May 13, 2014

Study: Best Cities for College Grads 2014

Read more about Life After College

Here’s one thing they don’t teach you in college: Where you live that first year after earning your diploma sets the tone for your post-education life. You may not live there for long, but chances are you’ll live there much longer than you think. It’s where you’ll get your first real job and where you’ll be sent your first round of student loan bills.

We’ve gathered data to help you start off on the right foot by finding the medium-size cities, those with between 500,000 and 1 million people, that have higher employment opportunities but have decent rent. Since you want to have fun, too, and transition smoothly from your college party days, we’ve included a key fun factor as well.

Study Methodology

From our perspective, four things make for a good place to start a career:

  • The hope of getting a job
  • Rent that doesn’t eat up your whole paycheck
  • A decent commute
  • Good places to cut loose after work

First, we used the most recent Census data to look at the unemployment rate in the civilian population and the proportion of the population that has a bachelor’s degree. This data is from the most recent American Community Survey from the U.S. Census. We figured that a low unemployment rate and little competition in the form of other people with bachelor’s degrees means it should be relatively easier to find a job as a new graduate.

Next up was rent. Most new graduates don’t go out and buy houses right away, so we wanted to take a look at how this cost compared.

We also looked at commute times from the U.S. Census, figuring that the longer it takes to get to work, the less we’re interested in going there. And last but not least, we know that college grads aren’t quite ready to put their partying days behind them. So we looked at the number of bars per 10,000 people.

Here’s how the list turned out.

10. Albany, NY

  • Unemployment rate: 5.3%
  • Population with bachelor’s degree: 18.9%
  • Median rent: $873
  • Commute time: 22.5 minutes
  • Bars per 10,000 people: 2.2

Located north of New York City, this state capital is home to about 712,000 people. It makes the list thanks to its low unemployment rate and plethora of bars. But it also has the highest median rent on the list, which may take a big bite out of those new paychecks.

Did you know?
Journalist Andy Rooney attended Albany University and Colgate Academy. After graduation, the Army drafted him and sent him to London, where he began his career as a reporter for Stars and Stripes.

9. Oklahoma City, OK

Oklahoma City, Oklahoma
Oklahoma City, Oklahoma

  • Unemployment rate: 4.3%
  • Population with bachelor’s degree: 18.7%
  • Median rent: $747
  • Commute time: 22 minutes
  • Bars per 10,000 people: 1.36

Oklahoma City has the lowest unemployment rate on the list but one of the longest commute times. It also has relatively few bars, which means new graduates who land in the area may have less Friday-night fun than in some other cities on the list.

8. Rochester, NY

Rochester, New York
Rochester, New York

  • Unemployment rate: 5.2%
  • Population with bachelor’s degree: 17.8%
  • Median rent: $779
  • Commute time: 21.1 minutes
  • Bars per 10,000 people: 2.1

Rochester is home to 850,000 people, many of whom apparently like bars. The commute is on the high side here, and the median rent is a little above the average median rent of $720.

7. Omaha, NE

Omaha, Nebraska
Omaha, Nebraska

  • Unemployment rate: 4.8%
  • Population with bachelor’s degree: 22.4%
  • Median rent: $781
  • Commute time: 20 minutes
  • Bars per 10,000 people: 4.1

In Omaha, lots of people have bachelor’s degrees, relatively speaking, which could present some competition for new grads. However, the unemployment rate is low, the commute times are the best on the list, and there are more bars per capita than the rest of the list.

6. McAllen, TX

  • Unemployment rate: 6.5%
  • Population with bachelor’s degree: 11.1%
  • Median rent: $629
  • Commute time: 21.8 minutes
  • Bars per 10,000 people: 1.25

McAllen has the lowest number of bars per 10,000 people on the list, which means new grads may have a tough time keeping those late-night schedules going if they didn’t get enough of it in college.

5. Tulsa, OK

  • Unemployment rate: 5%
  • Population with bachelor’s degree: 17.9%
  • Median rent: $721
  • Commute time: 21 minutes
  • Bars per 10,000 people: 1.43

Great Falls is in one of the most beautiful states in the country, which alone ought to be enough to attract new graduates who still like to have weekend outdoor adventures. On top of that is the low rent, low commute time, and low unemployment rate.

4. El Paso, TX

El Paso, Texas
El Paso, Texas

  • Unemployment rate: 5.4%
  • Population with bachelor’s degree: 14.3%
  • Median rent: $718
  • Commute time: 23.5 minutes
  • Bars per 10,000 people: 2.34

El Paso is one of those cities that’s solid across the board with a good job market, low rent, and an active bar scene. But the commute times aren’t great—resulting in less time at the bar and more time on the road.

3. Dayton, OH

  • Unemployment rate: 6.4%
  • Population with bachelor’s degree: 15.4%
  • Median rent: $726
  • Commute time: 21.3 minutes
  • Bars per 10,000 people: 2.34

Dayton is often recognized as a great place to live, and recent grads might agree. It has relatively few bars, providing more time for working and getting ahead. With median rent only $726, graduates have a better chance at getting ahead financially too.

2. Toledo, OH

  • Unemployment rate: 8.1%
  • Population with bachelor’s degree: 14.4%
  • Median rent: $661
  • Commute time: 20.7 minutes
  • Bars per 10,000 people: 3.72

Healthcare is one of the largest employment sectors in Toledo, as is the University of Toledo and Chrysler. Those jobs often require degrees, and that means new grads face little competition. Even better is that the commute times are low and the after-work scene is relatively hopping.

Did you know?
The city’s motto is “You’ll do better in Toledo!”

1. Buffalo, NY

Buffalo, New York
Buffalo, New York

  • Unemployment rate: 5.5%
  • Population with bachelor’s degree: 16.6%
  • Median rent: $697
  • Commute time: 20.9 minutes
  • Bars per 10,000 people: 3.47

Coming in at number one is Buffalo. Located in the western part of the state, Buffalo looks like a great place for new college graduates: they face little competition from other degree-holders, and they have low rent, good commutes, and something to look forward to on Friday night. Of course, they’ll have to remember to bring a coat.

Did you know?
The Buffalo bar scene is perhaps most famous for its food invention—the Buffalo-style chicken wing.


After college, big decisions become a way of life. We hope we’ve made one of those decisions—where to plant your roots for the first couple of years as you begin your career—easier.

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Follow @CreditDonkey or write to Tina O at tina@creditdonkey.com
Tina O is a contributing writer at CreditDonkey, a credit card comparison and financial education website. Our data-driven analysis has been recognized by major news outlets across the country and has helped young adults make savvy financial and lifestyle decisions. (read more)

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