Choosing where to live and work after graduation might be one of the most difficult decisions for young adults. This is why we wanted to lend a helping hand by analyzing a series of factors to consider when making this type of decision and learn about the best cities for college grads to start a career.
Our researchers at CoworkingCafe looked at job opportunities, income levels, cost of living, lifestyle amenities, and other metrics in order to find the best U.S. cities for recent grads to start their careers. For an easier overview, these scores were combined into three main groups by area of interest: employment, financial, and lifestyle. To reflect a fair comparison, we segmented the cities into three population brackets: small, mid-sized, and large.
Here are our main findings for you:
• Scottsdale took the 6th spot as one of the best mid-sized U.S. cities for recent grads to put down roots;
• Scottsdale ranked 8th by employment score with the 6th largest share of young population holding a bachelor’s degree (56.6%);
• With 438 leisure amenities and 8.7 coworking spaces per 100,000 residents, Scottsdale ranked 10th in the lifestyle category;
• Overall, Arlington, VA led the way among best mid-sized cities to start a career, followed by Sunnyvale, CA and Durham, NC.
• Among the best large U.S. cities for starting a career after college, Mesa ranks No. 35, Phoenix ranks No. 37 and Tucson ranks No. 39.
The results were weighted to obtain comparable total scores. For an easier overview, these scores were combined into three main categories by area of interest — employment, financial and lifestyle. Furthermore, for a fair comparison, we segmented the cities into three population brackets: small cities having up to 150,000 residents; large cities with 400,000 or more; and medium cities between these values.
Best of Both Worlds? Highest-Scoring Mid-Sized Cities for Starting a Career After College
Granted, the large cities are always first to make headlines. But, make no mistake: there’s no shortage of opportunities in smaller cities, either, especially because the pool widens exponentially as we explore smaller cities. To that end, our research did indeed uncover 10 real gems in the 150,000- to 400,000-resident bracket for recent graduates who are eager to start their career.
Considering the aggregated score, Arlington, VA led the pack of best cities to start a career by a long shot, in addition to taking the top spot by the employment metrics. Not only is there a strong supply of talent, but the local job market also has plenty of capacity to employ the young workforce right away. Here, a bachelor’s degree also makes just over 11% of Arlington jobs accessible, which was also the case in nearby Alexandria, VA. What’s more, the city’s booming business ecosystem is anchored by all of the most important aerospace and defense contractors, as well as several important corporate headquarters, like Nestlé, Accenture and Bloomberg Industry Group. Additionally, the city is also home to Amazon’s HQ2 — the ecommerce giant’s $5 billion second home, which is set to open its first phase later this year.
Next, San Jose’s 8th place among the large cities hinted at Silicon Valley’s unquestionable magnetism for college grads. But, Sunnyvale, CA hammered home the idea by ranking second overall among the nation’s mid-sized cities. In this area, the $102,819 median income for BA holders and the nearly 83% employer-based health insurance coverage were unmatched among similar-sized cities. Likewise, the 68% share of workers who had a college degree was also a statistic that was only outperformed by Arlington.
Durham, NC rounded out the podium, taking first place by the share of grad jobs (which accounted for nearly 13% of the local employment options) to eclipse Arlington and Alexandria. This earned the Research Triangle city third place in the overall ranking, despite the $61,826 median income that pushed it out of the top 10 in the financial category.
Where Job Opportunities & Lifestyles Meet: The Best Large Cities for College Grads
Starting with the largest cities, the top 10 best cities to start a career was a balanced scoop from around the continental U.S. with West Coast and East Coast cities in an even blend, and the Western, Midwestern and Southern regions represented, as well. Of course, depending on where we look at them from, some cities shine brighter than others. Let’s dive right in:
Atlanta, GA took the top spot coming in first overall, as well as for the financial component, in particular, with the wide health insurance coverage and average affordability giving its financial score the decisive boost. And, with a whopping 715 leisure amenities, second only to Miami, and 17 coworking spaces per 100,000 residents, the Big Peach was a clear leader of the field in the lifestyle category, too. Despite the moderate 54% share of young bachelor’s degree-holders and 9% of jobs being suitable for recent graduates, Atlanta scored high enough across the board to come out as the top contender.
Runner-up San Francisco, CA scored highest out of all of the large cities in three base metrics: in the employment subgroup, the nearly 70% share of the young population holding a bachelor’s degree was outstanding, and not just for this population bracket — it’s almost 2.5 times the national average. Likewise, from a financial point of view, the median income for workers with a college education was also just slightly below the six-figure mark, and more than 76% of this demographic also enjoyed health insurance as part of their work contracts. Of course, this prominent ranking was to be expected as the city is well-suited on both the supply and the demand side in terms of the percentage of the workforce who have a higher education degree. Here, renowned universities in the area — like Stanford and UC Berkeley — ensure a steady stream of well-trained grads. Accordingly, the vigorous job market awaits them with open arms, particularly in the IT, biotech, environmental and business sectors.
Although Seattle, WA came in third overall, the Emerald City actually tied with San Francisco for first place in the employment category. Almost two-thirds of the young population here holds a BA, which is more than twice the national average, and one in 10 jobs are highly suitable for recent graduates. Unemployment was also less than 6% among the young workforce, partly due to government-aided programs, like the Seattle Jobs Initiative, which helps low-income residents gain access to career training and education. However, the city only made it to 7th place by financial score, though. Despite the median income of more than $86,000 and three out of four young employees enjoying health insurance as part of their contracts, Seattle remains a notoriously expensive city: it’s almost 15% above the national average cost of living.