Research

The 10 best cities for new grads

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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 ofarts 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.

 


 

1st place

Austin, TX

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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.

First thing to do when you arrive in Austin:Go for a swim at  Barton Springs Pool.

 


 

Austin, Texas facts

the Violet Crown City

  • Cost of living index: 63.03
  • Average rent for 1-BR apartment: $1,180
  • Unemployment rate: 5.3%
  • Arts and entertainment establishments per 100k: 49.67
  • Foodie ranking: 60.12

 

2nd place

Indianapolis, IN

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.

 


 

Indianapolis, Indiana

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

 

3rd place

Orlando, FL

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.

 


 

Orlando, Florida

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

 

4th place

Cincinnati, OH

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. 

First thing to do when you get there:Visit the  National Underground Railroad Freedom Center  and learn about the heroes who have fought for freedom throughout America’s history.

 


 

Cincinnati, Ohio

the Queen City

  • Cost of living index: 64.43
  • Average rent for 1-BR apartment: $960
  • Unemployment rate: 4.2%
  • Arts and entertainment establishments per 100k: 34.48
  • Foodie ranking: 50.62

 

5th place

Louisville, KY

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.

 


 

Louisville, Kentucky

Derby City

  • 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
  • Foodie ranking: 47.60

First thing to do when you get there:Get your fill of baseball history at the  Louisville Slugger Museum and Factory.

6th place

Las Vegas, NV

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.

First thing to do when you get to Vegas:Grab an aerial view of the city on the  High Roller observation wheel.

 


 

Las Vegas, Nevada

Sin City

  • Cost of living index: 69.30
  • Average rent for 1-BR apartment: $1,000
  • Unemployment rate: 8.8%
  • Arts and entertainment establishments per 100k: 57.09
  • Foodie ranking: 66.30

 

7th place

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

 

8th place

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

SLC

  • 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

 

9th place

Raleigh, NC

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

 

10th place

Nashville, TN

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.

 


 

Nashville, Tennessee

Music City

  • 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
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Methodology

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.

MSA data was used where applicable, and we sometimes substituted city-level data as necessary. 

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