Finally, after years of studying and cramming for exams, you’re done with college and ready to break into the workforce. If you’re part of the approximately 67% of students that don’t have a job lined up at the time of graduation, you’re probably feeling pretty overwhelmed.
In times of economic uncertainty, it’s more important than ever to strategically plan life after college. We know that finding a city where job prospects are high and rent is reasonable can seem like an impossible task.
In an attempt to make it a bit easier, we put together a list of the best cities for jobs after graduation. We also compared over 100 U.S. cities across three key indicators to find the top 15 cities for post-grad living.
Top 15 Cities for Jobs After Graduation in 2020
America’s fourth-largest city is home to a thriving art scene and 23 fortune 500 companies. The business-driven metro takes the top spot on our list because of its affordability and job availability. With an average rent of $990 and an average salary of $51,140 a year, Houston is one of the most affordable large cities in the country. While prices fluctuate depending on where you live, securing a home for the future is possible here. Scoring the highest for job availability, Houston also offers a vast diversity of jobs in business services, tech, aerospace, and medicine.
- Overall rank: 1
- Income score: 16.06
- Cost score: 20.15
- Job availability score: 30
With a population that’s grown 470% since 2000, Frisco takes the second spot on our list. Just 25 minutes north of Dallas, this small city embraces the entrepreneurial spirit and values a diverse population of workers and employers. Averaging a salary of $127,133 a year, Frisco draws many new graduates with the promise of security and affordable rent prices. And if you’re a sports enthusiast, you’ll be happy to know Frisco has no shortage of games to see or facilities to tour.
- Overall rank: 2
- Income score: 39.92
- Cost score: 14.29
- Job availability score: 2.25
The state capital of Indiana placed third on our list for its low cost of living and reasonable homeownership costs. With various must-see museum destinations and a thriving downtown life, it’s not hard to see why Indianapolis is home to nearly a million people. Welcoming graduates with a median salary of $51,060 and an average rental rate of $902 a month, Indianapolis is a great place to start out. Its low unemployment rate and thriving job market mean that landing a job here is more than likely.
- Overall rank: 3
- Income score: 16.03
- Cost score: 22.12
- Job availability score: 19.29
The first city to receive the Global Biorisk Advisory Council (GBAC) STAR™ accreditation, Dallas leads the charge in clean city initiatives. Featuring one of the fastest-growing job markets in the country, Dallas takes the fourth spot on our list. The city’s average income is $50,100, which makes the rent of $987 all the more reasonable. With a population north of 1.3 billion, Dallas is a rapidly growing city that offers a mix of living options. You’ll also find plenty of things to do here, from shows at the AT&T Performing Arts Center to live music at the South Side Music Hall.
- Overall rank: 4
- Income score: 15.73
- Cost score: 20.21
- Job availability score: 20.22
Phoenix is a hub for entertainment, art, and culture. At the heart of the Sonoran Desert, Phoenix has the most parks and preserves of all major cities in the country. It’s considerably more affordable than other big cities like LA or New York, offering any newcomer an average rent of $999. Factor in an average yearly income of $54,765, and Phoenix takes the fifth spot on our list. If you’re ready to embrace the heat, this city is a good place for grads who plan to work in the tech industry.
- Overall rank: 5
- Income score: 17.20
- Cost score: 19.95
- Job availability score: 18.98
San Antonio, TX
San Antonio offers its residents plenty of history, culture, and fine dining. Like the other Texas cities on our list, San Antonio has an average salary of $50,980 with a rent rate of just over $950 a month. The lower cost of living is partially driven by the lack of state income taxes. Though residents should expect to pay a slightly higher sales and property tax. With industries like healthcare, biotechnology, and renewable energy, graduates will find the job market is diverse and plentiful.
- Overall rank: 6
- Income score: 16.01
- Cost score: 20.82
- Job availability score: 17.41
Considered one of the best cities to raise a family, Naperville has a low crime rate and acclaimed school systems. Located in the technology and research corridor of Illinois, Naperville is home to numerous tech companies and major corporations. Given the availability of highly-coveted jobs, Naperville does have a higher rent rate than the other options on our list at $1,501. But the notably higher annual income of $118,187 accommodates that price. Naperville has also made significant strides in environmental sustainability by helping residents install smart thermostats, rain barrels, and solar panels across the city.
- Overall rank: 7
- Income score: 37.11
- Cost score: 13.29
- Job availability score: 2.09
St. Louis, MO
St. Louis offers one of the lowest costs of living across the U.S., landing it the eighth spot on our list with rent averaging around $960. Affordable living options and a booming job market in education, healthcare, and tech make this city a good choice for new graduates. In addition to well-known companies like Anheuser-Busch and Express Scripts Holding Co., St. Louis also has a flourishing small and medium-sized business sector.
- Overall rank: 8
- Income score: 16.25
- Cost score: 20.78
- Job availability score: 12.99
The fourth-largest city in the San Francisco Bay area, Fremont draws new graduates with the promise of high salaries and the opportunities of Silicon Valley. Home to numerous tech firms and manufacturing companies, Fremont has the highest rate of open jobs on our list. Its high numbers of job openings and prestigious opportunities do come at a price. The rent in Fremont is significantly higher than any other city on the list, at $2,455. Though the average annual salary of $127,374 does accommodate the cost of living.
- Overall rank: 9
- Income score: 40
- Cost score: 8.13
- Job availability score: 2.20
With easy access to Durham, Chapel Hill, and Downtown Raleigh, Cary exposes graduates to a wide variety of employment opportunities. Taking the tenth spot on the list and known for its safety, Cary is another great place to raise a family. Those factors do contribute to the higher cost of living in Cary, but the trade-off for safety and job opportunities is worth it. The average annual income of $101,079 mitigates the higher rent prices.
- Overall rank: 10
- Income score: 31.74
- Cost score: 16.35
- Job availability score: 1.81
The largest city in Kansas takes the eleventh spot on our list. Many large companies like Koch Industries and Pizza Hut made their start in Wichita, establishing it as a hub for entrepreneurship. The medium average salary is lower than in other cities, but money tends to go further in Kansas. Wichita is by far the most affordable place to live on our list, with an average rental rate of $665.
- Overall rank: 11
- Income score: 14.47
- Cost score: 30
- Job availability score: 15.70
Just outside of Kansas City, Olathe has almost double the average salary when compared to Wichita. As with other cities, a bump in salary also means an increase in what you’ll pay in rent, which averages around $966 a month. Olathe has one of the lowest unemployment rates on our list, making it an ideal spot for new grads looking for dependable employment.
- Overall rank: 12
- Income score: 26.79
- Cost score: 20.65
- Job availability score: 2.57
Taking the fourteenth spot on our list, Tulsa is known for its low cost on everything from gas to shopping. Its low cost and various tax benefits have helped the city attract businesses, and an impressive number of remote workers. With one of the lowest rent rates on the list at $717, the money you make in Tulsa will go much further than in larger cities. Aside from how much you could save on rent, this city is a top contender for family living and offers a diverse community.
- Overall rank: 13
- Income score: 15.05
- Cost score: 27.82
- Job availability score: 6.88
Oklahoma City, OK
From the Oklahoma City Thunder to the numerous tourist spots, Oklahoma City has a lot to offer. Their affordable rent prices and realistic homeowner opportunities make Oklahoma City an obvious choice for new graduates. The largest employers in the city tend to be in the natural gas and oil industry. Oklahoma City also has a booming livestock market, so those interested in agricultural careers will be well suited here. While the city’s median annual salary is the lowest on the list, at only $48,380, its lower cost of living compensates for it.
- Overall rank: 14
- Income score: 15.19
- Cost score: 25.35
- Job availability score: 9.90
The fourteenth largest city in the U.S, Columbus takes the fifteenth spot on our list. Spending $20 million to create bike trails that feed into the downtown area, Columbus is a great area for those who value fitness and an active lifestyle. With a median yearly salary of $52,130 and a rental rate of $959, Columbus is exceptionally affordable for those looking to rent and even buy a house. Besides the substantial housing savings, the city has a low unemployment rate of 2.5%.
Top 100 Cities for Jobs After Graduation in 2020
We couldn’t just stop at the top 15. To make sure we included as many options as we could for new grads, we scored the top 100 contenders. Below you’ll find an interactive table that analyzes the top 100 cities to move to after graduation. Filter your options by rank, highest income, rent and job availability score.
|Rank||City||Income score||Cost score||Job availability score|
|6||San Antonio, TX||16.015||20.82||17.41|
|8||St. Louis, MO||16.255||20.78||12.99|
|14||Oklahoma City, OK||15.19||25.35||9.90|
|19||San Diego, CA||23.51||12.72||11.64|
|24||Fort Worth, TX||18.61||17.70||11.09|
|25||Overland Park, KS||25.96||17.73||4.16|
|26||Kansas City, MO||16.21||19.71||11.18|
|29||Las Vegas, NV||14.657||18.02||14.28|
|38||Fort Wayne, IN||14.70||24.88||5.678|
|46||El Paso, TX||12.719||25.25||6.25|
|47||Des Moines, IA||16.61||22.18||5.49|
|48||Sioux Falls, SD||14.41||25.22||3.79|
|51||Little Rock, AR||14.522||24.94||4.81|
|60||Elk Grove, CA||28.51||12.162||0.88|
|65||Santa Clarita, CA||29.613||9.911||1.06|
|70||Salt Lake City, UT||16.55||16.15||8.37|
|83||Grand Prairie, TX||20.49||17.67||2.13|
|84||Baton Rouge, LA||14.51||19.44||5.53|
|85||Colorado Springs, CO||16.44||16.75||7.09|
|91||Grand Rapids, MI||14.762||18.44||4.98|
|92||Rancho Cucamonga, CA||27.12||10.43||1.29|
|99||Newport News, VA||16.29||20.38||2.26|
Secure a Job
Moving to a new city is only half the battle, next you need to secure a job. We spoke to a recruiter and two professionals with hiring experience about how to land a job in the current market.
Ask the Experts
Owner of Sound Advice Recruiting
What advice do you have for new grads on finding a job in tough economic times? It’s super important that you have a sense of your personal equation (knowing precisely what you want and don’t want in terms of your job search). Having a game plan on how to approach companies is critically important today. Recent grads need to know how to:
- Do their research on prospective employers.
- Interact with recruiters (both internal and external recruiters).
- Understand that there’s a different etiquette and cadence applying to different size companies. The application process for applying for a large corporation is keenly different than that of applying to a startup or small to midsize business
Given current events, how do you view the market for new grads? The market for new grads is truly a mixed bag. For those that are going into certain fields such as technology, healthcare, logistics, security, insurance, those industries are still strong and growing. Students with undergraduate or graduate degrees focusing on those areas will have an easier time than with a more traditional liberal arts degree. That said, the latter should not despair. There are still many opportunities for working in these industries in various capacities. You need to know how to reach out to those organizations and identify opportunities.
Vice President of Magas Media Consultants, LLC and a Clinical Associate Professor of Public Relations at Pace University
What can a recent grad do to be the most competitive applicant?
Google yourself: Most employers will search you on the internet even before the interview. Aside from making sure the obvious party pictures aren’t found, privacy settings on social media are an easy way to deter any negative information from being discovered. Make sure you have a professional profile picture; it may also be beneficial to use the same photo across many platforms to create a sense of professionalism and unity. Be purposeful and thoughtful in updating your resume: You should narrow down your skills earned at various positions to only the most prominent, transferrable, and noteworthy abilities while also using strong verbiage to clearly indicate how tasks were performed. Tailor your resume to reflect the skills and qualities that build on each other toward the job you want, and be succinct, impactful and visually stimulating. Target your cover letter for each position: Use the rule of 3 C’s in crafting your cover letter: concise writing, clarity and connection. The cover letter should highlight your achievements and how they are relevant to the position.
Marketing Director at Crash
What are the common job hunting mistakes new grads make? Thinking their cover letter should be about them when it should be about the company, what they love about it, and how they specifically believe they can contribute. Also not networking with members of the company they’re applying to. Or never following up on their initial application and wondering why they don’t hear back.
When ranking the top cities for new graduates we wanted to make sure we looked at more than just jobs. To do this, we dug into data from the U.S. Census Bureau, the U.S. Department of Labor Statistics, and RENTCafé’s National Rent Report.
Then we analyzed data for the top 100 cities by population size, filtering out any cities that had a population density of above 2000. Once the population limit was set, we scored the remaining cities across three metrics: average annual income, job openings, and average cost of living.
Annual income was weighted at 40% of the overall score because it’s one of the most important factors that new grads consider before moving. The cost of living and job availability metrics each received a weight of 30%. Each city on the list was assigned an overall score that incorporated each metric’s weight, allowing us to rank them from one to 100.