Top 10 Cities for Recent College Graduates

Ready to enter the 'real world'? These cities have the most appeal

January marks the start of the final semester of school for countless college seniors. Whether they’re dreading the transition to the so-called “real world” or ready-as-ever to leave finals and frats behind, the bottom line is that school is coming to an end.

Graduates who don’t find themselves back on their parents’ couches will have to decide exactly where they want to get started. While many might be drawn to certain locales because of friends or family, the lure of jobs means that graduates really could end up … well, anywhere. And that possibility can be overwhelming.

So, we sifted through data for 60 cities to find out just which ones are the best for recent graduates. The factors we weighed were:

1. Entry-level salary (Data provided by
2. Unemployment numbers (Data provided by the Bureau of Labor Statistics)
3. Cost of Living (Data provided by Sperling’s Best Places)
4. Personal life — namely, percent of population that has never been married and percent aged between 20-24 (Data provided by the American Community Survey)
5. Social scenes and happiest young professionals, as a tiebreaker (Data provided by International Business Times and Forbes)

Now that the numbers are crunched, here are the 10 best cities for recent college graduates:

#10: Lincoln, Neb.

A state smack-dab in the middle of the country — and that most people associate with corn — probably isn’t what comes to mind when grads picture the glamorous journey of setting out on their own.

But, stereotypes aside, Nebraska’s capital has a lot going for it, especially if you’re looking for some new relationships. Lincoln has the second-highest percent of folks in their early twenties (over 10%), along with an above-average percent (out of our sample) that’s never been married.

The cost of living is also 6% below the national average … though that will be reflected in your pay, as the city only comes with an average starting salary of $28,000.

Luckily, unemployment is low at only 3.2% — the second-lowest out of the cities we looked at, bested only by Bismarck. (Remember, the national rate is more than twice that.)

Lincoln also is considered one of the most secure mid-sized locales in the nation — a factor that wasn’t included in our calculations, but is appealing nonetheless.

#9: Chicago

Next up, we move to the Windy City. Chicago boasts a $41,000 entry level salary … if you can get a job. Unemployment sits at 8.3% — not really what most recent grads want to hear. The cost of living is also 5% higher than the national average, but that’s not bad for such a major city.

Many people prefer Chicago because it’s a happening metropolitan area that isn’t as crowded as New York City. Toss in views of Lake Michigan and a friendly Midwest vibe, and you can see why Chicago could be a nice place to call home. In fact, AOL (NYSE:AOL) ranked Chicago’s social scene the third most sizzling in the country.

Plus, sports fans can jump on board with Michael Jordan’s Bulls or watch the Cubs at Wrigley Field … and from the Art Institute to countless restaurants, there’s definitely plenty to do when you’re not nine-to-fiving.

#8: Houston

Size isn’t everything, but don’t tell that to Texas — or our No. 8 city, Houston.

You might think of cowboys and barbeque, but Houston also has plenty to offer those just leaving the nest.

Let’s start with the green: Recent grads can expect an above-average starting salary ($38,000), along with a below-average cost of living. Unemployment at 6.2% isn’t bad, either, considering the national rate still is hovering closer to 8%.

Recent grads looking for love might not like the dating pool — a below-average number of folks have not yet been married (35% of males and 29% of females) — but that doesn’t mean singles are doomed. (Hey, eHarmony is still kicking around.) On top of that, only 6.7% of the population is in the same age range as most recent grads, But once you find your new group of close friends, you might be glad the bars aren’t slammed like they were in college.

Grads already seem to be doing all right — Houston is one of the 20 happiest cities for young professionals.

#7: New York City

New York’s final score was actually the same as Houston’s, but it got the nod for the seventh spot thanks to its social life (ranked No. 1 by AOL) and its spot among happiest cities for young professionals (three higher than Houston).

The bright lights, fast pace and sheer reputation of the Big Apple are obvious reasons why many want to strike out on their own there.

But the downside of the city is also pretty clear: It’s darn expensive. While the starting salary is the second-highest out of our sample at a hefty $49,000, that’s just because the cost of living is 69% higher than the national average. A huge chunk of that paycheck will probably go towards rent.

Unemployment is high, too — despite the stacks of office buildings, 8.7% can’t find jobs. The young-aged population isn’t especially large, probably because the huge city attracts a huge variety of people, but the singles pool is at least above-average.

At the end of the day, though, moving to New York might not be about numbers, but the experience … and there’s no doubt that the city offers everything in terms of fun, change and opportunity.

#6: Baltimore