Graduation season is here and with it comes the reality facing many new grads: What should I do and where should I go? Job hunting was once much more limited to either focusing on a specific industry or a geographic location. But over the last year, many employers have launched long-term remote working, giving grads the ability to look beyond location for their dream jobs.
With this newfound flexibility with where to live and work, The Zebra decided to find the top 10 U.S. cities for new grads in 2021.
We looked at the top 50 most populated metropolitan areas and analyzed them in five separate categories:
Cost of living index to gauge overall affordability. We used the Numbeo Index, which uses New York City as its baseline. Each city’s cost of living index is calculated in relation to NYC, excluding rent.
Average cost of rent for a one-bedroom apartment
Unemployment rate to determine places with more recession-proof jobs (as of March 2021)
Number of arts and entertainment establishments per 100,000 residents
“Foodie” city ranking from Wallethub to find places with the most opportunities to socialize
Our top 10 list includes a diverse set of places from coast to coast, giving you plenty of inspiration as you navigate your job hunt.
Austin tops our list thanks to its overall low cost of living and its exciting food and entertainment scene.
From breakfast tacos to barbecue, there are plenty of restaurants and food trucks to explore. Music lovers will also appreciate Austin as the Live Music Capital of the World, with venues and festivals across the city.
Arts and entertainment establishments per 100k: 49.67
Foodie ranking: 60.12
If you want to move to the Midwest after graduation, check out Indianapolis.
Both rent and the city’s cost of living are low, giving you more breathing room in your budget each month. Plus, Indianapolis has plenty to offer when you’re not working, especially if you’re a sports fan. The city has six pro sports franchises, not to mention racing at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
First thing to do when you get there: Browse some local produce at the White River State Park farmer’s market.
Crossroads of America
Cost of living index: 64.36
Average rent for 1-BR apartment: $950
Unemployment rate: 4.5%
Arts and entertainment establishments per 100k: 40.96
Foodie ranking: 46.22
Orlando has a relatively low cost of living, especially considering the high ratio of arts and entertainment establishments.
Choose this as your post-graduation home and you’ll enjoy warm weather all year long. It makes the perfect backdrop for the city’s large concentration of amusement parks, which often come with discounted resident passes.
First thing to do when you get there: Once you’ve officially established Florida residency, head to Disney World and enjoy major savings.
the City Beautiful
Cost of living index: 66.59
Average rent for 1-BR apartment: $1,220
Unemployment rate: 5.4%
Arts and entertainment establishments per 100k: 49.44
Foodie ranking: 59.46
Cincinnati has one of the lowest unemployment rates among major American cities, which could bode well for job hunters just entering the market.
Rent and general cost of living are also low, making Cincinnati easier on an entry-level budget. And if you’re ready to refine your post-college beer taste buds, the Queen City is home to more than 40 breweries.
Arts and entertainment establishments per 100k: 34.48
Foodie ranking: 50.62
Louisville boasts some of the country's lowest average residential rents, with plenty of food and culture to offer new grads.
Experience the Kentucky Derby in person and don a fancy hat or seersucker jacket. You can also explore the Urban Bourbon Trail and try the city's iconic open-face Hot Brown sandwich at the Brown Hotel.
Cost of living index: 65.37
Average rent for 1-BR apartment: $850
Unemployment rate: 4.6%
Arts and entertainment establishments per 100k: 37.40
Put Las Vegas on your list if your priority after graduation is to find a place with a vibrant food and entertainment scene.
Unemployment is quite high in Vegas, however, so definitely check to make sure there are jobs in your specific industry. If you can land a job in Sin City, you can celebrate the fact that Nevada doesn’t charge state income tax.
Arts and entertainment establishments per 100k: 57.09
Foodie ranking: 66.30
St. Louis, MO
St. Louis is another Midwestern city known for its affordability.
And as a new graduate on a budget, you’ll save even more thanks to plenty of free attractions around the city. These include the city zoo and plenty of museums. St. Louis also exudes architectural charm and is home to many major companies that could help you land your first job.
First thing to do when you get there: Start to explore Forest Park, home to 1,300 acres that includes plenty of natural space and cultural institutions.
St. Louis, Missouri
the Gateway to the West
Cost of living index: 66.54
Average rent for 1-BR apartment: $970
Unemployment rate: 4.8%
Arts and entertainment establishments per 100k: 40.36
Foodie ranking: 48.48
Salt Lake City, UT
Salt Lake City has the lowest unemployment rate on our list and a low cost of living.
In fact, the city has one of the fastest job growth rates as well. Additionally, Salt Lake City is known both for its beautiful natural surroundings and its thriving arts scene.
If you’re looking for an urban setting with easy access to the outdoors, you may find it here.
First thing to do when you get there: Take a day trip to Park City to hit the slopes.
Salt Lake City, Utah
Cost of living index: 64.26
Average rent for 1-BR apartment: $1,100
Unemployment rate: 3.0%
Arts and entertainment establishments per 100k: 37.38
Foodie ranking: 45.09
Raleigh is another hopeful place for job seekers thanks to its low unemployment rate.
Plus, Raleigh (along with neighboring Durham and Chapel Hill) is home to several colleges and universities. This could help you navigate a smoother transition as you enter the “real world.”
While considered a Southern city, Raleigh is fairly centered on the East Coast, making it an easy gateway for traveling.
First thing to do when you get there: Grab some hiking boots and walk a portion of North Carolina’s Mountain-to-Sea Trail. It passes through Raleigh and is the state’s longest trail at 1,000 miles.
Raleigh, North Carolina
the City of Oaks
Cost of living index: 69.55
Average rent for 1-BR apartment: $1,010
Unemployment rate: 3.9%
Arts and entertainment establishments per 100k: 41.17
Foodie ranking: 45.52
Nashville has experienced a lot of growth in recent years, thanks to low unemployment and a killer music scene.
You’ll definitely experience four distinct seasons here, although winters will feel typically much milder if you’re moving from New England or the Midwest. Recent graduates could land a job in the country music industry or look for jobs at major employers like Vanderbilt University or Nissan North America.
First thing to do when you get there: Stroll along Broadway and 2nd Avenue for the best place to hear busking musicians.
Cost of living index: 71.26
Average rent for 1-BR apartment: $$1,290
Unemployment rate: 4.2%
Arts and entertainment establishments per 100k: 77.07
Foodie ranking: 44.06
The Zebra pulled five data points to analyze the top 50 MSAs (by population) in the U.S. that would contribute to a graduate-friendly environment.