Best Places for Recent Grads to Find Jobs

Mortgages, Studies
You can trust that we maintain strict editorial integrity in our writing and assessments; however, we receive compensation when you click on links to products from our partners and get approved. Here's how we make money.
Best Places for Recent Grads to Find Jobs

Very soon, Pomp and Circumstance will play and mortarboards will soar across the U.S. — sure signs that the class of 2015 is ready to leave college and enter the workforce.

But what will these new grads find when they get there? As it turns out, a decent number of jobs.

Outstanding outlook

This year is expected to be the best job market for recent graduates since the Great Recession, according to a Michigan State University survey of 5,700 employers. The study found 97% of companies plan to hire at least one new college graduate this year, up from 84% of companies surveyed in 2013-14. A strong majority of respondents, 74%, also rated the new college graduate labor market as “good to excellent.”

With this positive outlook in mind, NerdWallet dug a little deeper to find local trends that might have an impact on the job market for new grads. We analyzed and ranked the 100 largest U.S. cities.

NerdWallet’s analysis

Are there jobs in your chosen field? Washington, D.C., and neighboring Arlington, Virginia, stood out among our top 10 cities with up to 67% of the workforce finding jobs in management, business, science or the arts. These fields have the most jobs that require a bachelor’s degree or higher.

Can you afford to live there? The cities in our top 10 represent a nice balance of strong job markets and affordability, a major concern when starting out. Lincoln, Nebraska; Madison, Wisconsin; and Minneapolis, Minnesota, are beacons of housing affordability and boast solid local economies. But even in higher-rent areas such as Washington, D.C., and San Francisco, California, median salaries are high enough to make those places worth checking out.

Where should you look? Be open. Your peers might be hyperfocused on landing in major metropolitan areas, but there are opportunities throughout the U.S. The city with our top 10’s lowest unemployment rate of 2.5% is Lincoln. There, workers can find opportunities at many large employers — from the state government (Lincoln is the capital) to the flagship University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

For more help after graduation, check out


Best Places for Recent Grads to Find Jobs

Embed this on your own site:

copy and paste the following snippet into your site

<a href='' ><img src='' alt='Best Places for Recent Grads to Find Jobs'/></a><br/>
Via:<a href=''>NerdWallet</a>

1. Madison, Wisconsin

This quintessential big university town earns the top spot in our study for its critical mass of students and workers from age 20 to 29 — the highest in our study at 25.8% of the population — and its vibrant economy. Unemployment in Madison stands at 3.4%, compared with 6.1% nationwide. A favorable jobs outlook is also a major driver of planning: Madison is targeting key sectors for growth, including health care, life sciences and advanced manufacturing.

2. Arlington, Virginia

Educated workers in this Inside-the-Beltway community enjoy the third-highest income in our study at $64,957 a year, and they’ll likely need it. Rents are high here — the second highest on our list at $1,761 a month for median gross rent. College graduates will find similarly educated company should they choose to live in Arlington: A full 34% of Arlington residents have a bachelor’s degree. Many workers in Arlington commute across (or under) the Potomac to D.C., but private employers can be found in Arlington, including Accenture and Touchstone Energy Cooperatives.

3. Minneapolis, Minnesota

Minneapolis is young, affordable and thriving economically, making it a solid choice for recent graduates. According to the data we crunched, residents with a bachelor’s degree who are 25 years old or older will spend 21.8% of their income on housing, and in many cases, rents are under $1,000 a month. The job outlook also is positive with a low 3.3% unemployment rate. For those seeking a more urban lifestyle even as they grow older and start a family, the Twin Cities area might be the perfect place. Reversing the longstanding trend of moving to the suburbs once you have kids, families here are staying urban. One study found the number of households with children in Minneapolis and St. Paul grew 7,000 from 2011 to 2012.

4. Boston, Massachusetts

With more than 50 colleges and universities in the greater metro area and a growing tech sector, Boston is a powerful draw for recent graduates. The percentage of residents ages 20 to 29 was the second highest in our study at 25.5%. Entrepreneurial job seekers looking to discover the next Facebook or Google without relocating across the country to Silicon Valley may want to consider Boston. According to the National Venture Capital Association, Boston ranks right after San Francisco and San Jose in venture capital activity — and ahead of New York City. Last year, the group said Boston attracted 371 deals with a total of $4.4 billion in venture-capital investment.

5. Washington, D.C.

Dreams of working within or near the heart of the nation’s government have long attracted a young, job-seeking demographic. Workers here with a bachelor’s degree can expect to earn about $60,833 a year, one of the top median salaries among those with similar educations across all cities in our study.

6. Seattle, Washington

Seattle can be a land of opportunity for graduates with degrees in science, technology, engineering and math, with hometown giants like Amazon, Microsoft and the Boeing. And while rents are on the steep side at over $1,100 on average, wages run on the higher end of our study with median earnings for bachelor’s degree holders at $51,938. One factor that kept Seattle from a better score was its higher unemployment rate of 4.8%, compared with other cities, such as Lincoln’s 2.5% jobless rate or Minneapolis’s 3.3%.

7. Austin, Texas

An enviable entertainment scene, affordable housing and lots of tech jobs — what’s not to love about Austin? Young people seem to agree, and they stick around. Newcomers will find University of Texas at Austin grads also on the hunt for jobs in the city where 21% of the population is 20 to 29 years old. Austin enjoys a low unemployment rate of 3.4%. Job growth is expected to remain strong, and the Austin Technology Council predicts that 9,000 new tech jobs will be created by 2017.

8. Lincoln, Nebraska

Something is going right with the economy in Lincoln: The unemployment rate is the lowest in our study at 2.5%. This has already sparked talk of a potential worker shortage, which could give qualified candidates a major advantage. Young graduates can expect to find jobs in a range of industries, but the federal and state governments are among the largest employers in Lincoln and together employ over 11,000 workers.

9. Atlanta, Georgia

Atlanta is a bit like Boston — a sought-after college destination with diverse schools and programs paired with a strong local economy for those who don’t plan to move on after graduation. If this sounds like an ideal place, expect company: 21.5% of Atlanta’s population is 20 to 29 years old. According a Metrostudy survey of the local economy, Atlanta gained 67,400 jobs by the end of 2014, a 2.6% year-over-year increase. The city is also an attractive launching pad for graduates looking for household-name employers like Coca-Cola and Home Depot. Atlanta ranks fourth among all U.S. cities in the number of Fortune 500 company headquarters.

10. Lubbock, Texas

Though often overshadowed by larger cities in Texas, Lubbock holds its own economically. Driven by a diverse economy that doesn’t necessarily rise and fall with the oil industry, Lubbock has plenty of opportunities for recent graduates. Job seekers should also factor in Lubbock’s affordability. Here, rent as a percentage of earnings among those with bachelor’s degrees is 22.78%, a healthy notch below the goal of not spending more than 30% of your earnings on rent or mortgage.

Best places for recent grads to find jobs

CityJobs in management, business, science and artsPercentage of population age 20-29Percentage of population over 25 with a bachelor's degreeRent as a percentage of income for residents over 25 with a bachelor's degreeUnemployment rateMedian earnings for residents over 25 with a bachelor's degreeFinal score
1. Madison, Wisconsin51.40%25.80%29.40%24.20%3.40%$44,510 81.3
2. Arlington, Virginia66.80%22.60%34.30%32.50%4.50%$64,957 77.4
3. Minneapolis, Minnesota47.20%22.20%29.30%21.80%3.30%$45,688 74.8
4. Boston, Massachusetts46.40%25.50%24.00%28.40%4.30%$53,275 74.3
5. Washington, D.C.60.20%21.40%23.00%24.90%4.50%$60,833 71.1
6. Seattle, Washington55.30%19.90%34.50%25.50%4.80%$51,938 70.1
7. Austin, Texas45.20%20.90%29.30%26.00%3.40%$45,377 69.1
8. Lincoln, Nebraska38.20%19.90%23.80%20.30%2.50%$41,556 67.3
9. Atlanta, Georgia49.80%21.50%28.30%22.40%6.40%$51,115 66.9
10. Lubbock, Texas33.70%22.40%18.30%22.80%3.00%$42,084 66.3
11. Raleigh, North Carolina47.00%18.80%31.10%22.90%4.20%$46,590 66.1
12. Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania43.80%22.80%18.80%23.00%4.40%$40,094 65.6
13. San Francisco, California51.70%17.80%32.10%28.40%4.40%$62,833 65.4
14. Columbus, Ohio38.00%20.00%21.70%21.40%3.70%$45,193 63.7
15. Norfolk, Virginia31.60%25.30%15.60%27.10%5.00%$42,320 63.5
16. Denver, Colorado43.10%18.30%26.90%22.60%3.90%$47,235 63.2
17. Baton Rouge, Louisiana35.80%22.70%19.60%20.90%5.70%$43,995 63.1
18. Lexington-Fayette, Kentucky42.50%19.10%23.30%20.70%4.00%$43,702 62.9
19. Cincinnati, Ohio38.50%19.70%18.50%17.70%4.10%$42,882 62.2
20. St. Paul, Minnesota41.10%18.70%23.10%23.30%3.30%$42,094 61.7


We crunched the numbers of the 100 biggest cities in the U.S. to find the best cities for recent grads.

Here’s what we looked at from the 2013 U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey three-year estimates:

  1. Percentage of population 25 and older with bachelor’s degree is 15% of the score.
  2. Percentage of population ages 20 to 29 is 30% of the score.
  3. Median earnings of people with a bachelor’s degree and 25 years or older is 10% of the score.
  4. Jobs in management, business, science and arts occupations is 10% of the score.
  5. Rent as percentage of income is 15% of the score.

The unemployment rate is from the Bureau of Labor Statistics December 2014 unemployment data and it is 20% of the score.

New graduates, where do you plan to live and work? Tell us in the comments below.

 Infographic by Enrico M Limcaco and Dora Pintek.

College graduates image via iStock.