May 13, 2014

Study: Best Big Cities for College Grads 2014

Read more about Life After College

When you're young, the world seems like your oyster. You don't have wrinkles, your knees don't creak, and your whole life is ahead of you. What you don't have is much in the way of finances, except a lot of student loans and maybe some credit card debt.

All the more reason to start off on the right foot. Our research shows that where new grads live can have a profound impact on their financial health. Start off in an area where the jobs are scarce and the rent is high, and you could end up on a one-way path to being in debt forever. To avoid such a plight, we have gathered a list of U.S. cities that show the most promise for new grads. Many of them want to escape to “the big city,” so for this list, we stuck to cities with at least a million people.

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. As suspected, Silicon Valley is the most expensive place to relocate after college—median rents there are $1,503 a month.

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. Indianapolis, IN

Indianapolis, Indiana
Indianapolis, Indiana

  • Unemployment rate: 6.4%
  • Population with bachelor’s degree: 20.8%
  • Median rent: $778
  • Commute time: 25.1 minutes
  • Bars per 10,000 people: 1.85

Indianapolis is home to about 1.4 million people. It makes the list thanks to its low unemployment rate and decent commute, though neither of these things are the best on the list.

Did you know?
Indiana University’s greatest swimmer was Mark Spitz, who won seven gold medals in the 1972 Olympic games.

9. Providence, RI

Providence, Rhode Island
Providence, Rhode Island

  • Unemployment rate: 6.9%
  • Population with bachelor’s degree: 18%
  • Median rent: $859
  • Commute time: 25.5 minutes
  • Bars per 10,000 people: 2.72

Providence has the highest median rent on the list and one of the longest commute times. It has more bars per 10,000 people than Indianapolis, though, which means new graduates who land in the area have an easier time finding Friday-night fun.

8. St. Louis, MO

St Louis, Missouri
St Louis, Missouri

  • Unemployment rate: 6.5%
  • Population with bachelor’s degree: 19%
  • Median rent: $776
  • Commute time: 25.4 minutes
  • Bars per 10,000 people: 2.57

St. Louis is home to 2.2 million people, many of whom apparently like bars. The commute tie is on the high side here, and the median rents are a little above the average median rent of $720.

Did you know?
St. Louis startups raised over $380 million in 2013, which was a 600 percent increase over 2012.

7. Kansas City, MO

  • Unemployment rate: 5.7%
  • Population with bachelor’s degree: 21.4%
  • Median rent: $810
  • Commute time: 22.7 minutes
  • Bars per 10,000 people: 1.53

In Kansas City, lots of people have bachelor’s degrees, relatively speaking, which could present some competition for new grads. Fortunately, the unemployment rate is low and the commute times are the best on the list, but there are the fewest bars per 10,000 people here than the rest of the list.

6. Columbus, OH

Columbus, Ohio
Columbus, Ohio

  • Unemployment rate: 5.8%
  • Population with bachelor’s degree: 22%
  • Median rent: $794
  • Commute time: 22.8 minutes
  • Bars per 10,000 people: 2.49

Columbus has the highest proportion of bachelor’s degree holders on the list, which means new grads may have a relatively tough time competing against other job applicants for degree-required jobs. Thankfully, there are 2.49 bars per 10,000 people in which to whittle away the hours between job interviews.

5. Milwaukee, WI

Milwaukee, Wisconsin
Milwaukee, Wisconsin

  • Unemployment rate: 6.4%
  • Population with bachelor’s degree: 21.3%
  • Median rent: $798
  • Commute time: 23.1 minutes
  • Bars per 10,000 people: 4.22

Milwaukee is home to famous beer and famous cheese, which alone ought to be enough to attract new graduates. The city has the most bars per 10,000 people, but on top of that is its low rent, low commute time, and low unemployment rate.

Did you know?
Esquire magazine named Milwaukee the “bar city of the year” in 2012.

4. Cleveland, OH

Cleveland, Ohio
Cleveland, Ohio

  • Unemployment rate: 6.9%
  • Population with bachelor’s degree: 17.4%
  • Median rent: $732
  • Commute time: 24.6 minutes
  • Bars per 10,000 people: 2.78

Cleveland is one of those cities that is solid across the board: decent job market, low rent, and a relatively good bar scene, which means more after-work happy hours. But the unemployment rate is the worst on the list, which equates to tougher times on the job hunt.

3. Cincinnati, OH

Cincinnati, Ohio
Cincinnati, Ohio

  • Unemployment rate: 6.2%
  • Population with bachelor’s degree: 18.7%
  • Median rent: $731
  • Commute time: 24.2 minutes
  • Bars per 10,000 people: 2.36

Cincinnati is often recognized as a great place to live, and recent grads might agree. There are relatively few bars, though, but that just gives grads more time for working and getting ahead. With median rent only $731, graduates have a better chance at getting ahead financially too.

2. Pittsburgh, PA

Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

  • Unemployment rate: 5%
  • Population with bachelor’s degree: 18.8%
  • Median rent: $695
  • Commute time: 26.5 minutes
  • Bars per 10,000 people: 3.93

Healthcare, government, and the University of Pittsburgh are three of the largest employment sectors in this city. Those jobs often require degrees, and that means new grads face relatively little competition. Though the commute times are high, the after-work scene is relatively hopping.

1. San Antonio, TX

San Antonio, Texas
San Antonio, Texas

  • Unemployment rate: 5.3%
  • Population with bachelor’s degree: 16.8%
  • Median rent: $825
  • Commute time: 24.9 minutes
  • Bars per 10,000 people: 2.0

Coming in at number one is San Antonio. Located in the southern (and really, really hot) part of the state, San Antonio looks like a great place for new college graduates: they face the least competition from other degree-holders, have low rent, good commutes, and something to look forward to on Friday night. Of course, they’ll have to remember to bring sunscreen.


The transition from college to “the real world” is exhilarating and scary at the same time. Why not make it a little easier by landing in a city that makes starting a new life a little more pleasurable? We hope this list offers some insight to those who will trade “summer vacation” for the much shorter “paid vacation.”

Tina O is a contributing writer at CreditDonkey, a credit card comparison and financial education website. Write to Tina O at tina@creditdonkey.com. 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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