a healthy mix of degree holders, but some towns stand out. Princeton holds two of the highest percentages in the study as the place where 55% of all residents have at least a master’s degree and 17% have a doctorate. Bethesda and Potomac both have the highest percentages of residents with professional degrees — 16%. A professional degree is defined as an advanced degree needed to work in a licensed profession, such as Doctor of Dental Science or Doctor of Veterinary Medicine. In Wellesley, 86% of the population holds a bachelor’s or associate’s degree, the highest on the list.

Top universities and colleges are nearby

Residents of the most educated places live near institutions of higher learning. Princeton is home to the Ivy League University of the same name. Wellesley College, too, bears the name of its town, seventh on the list. Brookline is home to three of its own colleges and is near two of the most highly selective schools in the country, Harvard University and Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Palo Alto has the distinction of being home to Stanford University.

How to lower loan payments for advanced degrees

All of the most educated places have high percentages of graduate and professional degree holders among the population. Advanced degree holders are more likely to carry high student loan debt, which means they’re also most likely to benefit from student loan refinancing.

Those with expensive advanced degrees, such as law and medicine, could save several thousand dollars over the lifespan of a new loan, according to a 2015 study by NerdWallet. For example, borrowers with doctorates in medicine or osteopathic medicine carry a median combined private and federal debt of $200,000 in 2012, with an APR of 9.56% on private debt and 6.80% on federal debt. Without changing the terms of the loan, those borrowers could pay $279,099 over the life of the original loan. But by refinancing, the same debt holders could save more than $13,600 over the life of a new loan with a single APR of 5.33%.

If you’re struggling to make payments or your loans have high interest rates, refinancing could benefit you by replacing multiple loans with a new single loan at a lower interest rate. Your new loan, which you’d get from a financial institution or private refinancing company, may also come with an extended term of repayment.

However, refinancing isn’t the best option for everyone. It’s best for borrowers with a secure, full-time job; a qualifying payment history of at least two years; credit scores of 690 or above; and, most importantly, high debt consisting mostly of private loans. If most of your debt comes from federal loans, refinancing into a single private loan means you’ll lose possible advantages such as flexible or income-driven repayment, loan forgiveness programs and deferment. Consider all of your options before committing to a new loan.

Learn more about each most educated place and read the full study here.

Anna Helhoski is a staff writer at NerdWallet. Email: anna@nerdwallet.com. Twitter: @AnnaHelhoski. Victoria Simons is a data associate at NerdWallet, a personal finance website. Email: vsimons@nerdwallet.com.