10 Best Big Cities for College Grads

Where to Live After Graduation

Map with many pins
••• Shan Shui / Getty Images

If you could move anywhere in the U.S., where would it be? If you are a soon-to-be or recent college graduate, this question may be on your mind lately. When deciding to relocate to another city, choose wisely. Pick a place that offers employment opportunities in your occupation, competitive earnings, a reasonable commute to work, and is affordable. Also select a city where there will be other people your age—after all, having a social life is important.

Think about moving to one of these 10 big cities after college graduation:

Seattle, Washington

Seattle, Washington
Seattle, Washington. Getty Images 

Located in the mountainous Northern Pacific region, Seattle has a population of 724,764. Move to this city after college graduation, and you will be in good company. Almost 36% of residents have bachelor's degrees and just under 20% of people who live there are between the ages of 20 and 29. The median age of a city resident is 35.6.

Employment prospects, in general, should be excellent—the unemployment rate for those with a bachelor's degree or higher is 2.3%—but it depends on your field. More than half of the city's workforce is in the management, business, science, and arts occupations.

The average salary for those with a bachelor's degree is $69,591. Workers with less than one year of experience earn a median annual salary of $58,571 per year and those between one and four years of experience make $60,262 (Payscale.com. Average Salary in Seattle, Washington and Median Salary By Years Experience.).

Prevalent industries in Seattle are education and health services, professional, scientific, and management services, and retail trade. Enterpriseseattle.org reports that the city's largest employers are Boeing, Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Microsoft, University of Washington, Amazon, Providence Health & Services, Walmart, Fred Meyers, King County Government, and Weyerhaueser.

While there are several forms of public transportation available in Seattle, most people get to work by private vehicle. The average commute takes just over 28 minutes.

Almost 52% of Seattle's housing inventory consists of apartments in multi-unit structures. The median monthly rent is $1,322 for a one-bedroom apartment and $1,646 for a two-bedroom apartment.

A trip to the grocery store will cost approximately $16.73 (U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Average Retail Food and Energy Prices, U.S. City Average and West Region.). The average price of gas is $3.08 a gallon (AAA Gas Prices: Seattle, Washington. February 2019.).

Columbus, Ohio

Columbus, Ohio
Columbus, Ohio. Getty Images

The capital of Ohio is a promising place for recent college graduates. Almost 20% of the 881,901 people who call Columbus home are between the ages of 20 and 29. The median age of residents is 32.2. Just about 23% of individuals living there have a bachelor's degree.

Columbus boasts a low unemployment rate of 2% for college grads. Those working in management, business, science, and arts occupations make up almost 60% of the civilian workforce.

The average annual salary for Columbusites with a bachelor's degree is $51,693. Individuals with less than one year of experience earn a median salary of $48,476 per year and those with one to four years of experience earn $50,198 (Payscale.com. Average Salary in Columbus, OH and Median Salary By Years Experience.).

Industries that hire the most workers are educational services and health care, retail, and professional, scientific, and management services. The city's biggest employers are the Ohio State University and, as is common in capital cities, the state and federal governments. Other major employers are Ohio Health, JP Morgan Chase, Nationwide Insurance, and Honda of America (The City of Columbus).

Although the Central Ohio Transit Authority (COTA) provides bus service throughout the region, most people prefer to travel in their own vehicles. Commuting to work takes, on average, 21.6 minutes.

Just over 43% of the Columbus housing inventory are apartments in multi-unit structures. The median monthly rent for a one-bedroom apartment is $740. It is $954 for a two-bedroom apartment.

Filling up your shopping basket costs about $14.98 (U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Average Retail Food and Energy Prices, U.S. City Average and Midwest Region). A gallon of gas costs approximately $2.17 (AAA Gas Prices: Columbus, Ohio. February 2019.).

Austin, Texas

Austin, Texas
Austin, Texas. Getty Images

The slogan "Keep Austin Weird" makes the capital of Texas attractive to twenty-somethings. They make up 19.2% of the city's 950,000 residents. The median age in Austin is 33.4. Almost 31% of the populace has a bachelor's degree.

The unemployment rate of individuals with a bachelor's degree is 2.3%. Almost half of all Austinites work in management, business, science, and arts occupations.

The average annual salary for individuals who have a bachelor's degree is $58,961. Those who have under one year of experience earn a median salary of $51,560. Workers with one to four years of experience get paid a median salary of $52,935 (Payscale.com. Average Salary in Austin, Texas and Median Salary By Years Experience.).

The industries with the most employees are educational services and health care; professional, scientific, and management services; administrative services; and finance and insurance. Austin's top employers include the State of Texas, the University of Texas at Austin, H-E-B, City of Austin, Dell Technologies, the federal government, Austin Independent School District, St. David's Healthcare, Ascension Seton, Samsung Austin Semiconductor, and Apple (Chamber of Commerce Gives Estimates of Austin's Top 30 Employers.

KVUE.).

Public transportation, provided by Capital Metro Transportation Authority (CapMetro), is available to get commuters into and around Austin. However, most people prefer to use their own vehicles to get to work. The length of that commute is an average of 24.9 minutes.

Almost 47% of Austin's housing inventory is made up of apartments in multi-unit structures. One-bedroom apartments go for a median monthly rent of $1,153, and two-bedroom ones cost renters an average of $1,423 a month.

A trip to the grocery store will cost about $15.81 (U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Retail Food and Energy Prices, U.S. City Average and South Region.). Fill your car with gasoline for the week and expect to pay $1.96 per gallon (AAA Gas Prices: Austin, Texas. February 2019.).

New York, New York

New York, New York
New York, New York. Getty Images 

New York is the quintessential big city. It is busy at most times of the day and night. With 8,622,698 residents, it has the largest population of all the cities on this list. The median age of those who call it home is a bit higher as well: 36.6. Residents between the ages of 20 and 29 make up 16%, and 21.5% of the city's population have bachelor's degrees.

Among college graduates, the unemployment rate is 3.6. The highest concentration of workers is in the following occupational fields: management, business, science, and the arts. Many also work in service, sales, and office occupations.

Individuals with a bachelor's degree earn an average salary of $69,094 in NYC. Workers with less than one year of experience earn a median salary of $52,080 and those who have worked between one and four years earn $57,809 (Payscale.com. Average Salary in New York, NY and Median Salary By Years Experience.).

New Yorkers primarily work in the educational and healthcare services; professional, scientific, and management; administrative services, and finance industries. Among the biggest employers are Verizon Communications, JP Morgan Chase, Citigroup, MetLife, Pfizer, AIG, Morgan Stanley, New York Life Insurance, Goldman Sachs, TIAA-CREF, American Express, and Time Warner (Baruch College. NYCdata: Largest Companies Headquartered in NYC. 2017.).

Most people who live and work in NYC use MTA buses and subway trains to get around. With a fare of $2.75, it is a relatively fast and inexpensive way to commute. The average trip from home to work is almost 42 minutes long. It is a lengthier commute than in other cities on this list, but New York is a vast city, and many people travel into Manhattan from the outer boroughs of Brooklyn, Queens, The Bronx, and Staten Island.

Housing is plentiful in New York City—83.7% of it is made up of apartments in multi-unit buildings—but costly. Expect to pay $2,118 for a one-bedroom apartment and $2,523 for a unit with two bedrooms.

Not only will your rent eat up a large part of your budget, your food expenditures will as well. A trip to the grocery store will cost at least $18.18 (U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Retail Food and Energy Prices, U.S. City Average and Northeast Region.).

Chicago, Illinois

Chicago, Illinois
Chicago, Illinois. Getty Images 

Chicago is known for being windy, having the second tallest building in the U.S. (The Willis Tower, formerly named the Sears Tower), and Oprah. It is one of the most populated cities in the country with 2,716,462 people calling it home. Slightly more than 18% of them are between the ages of 20 and 29. The city's median age is 34.6. Over 22% of Chicago's residents have a bachelor's degree.

The unemployment rate of individuals with a college degree is 3.2%. A large number of Chicagoans work in the management, business, sciences, arts, sales, office, and service occupations.

The average annual salary of bachelor's degree holders is $62,948. Workers with less than one year of experience earn a median yearly salary of $52,629 and those with one to four years of experience make $54,800 (Payscale.com. Average Salary in Chicago, Illinois: By Years Experience.).

The educational services and health care; professional, scientific, and management; and finance and insurance industries employ the most people. At the top of the list of Chicago's biggest employers are the federal government, Chicago Public Schools, the City of Chicago, and Cook County. Following them are private sector entities including Advocate Aurora Health, Northwestern Memorial HealthCare, University of Chicago, JP Morgan Chase, Amazon.com, United Continental Holdings, Walgreens Boots Alliance Inc., Northwestern University, and Presence Health (Crain's Chicago Business.

Although many Chicagoans use the 'L' train or buses to get to work, the majority of residents commute in their own vehicles. The trip takes an average of just under 35 minutes.

There is quite a bit of housing available in and around the city. Over 70% of the housing inventory is made up of apartments in multi-unit structures. One-bedrooms go for an average of $1,076 per month and the average rent for two-bedrooms is $1,266.

Preparing several meals a week at home will cost about $14.98 (U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Retail Food and Energy Prices, U.S. City Average and Midwest Region.). The average price of gasoline in Chicago is $2.62 (AAA Gas Prices: Chicago, IL. February 2019.).

San Diego, California

San Diego, California
San Diego, California. Getty Images

Love the sunshine? This Southern California city has plenty of it. Over 19% of the 1.4 million people who live there are between the ages of 20 and 29. Slightly more than 26% have a bachelor's degree. The median age of the city's residents is 34.5.

San Diego has a 3.6% unemployment rate for college grads which is a bit higher than most of the other cities listed here, but similar to New York's and Chicago's. A large portion of the populace works in management, business, and science occupations and the arts.

The median annual salary of individuals who have a bachelor's degree is $60,906. Those with less than one year of experience earn a median yearly salary of $56,589, and the median earnings are $57,758 annually for workers with one to four years of experience (Payscale.com. Average Salary in San Diego, California and Median Salary By Years Experience.).

The industries with the highest number of employees are educational services and health care; professional, scientific, and management; and finance and insurance. Two of San Diego's biggest employers are the 32nd Street Naval Station and MCCS MCRD. Major civilian employers are Kaiser Permanente, Scripps Mercy Hospital, Kyocera Communications, Seaworld, Sony Electronics, and General Dynamics NASSCO.

Commuters can use the San Diego Metropolitan Transit System's buses and trolleys to get to their jobs, but most people drive. The average trip takes 24.7 minutes.

Less than half of San Diego's housing inventory (43.9%) is made up of apartments in multi-unit structures. A one-bedroom apartment goes for $1,559 a month and rent for a two-bedroom one is $2,023.

A trip to the grocery store will cost about $16.73 (U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Average Retail Food and Energy Prices, U.S. City Average and West Region.). Filling up your car will cost approximately $3.28 per gallon (AAA Gas Prices: San Diego, CA. February 2019.).

Denver, Colorado

Denver, Colorado
Denver, Colorado. Getty Images 

Although Colorado's capital, known as the "Mile High City," is the least populated place on this list—with a population of 704,621—it has a significant percentage of young residents. Almost 18% of the city's residents are in their twenties. Over 28% of people who live in Denver have a bachelor's degree. The city's median age is 34.5.

At 2.1%, Denver boasts one of the lowest unemployment rates for college graduates of all the cities listed here. Common occupations of residents include management, business, sciences, arts, sales, and office occupations.

Denverites who have a bachelor's degree earn an average annual salary of $60,616. The median annual earnings of individuals with less than one year of experience is $50,441. Those who have one to four years of experience make $53,599 (Payscale.com. Average Salary in Denver, Colorado and Median Salary By Years Experience.).

The industries with the most employees in Denver include educational services and health care; professional, scientific, and management; administrative services; and finance and insurance industries. Among the most prominent employers are three airlines—United, Southwest, and Frontier; and three healthcare facilities—Kaiser Permanente, HealthONE: Presbyterian/St. Luke's Medical Center & Rose Medical Center, and Saint Joseph Hospital. Also on the list are CenturyLink, Anthem Blue Cross Blue Shield, and Xcel Energy (MetroDenver Economic Development Corporation.

A bus and light rail system serve the city, but most residents prefer their own vehicles over public transportation. The average length of a commute from home to work is 26 minutes.

Less than half of Denver's housing inventory (46%) is comprised of apartments in multi-unit structures. The median monthly rent for a one-bedroom apartment is $1,061. The median monthly rent for a two-bedroom unit is $1,343.

Expect to spend approximately $16.73 for only a few items in the grocery store (U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Average Retail Food and Energy Prices, U.S. City Average and West Region.). The average price of a gallon of gas is $1.93 (AAA Gas Prices: Denver, CO. February 2019.).

San Francisco, California

San Francisco, California
San Francisco, California. Getty Images 

San Francisco is one of the hilliest places in the country. This northern California city has a population of 884,363 with 17.4% being between the ages of 20 and 29. The median age is 38.3, which is higher than the other cities on this list. Over 33% of residents have a bachelor's degree.

The unemployment rate for college grads is just 3%. Employment is highest for individuals who work in management, business, sciences, and art occupations.

Workers with a bachelor's degree earn an average annual salary of $86,543, which is significantly higher than any city on this list. Workers with less than one year of experience have median yearly earnings of $63,429 and those with between one and four years of experience make $71,621 (Payscale.com. Average Annual Salary in San Francisco, California and Median Salary By Years Employment.).

The professional, scientific, and management; administrative services; educational services and health care; and finance and insurance industries employ the most people. San Francisco's largest employers are Wells Fargo, Salesforce, Sutter Health, Uber Technologies, Kaiser Permanente, Gap, PG&E Corp., Deloitte, Amazon, and Dignity Health (San Francisco Center for Economic Development Largest Employers in San Francisco 2018.).

San Franciscans use public transportation—buses, light rail, historic streetcars, and cablecars—to get to work, as well as their own vehicles. The average commute is 33.8 minutes.

Housing is plentiful for those who want to live in multi-unit buildings. Over 68% of all the city's housing inventory consists of apartments. The median monthly rent for one and two-bedroom apartments are $2,459 and $3,089, respectively. That is higher than any other city on this list.

A trip to the grocery store will set you back approximately $16.73 (U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Average Retail Food and Energy Prices, U.S. City Average and West Region.). Filling up your car will cost an average of $3.51 a gallon (AAA Gas Prices: San Francisco, CA. February 2019.). Using public transportation to get to work will only cost $2.50 a ride (San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency.).

Charlotte, North Carolina

Charlotte, North Carolina
Charlotte, North Carolina. Getty Images 

With 859,052 residents, Charlotte is the most populated city in North Carolina. Almost 17% of those who live there are in their twenties. The median age is 34.4. Slightly over 28% of people have a bachelor's degree.

The unemployment rate for those with at least a bachelor's degree is 2.1%. Employment rates are highest for individuals who are in the management, business, science, arts, sales, and office occupations.

The average yearly salary of people with a bachelor's degree is $54,874. Workers with less than one year of experience earn a median salary of $49,223, while those who have between one and four years earn $50,661 (Payscale.com. Average Annual Salary in Charlotte, North Carolina and Median Salary By Years Employment.).

The industries with the most employees are educational services and health care; professional, scientific, management, and administrative services; finance and insurance; and the retail trade. Charlotte's largest employers are Atrium Health, Wells Fargo, Charlotte-Mecklenburg Board of Education, Bank of America, American Airlines, City of Charlotte, Novant Medical Group, Presbyterian Hospital, University of North Carolina at Charlotte, and Duke Energy Carolinas (North Carolina Department of Commerce.

The Charlotte Area Transit System provides a bus and light rail system to get people around the city, but most people get to work by private vehicle. The average length of commute is 25.4 minutes.

Relative to the other cities on this list, only a small percentage (35.2%) of the housing inventory is comprised of apartments in multi-unit buildings. Renters pay a median rent of $965 for a one-bedroom apartment and $1,125 for a two bedroom.

Expect to spend approximately $15.81 to buy a few meals worth of groceries. (U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Retail Food and Energy Prices, U.S. City Average and South Region.). The average price of gas is $2.10 per gallon (AAA Gas Prices: Charlotte, NC. February 2019.).

Indianapolis, Indiana

Indianapolis, Indiana
Indianapolis, Indiana. Getty Images 

Indianapolis is sometimes described as a big city—population 857,386—that feels like a small town. The median age of residents is 34.2. Over 16% of the people who call it home are between the ages of 20 and 29. A bit more than 19.2% of the populace have bachelor's degrees.

College graduates have a low unemployment rate of 2.2%. A majority of the city's residents work in management, business, sciences, art, sales, and office occupations.

The average salary of individuals who have a bachelor's degree is $51,427. Workers with less than one year of experience earn a median yearly salary of $49,041 and those with between one and four years of experience have median annual earnings of $49,524 (Payscale.com. Average Annual Salary in Indianapolis, Indiana and Median Salary By Years Employment.).

Educational services and health care; retail trade; and professional, scientific, and management services are the industries that employ the most residents of Indiana. The largest employers are Community Health Network, IU Health University Hospital, St. Vincent Heart Center, St. Vincent Hospital, Indiana University, Eli Lily and Company, Indiana University School of Medicine, Roche Diagnostics Corp., and Subaru-Indiana Automotive (U.S. Department of Labor. Indiana Profile: Largest Employers. CareerOneStop.).

IndyGo, The Indianapolis Public Transportation Corporation, operates 21 bus routes. Most residents, however, use their own vehicles to get to work. The average commute length is 23.4 minutes.

There aren't many apartments available in multi-unit buildings. They only account for 30.6% of the total housing inventory in the city. The rents are the lowest of any city on this list. The median monthly rent for a one-bedroom apartment is $692. Expect to pay approximately $857 for a two-bedroom apartment.

A trip to purchase groceries to prepare a few meals at home costs about $14.98 (U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Retail Food and Energy Prices, U.S. City Average and Midwest Region.). The average price of a gallon of gas is $2.13 (AAA Gas Prices: Indianapolis, Indiana.).

How We Chose the Top 10 Cities for College Graduates

When selecting the cities to include on this list, we used Census data to first identify the 20 cities in the U.S. with the largest populations (Census Bureau. Annual Estimates of the Resident Population for Incorporated Places of 50,000 or More, Ranked by July 1, 2017. United States Factfinder.). We then used data from the Census Bureau's American Community Survey to evaluate each city: percentage of 20 to 29 year olds, median age, percentage of residents with a bachelor's degree, and the unemployment rate for college graduates (Census Bureau.

Subject Tables. American Community Survey.).

The cities that made it to this list have both a high percentage of 20 to 29 year olds and bachelor degree holders. Each one also has a relatively low unemployment rate. We also considered the median salaries, using survey results from Payscale.com, reporting the average annual earnings for all residents with a bachelor's degree and the median salaries for individuals with less than one year of experience and those with one to four years of experience. Additionally, we looked at mode and length of commute to work and the availability of apartments in multi-unit buildings as reported by the Census Bureau (Census Bureau.

Subject Tables. American Community Survey.).

Finally, we took into account the costs of living such as rent, groceries, and gasoline. The rent data comes from the Apartment List National Rent Report. We calculated the cost of groceries by totaling the costs of several everyday items—a gallon of milk, a loaf of bread, a dozen eggs, and a pound each of ground beef, boneless chicken breasts, bananas, potatoes, and pasta—using regional retail pricing information reported by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Gasoline prices are from AAA. We included public transportation costs only if the majority uses that mode to commute to work.