Best Cities to Start a Career for Job Seekers Out of College

Best Cities to Start a Career for Job Seekers Out of College

By: Daniel Steingold | July 10, 2016

You’re just out of college and have just begun to consider the job market available to someone with your degree and qualifications.

Pay, is of course, a big factor. Both the type of work and type of employer will weigh heavily. But, before these considerations there’s an even bigger consideration that should be taken into account: where you work.

Where, in this case, is meant in a broader context. You need to figure out the city and state that’ll most suit your needs, rather than just a part of town that’ll suffice— e.g. downtown.

This post will take a holistic examination of the best cities in the U.S. for young job seekers, looking at variables that could play a factor in both the short-and long-term.

Best Cities to Start a Career

Earlier in 2016, Wallethub conducted a study looking at America’s 150 largest cities, using 17 metrics to determine their job market strength for young job seekers, along with their quality of life.

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While professional opportunities held more weight in the study than quality of life rankings (70 percent versus 30 percent), the best cities for young job seekers had a healthy combination of each.

Just for clarification, the eight factors considered under the professional opportunities metric include the availability of entry-level jobs; median starting salary (adjusted for cost of living); annual job-growth rate (adjusted for population growth); median-income growth rate; and unemployment rate.

Each professional opportunities metric was weighted to make up 8.75 percent of the total score.

As for quality of living, Wallethub evaluated nine metrics, which included median annual income (cost of living adjusted); percentage of the population aged between 25 and 34; percentage of the population with at least a bachelor’s degree; housing affordability; projected population growth through 2044; suitability for families and singles; and recreational activities available.

Each quality of living metric was weighted to make up 3.33 percent of the total score.

Using these criteria, the 10 best cities for young job seekers, in order, were determined to be:

  1. Salt Lake City, Utah (with a total score of 69.56 out of a possible 100, ranking first overall in professional opportunities and 10th in quality of life.)
  2. Denver, Colorado (with a total score of 65.27. It ranked third in professional opportunities and 14th in quality of life.)
  3. Austin, Texas (with a total score of 64.37, ranking ninth in professional opportunities, and seventh in quality of life.)
  4. Sioux Falls, South Dakota (with a total score of 63.85, ranking seventh in professional opportunities, and 12th in quality of life.)
  5. Minneapolis, Minnesota (with a total score of 62.67, ranking eighth in professional opportunities, and 16th in quality of life.)
  6. Raleigh, North Carolina (with a total score of 62.29, ranking 16th in professional opportunities, and ninth in quality of life.)
  7. Oklahoma City, Oklahoma (with a total score of 62.11, ranking fifth in professional opportunities, and 32nd in quality of life.)
  8. Amarillo, Texas (with a total score of 61.94, ranking sixth in professional opportunities, and 33rd in quality of life.)
  9. Houston, Texas (with a total score of 61.04, ranking second in professional opportunities, and 59th in quality of life.)
  10. Corpus Christi, Texas (with a total score of 60.10, ranking fourth in professional opportunities, and 74th in quality of life.)

An interesting observation from this list is that none of these cities are on either of U.S.’ main coasts, likely due to the high cost of living on the East and West Coast.

Rounding out the top 20 are Omaha, Nebraska; Irving, Texas; Madison, Wisconsin; Cincinnati, Ohio; Scottsdale, Arizona; Richmond, Virginia; Dallas, Texas; Tulsa, Oklahoma; Lincoln, Nebraska; and Plano, Texas.

As will be explored in somewhat greater detail later, large metropolitan cities don’t fare well in most metrics. On Wallethub’s rankings, Los Angeles ranked 102nd, Chicago 103rd, and New York City 127th.

(San Francisco is an exception, having ranked 30th overall, largely because of its strong employment opportunities.)

An infographic from Wallethub also shares some other more specific findings from the study.

The cities with the highest starting salaries are:

  1. Houston
  2. Durham, North Carolina
  3. San Jose, California
  4. Dallas
  5. Tacoma, Washington

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The cities with the most entry-level jobs per 100,000 residents are:

  1. Atlanta, Georgia
  2. Cincinnati
  3. Orlando, Florida
  4. Salt Lake City, Utah
  5. St. Louis, Missouri

The cities with the highest job growth (adjusted for population) are:

  1. Oxnard, California
  2. Tacoma
  3. Columbus, Georgia
  4. Newark, New Jersey
  5. Cincinnati

And lastly, the cities with the highest percentage of their population between the ages of 25 to 34 are:

  1. Jersey City, New Jersey
  2. Boston, Massachusetts
  3. Washington D.C.
  4. San Francisco, California
  5. Minneapolis, Minnesota

Settling Down

Regardless of the city you decide to live in when you take your first job out of college, it’s usually unlikely that you’ll be looking to purchase a house right off the bat.

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If you end up looking for a house later on, however, it is important to know the cost of living in any given city.

Thankfully, there has been research done on this topic in specific.

Breaking down the U.S. by region, the median home price in the West is most expensive at $319,100, followed by the Northeast ($262,500), South ($196,400), and Midwest ($175,500).

Median home prices in the U.S. are growing rapidly— they have increased over 13 percent just over the past two years, from $197,400 to $223,900— which suggests that it might be wise to buy sooner rather than later for those who have intentions to eventually purchase a home.

Nevertheless, a home buying map based on data from the National Association of Retailers, showing the salary one would have to make to purchase a home, helps clarify the picture as far as total cost is concerned. (Total cost includes principal, taxes, interest, and insurance payments owed.)

The data shows that the five major cities with the most expensive home prices are:

  1. San Francisco (with a median home price of over $780,000, one needs to make an average salary of nearly $150,000 to own a home.)
  2. San Diego (with a median home price of $564,800, one needs to make an average salary of $103,165 to own a home.)
  3. Los Angeles (with a median home price of $481,900, one needs to make an average salary of $95,040 to a own a home.)
  4. New York City (with a median home price of $384,600, one needs to make an average salary of $86,770 to own a home.)
  5. Boston (with a median home price of $393,600, one needs to make an average salary of over $83,000 to own a home.)

Conversely, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania; Cleveland, Ohio; Cincinnati; St. Louis; and Detroit, Michigan require the least in terms of salary in order to own a home. Each of these major cities only require somewhere between $31,000 and $36,000 in annual salary in order to own a home, with median home prices not exceeding $150,000.

Things to Remember

While finding a city to start your career may seem like a difficult task, it’s important to remember that often the places with which we are most familiar are a good first place to look.

Many mid-sized cities known for having a flagship university— one you may very well have attended— have a robust job market.

In addition, moving back home after college can be a good way to save money, while you try to figure out your next stop. Living rent-free can tremendously shift these rankings in your favor, regardless of what city you decide to live in.

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Although you should not worry yourself too much about where you end up living and working, it is still important to think about it thoroughly. It is important to fully consider your future plans and aspirations, including the industry in which you’ll work and any desire to have a family, when contemplating a place to call home.

Ultimately, you need to make the right decision for yourself. For some, this means thinking out-of-the-box— such as living and working in a foreign country— as opposed to following conventional thought.

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