Top Cities for College Grads



Finding the right place to live after graduation can be tricky. Do you pick the biggest city with the most diverse job market, or do you find a smaller city with a lower cost of living? Do you prioritize culture and entertainment or community and family? How important are climate and access to outdoor recreation?

While those are questions you’ll have to answer for yourself, the process could be a little easier with some research. You’ll likely want to consider things like employment, cost of living, housing, and overall job growth in the areas you are interested in moving to after graduation.

Considerations Before Making a Big Move

Moving can be a big expense. Before committing to life in a new city recent graduates may want to think about how much they need to live on, including rent, utilities, groceries, transportation, and student loans.

Also, consider what type of income you’ll likely be earning when you arrive in your new home. Have you already secured work? Or will you be moving hoping to find a job when you arrive?

Do you have any money saved away that you could fall back on if finding employment takes longer than anticipated? If you’re moving without a job, it could be helpful to do some research to find out what the average entry-level salary for your desired job in the city you’re considering.

Try creating a mock budget and include how much you typically spend on groceries, gas, utilities, internet, entertainment, and other expenses.

One of your primary expenses will likely be housing. If you can minimize how much you owe in rent each month, you might find yourself with more money for other financial priorities. As you build out your mock budget, factor in student loan payments and any other debt, such as car payments. If you’re not sure how much you’ll pay for car insurance, cell phone service, or anything else your parents might have previously paid for, contact a few places to get estimates.

Related: How Much Money Should I Save to Move Out?

Compare your income (or potential income) with rent in the area and think about how much you can reasonably afford. Once you’ve found housing, it will likely be difficult to adjust your rent, unless you’re willing to move (again). This could be tricky if you’re unable to secure work or end up making less money than anticipated.

Moving to a cheaper apartment still costs money, especially if you need to pay the first and last month’s rent and a security deposit. If you lose your job and want a cheaper apartment, you’ll need to show a potential landlord proof of income, among other documentation, which can be a tall order if you are unemployed.

Once you’ve completed your estimated budget, compare it to the salary you expect to be earning, factoring in state and federal taxes. If the expenses outweigh the income, it may be worth considering a different location—or mentally preparing to live a frugal lifestyle until your income increases.

As a new graduate, it’s tempting to strike out for adventure and move to the city you’ve always dreamed of living in. That might sound exciting, but a dream city can quickly turn into a nightmare if you can’t make ends meet.

There are factors beyond money that are worth considering too. Some characteristics can’t be measured by figures and numbers alone. Living near family, a core group of friends, or others from your alma mater can be valuable. Quality of life isn’t determined solely by location, but also your overall personal circumstances.

Five of the Top Places to Live after College

While there’s no one perfect city for new grads, there are a number of places in the U.S. that offer recent graduates an opportunity for growth.

Your personal preferences and professional interests will likely be a deciding factor in which city you choose to call home after you graduate. As you get started on your research, take a look at five of the best places to live after college.

Minneapolis, MN

Once known mostly for its cold winters, Minneapolis has become a hotbed for young grads. The cost-of-living might not be as low as other Midwestern cities, but it’s only 5% higher than the national average .

Minneapolis also boasts a strong economy, with 16 Fortune 500 companies headquartered in the city. The unemployment rate is also lower than the national average, at 3.3% for June 2019 .

Housing in Minneapolis is very affordable for a major city. The median rent for a two-bedroom apartment in the Twin Cities is about $1,150 a month, compared to $1,190 nationwide.

The city is also known for its vibrant theater scene and a light rail transit system connecting some of the city’s most famous landmarks, like the Mall of America and Target Field.

Nashville, TN

Tennessee’s capital is historically known as the epicenter of country music. Nashville has also become a hotspot for innovation in the last decade, tempting young transplants with a booming job market and electric nightlife.

There are six Fortune 500 companies located in Nashville, including Tractor Supply Co., Dollar General and HCA Holdings.

Tennessee has no state income tax, an extra boost for young folks trying to survive on an entry-level income. The unemployment rate is a low 3.2%, and a two-bedroom apartment is $1,158 a month.

Columbus, OH

One of the fastest-growing cities in the country, Columbus ticks all the boxes for young graduates. It has a low cost-of-living—almost 10% less than the national average —and an unemployment rate of 3.7% in June 2019 .

Columbus is home to several Fortune 500 companies, including Nationwide Insurance, American Electric Power, L Brands, and Big Lots. These are important considerations for recent graduates trying to find an affordable city with a strong job market.

Columbus is also home to Ohio State University, so the city is full of young undergraduate and graduate students.

Cincinnati, OH

Located on the Ohio River, Cincinnati borders Indiana and Kentucky. This location might be one of the reasons it’s become popular with recent grads, as the city is within close driving distance to other major cities like Indianapolis, Columbus, and Louisville.

Procter & Gamble, Kroger, Macy’s, and Fifth Third Bank are headquartered in Cincinnati. The unemployment rate is 3.9% as of June 2019 and the cost-of-living is 8% less than the national average . The hot job market hasn’t negatively affected the housing situation in Cincinnati, where a two-bedroom apartment goes for $857 .

Houston, TX

Even though it’s the fourth-largest city in the country, Houston is surprisingly affordable. The overall cost-of-living is 2% lower than the national average, and job growth clocks in at a robust 2.8% compared to the 1.8% national average . The unemployment rate is 3.8% as of June 2019 .

Renting a two-bedroom apartment in Houston costs around $1,019 . In other words, a recent grad could split an apartment with a friend and only pay about $500 a month. That’s far less than a two-bedroom in nearby Austin, which averages around $1,450 .

Handling Student Loans as a New Graduate

Beyond finding a job, and potentially a new home, one of the most important considerations for new grads is how to handle student loan debt after graduation.

If you don’t end up finding a job right away after graduation, there are a few options to keep your loan status afloat. Those with federal student loans can apply for economic hardship deferment or forbearance, which allows you to pause student loan payments for a certain period of time.

Depending on the type of federal loan you have, interest may or may not accrue on loans that are in deferment. Loans in forbearance will usually accrue interest. In this case, you can choose to make interest-only payments during a forbearance or have the interest capitalized on the loan at the end of the period.

Federal loans also have income-driven repayment plans available. These plans aim to make student loan payments more affordable by tying them to the borrower’s discretionary income.

After you get settled in your new city and job, you might be interested in reevaluating your student loan repayment plan. For some, student loan refinancing might make sense.

Those with good credit history and income potential, among other financial factors, could potentially qualify for a lower interest rate.

Both private and federal student loans can be refinanced, but refinancing federal student loans will eliminate them from any federal payment protection programs or repayment plans.

When you refinance student loans with SoFi, there are no fees or penalties, and you can complete the application process entirely online. You can find out if you pre-qualify, and at what rates, in just a few minutes.

Moving after graduation can be stressful. Repaying your student loans doesn’t have to be. Find out more about student loan refinancing with SoFi.

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