Congratulations, Class of 2023! You’ve just crammed for your last exam, written your last paper, and sat through your last lecture. It’s time to say goodbye to undergrad and embrace life after college. Leaving your college town can be a bittersweet mix of nostalgia and excitement, but — trust us — choosing where you go next is the fun part.
Do you want to pursue the hustle and bustle of a big city or find an up-and-coming hidden gem? Are you looking for a tech hub that’ll be filled with other former STEM majors? We want to help you make the best decision for you — whether you’re looking to be closer to nature, nightlife, new work opportunities, or a mix of all three.
Keep in mind: As you plan your post-graduation move, you have new financial realities to consider, including paying for rent, utilities, and food — not to mention your student loans. Growing up may mean learning how to manage all these expenses, but life after college is about balancing work and play. Finding the right city to relocate to is an important step in this journey.
For our 2023 Best Cities for College Grads list, we analyzed 84 of the largest U.S. cities, scoring and ranking each city on a range of economic indicators from rent prices to average salaries to employment rates, plus desirability factors including access to recreation and nightlife, ease of mobility, and size of the young adult population. As explained in our methodology, total scores are a weighted average of these metrics, with the lowest scores being most desirable.
Below, we've highlighted the top 10 cities on our list. You can find the full-ranked list of all 84 cities we looked at here.
- Madison, WI
- Minneapolis, MN
- Seattle, WA
- Atlanta, GA
- Salt Lake City, UT
- Pittsburgh, PA
- Denver, CO
- Austin, TX
- Washington, DC
- St. Louis, MO
- Ranked No. 2 for its percentage of residents in their 20s
- Home to over 25 craft breweries and cideries with award-winning local brews
- Very low traffic rates when compared to other midsize cities in the U.S.
While the renowned University of Wisconsin–Madison may be one of the city’s claims to fame, don’t be mistaken. Madison is as much a haven for postgrads as it is for fresh-faced college freshman. If you’ve ever wished that you could live in a city with all the perks of your college town — affordability, late-night haunts, tons of people your age — but with the added benefits of a major city — employment opportunities, elevated dining options, art and culture — then Madison may be the place for you. The city combines the best of both worlds, making it unsurprising that so many people in their 20s flock there. On our list, it ranked second in the nation in terms of its young adult population. It also has the second lowest unemployment rate on our list, beat out only by Sioux Falls, SD.
In our top city for recent college graduates, the craft brewery scene is the stuff of dreams. Mad City is even offering a free pass through October 2023 called the Madison On Tap Craft Beverage Trail, which gives you the chance to earn prizes and discounts for “checking in” to the 30-plus breweries, cideries and distilleries in the Madison area. Uber and Lyft are plentiful in Madison, so you don’t have to worry about getting home after a long day on the trail. The downtown area is bikeable, but if you do have a car, traffic won’t be an issue, either; Madison drivers only lost 16 hours to commuting per week according to INRIX’s 2022 Global Traffic Scorecard (compare that to the whopping 155 hours lost per week by drivers in Chicago, IL!). With all these factors going for its overall appeal, it makes sense that WalletHub ranked Madison as the No. 3 happiest city in the U.S.
- Ranked No. 4 on our list of most walkable and bikeable cities
- Consistently named one of the fittest cities in the nation, partially due to its proximity to tons of outdoor activities
- Filled with entertainment options, including thriving dining, music, and theater scenes
If you don’t mind investing in a heavy-duty parka and pair of winter boots, then Minneapolis should be a strong contender for your future home. Plus, if you are an avid cyclist, then you’d be right at home in the largest city in Minnesota — where the biking infrastructure is hall of fame worthy and plenty of residents commute by bike year-round, despite the frigid winters. The City of Lakes offers best-in-class art museums (like the Minneapolis Institute of Art, which is free), music venues (like First Avenue, where Prince shot the movie Purple Rain), shopping (the Mall of America, the country’s biggest mall, is only a 15-minute drive away!), and nature (with 22 lakes right in the city). Its cultural offerings have led the city to earn its nickname of the “Mini Apple,” for its similarities to New York City. Not to mention, the city is incredibly diverse. In recent years, U.S. News ranked both of the Twin Cities among the most diverse cities in the U.S., making the metro area an attractive place for those looking to meet people from all over.
- Home to a fast-growing startup and tech scene with plenty of employment opportunities
- The most educated city in the country, ranking No. 1 on our list for percentage of residents with at least a bachelor’s degree
- Abundant outdoor activities, from boating and fishing to hiking and biking
Welcome to Seattle, where you can grab one of the best cups of coffee you’ve ever had in your life. The largest city in the Pacific Northwest and the “coffee capital” of the country, Seattle is unique in many ways. For example, it’s the most educated city in the country according to our data, with the highest percentage of residents holding at least a bachelor’s degree. It’s also one of the best cities in the country at retaining its college grads. With major tech companies like Amazon, Microsoft, Expedia, Boeing, Nintendo and more headquartered in the Seattle area, the city has an overwhelming amount of job opportunities, making it an attractive destination for new college graduates who want to work in the STEM fields. Seattleites don’t just know how to work hard, though. Farm-to-table dining, fresh seafood, and cafes galore make up an exciting food scene (which was regularly lauded by culinary legend Anthony Bourdain). Residents are also always ready to explore the sprawling nature in the Emerald City, whether they’re taking out a boat, kayaking, or going on a hike right in the middle of the city (or two hours outside of it in one of the state’s three national parks). In a 2022 survey done by Axios, Seattle was ranked the No. 1 destination where college students wanted to relocate to after graduation.
- One of the most affordable cities on our list, with a relatively high individual median income and the lowest cost of living of any big city on our list
- A bustling nightlife scene, whether you’re grabbing a bite to eat, seeing a play, or going out to a nightclub
- A booming economy and robust arts and culture scene make the city a mecca for creatives
Southern hospitality will make you feel right at home in Atlanta, which was ranked the No. 1 city for a number of categories in the past year: best place to live by Money magazine, best place in the U.S. for creatives by Workamajig, and most livable city in the U.S. by The Economist, just to name a few. According to our data, it’s also one of the best places for recent college grads to move to after getting their diploma. For bachelor’s degree–holders, Atlanta is a perfect place to start your career, as it is home to 16 Fortune 500 headquarters — and it’s the 11th largest regional economy in the U.S. If it’s nightlife you’re after, going out is a given in Atlanta, which hosts a wide breadth of comedy clubs, food from all over the world, and 11 times more music festivals than the national average. In 2016, it was dubbed the “Hollywood of the South” since more movies were filmed in Georgia that year than in California.
- Very low unemployment rates and an ongoing tech boom bode well for the job hunt
- A young person’s city, as its ranked No. 4 on our list for its percentage of residents in their 20s
- Nearby mountains, lots of snow, and proximity to ski resorts make the city a renowned locale for winter sports
If weather is an important factor in your decision of where to relocate to, consider Salt Lake City — which not only has one of the most ideal skiing and snowboarding seasons in the country, but also has an average of 222 sunny days per year (that’s 17 more days a year than the U.S. average of 205!). That makes SLC an outdoorsy person’s paradise — along with the fact that residents of the city are only a couple hours’ drive from each of the “Mighty 5” national parks in Utah (Bryce Canyon, Zion, Arches, Capitol Reef, and Canyonlands, which are all known for their incredible beauty). But after a long day of hiking, you’ll also find plenty of places to cool off inside. While Salt Lake City isn’t exactly known for its nightlife, it ranked quite highly on our list at No. 13 — and since the shedding of some liquor laws a few years ago, has steadily been building a new culture fit for its disproportionately large young adult population. Thanks to a steady job market in Utah’s growing tech scene, unemployment rates for Salt Lake City continue to be one of the lowest on our list — making it a great place to start a career in that industry.
- An exciting sports hub, home to the professional sports teams the Steelers, Pirates, Penguins, as well as the University of Pittsburgh Panthers
- Comprehensive public transit, and highly walkable areas downtown make it possible to live without a car
- Dozens of museums and concert venues, as well as 19 public libraries, create a cultural center of the region
Die-hard sports fans will feel right at home in Pittsburgh, where they can find their community cheering on one of its three professional sports teams or any of its college teams. The city’s sports culture is certainly unique — as is its arts and performance culture. The Andy Warhol Museum, the Carnegie Museum of Art, and the August Wilson African American Cultural Center are just a few of the highlights. Architecture buffs will also rejoice in the City of Bridges, which has more bridges than any other city in the world (446 bridges, to be exact). Other things to do include eating at any of the new restaurants in Pittsburgh’s booming food scene, which grew in recent years despite the pandemic. And if you move to Pittsburgh, you can find yourself bouncing between all of these locations on the city’s robust public transportation system, which even has a fare-free zone downtown. Plus, Pittsburgh is a healthcare giant in the country — which is beneficial to those looking to work in the healthcare industry, and all residents who receive care from some of the state’s best hospitals, which are conveniently located in town.
- A backdrop provided by the Rocky Mountains is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the city’s proximity to breathtaking nature and outdoor activities
- An extensive nightlife is partially driven by the over 150 craft breweries operating in the city
- High median income for individuals and low unemployment rate provide an economic incentive for new grads
New grads have been gravitating to Denver for decades now, and that trend shows no signs of slowing down. In 2014, the New York Times reported Denver was the No. 3 city where college graduates had been flocking for the first decade of the aughts and in its 2022 survey, Axios reported that the city was the No. 4 destination where college students wanted to move to postgrad. We understand why. Picture this: Once you adjust to the altitude of the Mile High City, you start to appreciate the natural splendors the area has to offer, like any of the dozens of Fourteeners (mountains with peaks reaching 14,000 feet in elevation) that your new neighbors will have surely hiked already, swimming holes, deserts, and more. Any of your days could involve a jaw-dropping trek through the Rockies, a long bike ride among beautiful scenery, and then a drink at one of the 150-plus craft breweries for which the city is known. There are economic benefits to moving to Denver, too. The city ranked in the top 20% of our list for its low unemployment rate, and a job in Denver will come with a higher-than-average median income when compared to the rest of the country. Denver ranked No. 5 on our list nationally for its median income for individuals.
- Dubbed the Live Music Capital of the World, with a high concentration of live music venues and music festivals
- A city of entrepreneurs, home to the renowned Austin Technology Incubator for startups, among others
- High growth rate of available entry-level jobs, low unemployment rate, and a healthy median income-to-rent ratio make the city affordable but also filled with opportunity
Austin has consistently been named one of the fastest-growing cities in the U.S. in the last decade for a few reasons — the introduction of large tech companies, the robust startup scene, and the influx of young people are just a few. Its culture definitely reflects this growth. A booming nightlife (it's been called the Live Music Capital of the World!), a warm climate, a ton of new construction, and a seemingly endless list of things to do have attracted a ton of recent grads to the city for years. A strong community tie to quirky local businesses has also helped “Keep Austin Weird” — and the city and its residents have a lot of pride for the open-minded, out-there culture that they have been able to nurture. Not to mention, in 2022, LinkedIn named Austin the No. 1 city for grads to land entry-level jobs based on its data of year-over-year hiring growth in entry-level positions.
Interested in moving to Austin? Our new Verified Listings program (available in Texas and coming soon to other markets!) gives you access to select properties that we’ve vetted. Their listings also include video tours that we've produced ourselves, so you can get the full picture of what a property looks like. Even better, you’ll work directly with one of our leasing advisors to apply online — and we’ll even cover the application fees. Start your search now!
- A high-earning city that ranked No. 2 on our list for its high individual median income (beat only by San Francisco, CA) as well as its percentage of residents with at least a bachelor’s degree
- Highly accessible without a car, ranking No. 4 on our list for its public transportation and No. 8 for its walkability and bikeability
- An intellectual center of the country, which ranked No. 2 on our list for its percentage of residents with at least a bachelor’s degree
American history buffs will need no explanation for why Washington, DC is a fascinating place to live. The country’s capital is rich with history — and if you move to DC, get ready for an onslaught of friends and family who want to visit you to check out some of the national landmarks in your backyard. But U.S. history is far from the only reason that DC is a great place to settle, especially for new grads. For one, its public transportation system is one of the largest in the country and is regularly named one of the best. It's also one of the country’s most walkable cities, meaning you won’t have to invest in a car if you choose to relocate to DC. Networking is the name of the game in this high-earning, highly educated, and professionally minded city — and while you’re hitting up a happy hour for young professionals, you’ll meet people from all parts of the world living in the DMV (District of Columbia, Maryland, and Virginia), which is known as one of the most ethnically diverse regions in the country.
- A low cost of living and low median rent for a one-bedroom apartment creates a lower barrier to entry for new grads than nearly all other big cities on our list
- One of the most thriving nightlife scenes on our list, ranking No. 9 for its availability of bars, nightclubs, restaurants, entertainment venues, and more
- A melting pot of culture, one of the most diverse cities in the Midwest
In the early 20th century, St. Louis earned the nickname “The Gateway to the West” for the role it played in Lewis and Clark’s expedition westward across the country. Its reputation as the gate to the west is solidified by the 630-foot tall Gateway Arch, the tallest arch in the world and the iconic symbol of the city. But we think the Arch also symbolizes a gateway to an exciting, opportunity-laden life for new grads in St. Louis. Compared to all of the other cities on our list with an urban population of over 1,000,000 people, St. Louis has the second-lowest cost of living (after Atlanta) and is in the top 5 for lowest median rent for a one-bedroom apartment. Plus, St. Louis also has plenty of career opportunities and in the last couple of years has been ranked as one of the best cities for new grads to start their careers in. Unlike some other cities in the Midwest, St. Louis is also known for its diverse population. While public transportation is less available than some of the other cities on your list, you will catch some locals referring to St. Louis as the “20-Minute City” because, due to its low traffic and efficient roadways, you can likely get wherever you need to go in 20 minutes or less.
Below is the full-ranked list of all 84 cities we analyzed.
Best Cities for College Grads 2023
|Rank||City||State||Median 1-Bed Monthly Rent||Economic Score||Desirability Score||Average Weighted Score|
|5||Salt Lake City||UT||$1,333||33.0||20.2||27.2|
|63||New York City||NY||$3,428||61.2||43.1||53.1|
For the 2023 Best Cities for College Grads report, we analyzed 84 of the most populated cities in the U.S. (per the U.S. Census Bureau) for which all required data was available.
Metrics and Data Sources
The metrics used to create the “Economic Score” were average unemployment, median individual yearly earnings, a rent-to-earnings ratio based on the current median yearly rent for a one-bedroom apartment as a percentage of median individual yearly earnings, the percentage of the population with a bachelor's degree or above, and a cost-of-living index. Unemployment and earnings data come from the 2021 American Community Survey (ACS) as processed by SimpleMaps, rent data come from ApartmentAdvisor, and the cost-of-living index comes from C2ER (The Council for Community and Economic Research).
The metrics used to create the “Desirability Score” were “mobility” based on walkability, bikeability, and transit; the size of the young adult population (residents in their 20s), and how many restaurants/bars/nightlife opportunities per capita a city has. The young adult population data come from the ACS, mobility data were from Walkscore (the sum of the Walkscore and Transitscore), and restaurant/bar/nightlife data come from Yelp.
For each metric, each metro area is sorted from “best” to “worst” value and assigned a score normalized on a scale of 0 to 1, where 0 is the most desirable and 1 is the least. The Economic Score for each metro area is the average of the ranks for the economic metrics, where rent ratio and earnings are weighted at 1.5. The Desirability Score for each metro area is the average of the ranks for the desirability metrics, where young adult population and nightlife are double-weighted.
The Final Score was calculated by averaging the Economic and Desirability scores, with Ecomonic weighted at 55% and Desirability weighted at 45% The lowest final score is considered the “best.” The Final Rank is calculated by ranking the metro areas where the lowest final score is the best.
Notes About the Data
For more information about this study, please contact email@example.com.
We rate and sort every listing based on fair market rent.
Top metro areas
Albuquerque Metro Apartments
446 apartments starting at $500/month
Atlanta Metro Apartments
3,000 apartments starting at $427/month
Austin Metro Apartments
2,369 apartments starting at $500/month
Bakersfield Metro Apartments
359 apartments starting at $600/month
Baltimore Metro Apartments
887 apartments starting at $500/month
Birmingham Metro Apartments
507 apartments starting at $400/month
Boston Metro Apartments
3,134 apartments starting at $1,000/month
Charlotte Metro Apartments
1,349 apartments starting at $531/month
Chicago Metro Apartments
4,184 apartments starting at $499/month
Cincinnati Metro Apartments
624 apartments starting at $550/month
Cleveland Metro Apartments
911 apartments starting at $400/month
Colorado Springs Metro Apartments
688 apartments starting at $500/month
Columbus Metro Apartments
1,126 apartments starting at $545/month
Dallas Fort Worth Metro Apartments
8,719 apartments starting at $400/month
Denver Metro Apartments
1,746 apartments starting at $550/month
Detroit Metro Apartments
1,484 apartments starting at $500/month
El Paso Metro Apartments
255 apartments starting at $550/month
Fresno Metro Apartments
312 apartments starting at $773/month
Hartford Metro Apartments
259 apartments starting at $409/month
Honolulu Metro Apartments
675 apartments starting at $600/month
Houston Metro Apartments
1,089 apartments starting at $500/month
Indianapolis Metro Apartments
1,038 apartments starting at $465/month
Jacksonville Metro Apartments
1,459 apartments starting at $500/month
Kansas City Metro Apartments
1,172 apartments starting at $412/month
Las Vegas Metro Apartments
3,313 apartments starting at $695/month
Los Angeles Metro Apartments
6,527 apartments starting at $400/month
Louisville Metro Apartments
424 apartments starting at $450/month
Memphis Metro Apartments
1,086 apartments starting at $450/month
Miami Metro Apartments
4,342 apartments starting at $700/month
Milwaukee Metro Apartments
727 apartments starting at $485/month
Minneapolis Metro Apartments
1,673 apartments starting at $415/month
Nashville Metro Apartments
581 apartments starting at $845/month
New Orleans Metro Apartments
903 apartments starting at $406/month
New York City Metro Apartments
3,062 apartments starting at $500/month
Oklahoma City Metro Apartments
1,371 apartments starting at $500/month
Omaha Metro Apartments
491 apartments starting at $490/month
Orlando Metro Apartments
1,276 apartments starting at $550/month
Philadelphia Metro Apartments
2,010 apartments starting at $450/month
Phoenix Metro Apartments
3,215 apartments starting at $750/month
Pittsburgh Metro Apartments
1,032 apartments starting at $400/month
Portland Metro Apartments
2,059 apartments starting at $415/month
Raleigh Metro Apartments
1,293 apartments starting at $695/month
Richmond Metro Apartments
774 apartments starting at $625/month
Riverside Metro Apartments
741 apartments starting at $590/month
Sacramento Metro Apartments
972 apartments starting at $525/month
Salt Lake City Metro Apartments
857 apartments starting at $600/month
San Antonio Metro Apartments
1,671 apartments starting at $400/month
San Diego Metro Apartments
1,810 apartments starting at $590/month
San Francisco Metro Apartments
1,987 apartments starting at $450/month
San Jose Metro Apartments
795 apartments starting at $1,250/month
Seattle Metro Apartments
2,053 apartments starting at $525/month
St. Louis Metro Apartments
1,139 apartments starting at $500/month
Tampa Metro Apartments
1,047 apartments starting at $795/month
Tucson Metro Apartments
716 apartments starting at $499/month
Tulsa Metro Apartments
483 apartments starting at $551/month
Virginia Beach Metro Apartments
900 apartments starting at $750/month
Washington Metro Apartments
1,099 apartments starting at $500/month
Wichita Metro Apartments
365 apartments starting at $400/month