Smart Moves Get a (Post-College) Life: 4 Cities with Grad Appeal

by Kali Hawlk | May 16, 2018

At 10 years old, Stephanie Ross fell in love. The object of her affection: Boston.

“It was like nothing I've ever seen or experienced in my young life,” says Ross, a marketing and PR professional. “I immediately fell in love with Boston, the New England beaches, the architecture, the food — everything! I knew I wanted to live there.” So, following Ross’s graduation from the University of North Texas in May 2013, the Texas native fulfilled her long-held dream and moved to Boston.

She had chosen to relocate there without a job (or a planned budget) — a decision she later came to regret. “I really wish I’d set a budget, because I did run into debt due to the cost of living adjustment. I was young with very little real-world job experience,” she says.

Today, Ross looks back on those early days as valuable experience, and a time of tough financial lessons. She was also able to lean on her strong network (family members, sorority sisters) to help secure a job within a month, and has found ways to save money while living in a pricey city. “Instead of going to bars or expensive dinners, my friends and I cook together,” Ross says. She and friends often take advantage of the huge number of the city’s free activities and events. “The most fun I've had in one summer was just hanging out on a blanket in the Commons with friends, reading books and chatting.”

Not every recent college graduate is quite so sure as Ross about where they wish to land after school. However, there are scores of grads just like Ross whose financial statuses may not be compatible with the likes of a San Francisco or New York, at least while they begin to get on their feet. So for those who A) haven’t had a dream city beckoning since elementary school, B) view big, bustling metropolises as full of opportunities for both personal and professional growth, and C) want to make a smart financial choice, what’s the next move after turning in that gown? This guide is here to help you plan for moving out of state.

What are your most important criteria?

For Rachel Dix-Kessler, a digital PR and content coordinator originally of Sopchoppy, FL, a main reason she chose to move to New York City after graduating from Florida State University in May 2017 was its job market. “I wanted to be in the hub of it all, and get the best possible experience for my career,” Dix-Kessler says.

Also a key consideration: that New York (population: over 8.5 million) was nothing like Sopchoppy (a town of 500). “I felt moving away from home would help me grow more,” she says. “In college I was living with the girls I went to preschool with. I could also drive to see my parents and back to school all in one day.”

She loved the support during her college years, but she believed the strong ties were, in some ways, holding her back. “I wanted to go somewhere that forced me to meet new people, try new things and, ultimately, take me out of my comfort zone,” she says.

I wanted to go somewhere that forced me to meet new people, try new things and, ultimately, take me out of my comfort zone.
End Quote

Less sure what your key criteria are? These are the factors to consider when moving:

  • Career opportunities: What are a city’s job offerings like? Are there lots of roles that you could apply and qualify for? Are there positions in your desired field? Browse job boards for local listings to see what kinds of employees companies in the area actively seek.
  • Affordable rent: Be honest with yourself if the average cost of living is what you can truly afford. Research the kinds of properties you’d actually want to live in. What is rent like in different parts of town? Is it affordable on your own, or would you need roommates to make it work?
  • Public transit: Some cities may look great on paper but could present real challenges to new grads due to low accessibility. For example, if a city offers a relatively low cost of living but lacks a robust public transportation grid, a car turns out to be a necessity, thereby changing your budget dynamics. Consider what kind of commute you want, and what your budget can handle.
  • Activities: Check out event and ticketing aggregators and social media platforms for local accounts and influencers. Are there lots of scheduled events and entertainment that align with your interests (and budget)?
  • Safety: Not to rain on any parades, but consider looking into crime rates before moving to a new location. Consider tools like CrimeReports and NeighborhoodScout to help you find relevant data and information about specific areas before you move.
  • Arts and culture: Are there opportunities to explore new things and broaden your horizons? The ability to experience something different or maybe even outside your comfort zone could play a role in determining the best city to expand your life in unique ways.
  • Accessibility: How easy is it to get in and out of the city — and what’s in the surrounding area? You’ll want to consider not just the immediate vicinity of where you want to move, but maybe even nearby towns and local attractions that can give you more options and opportunities to get involved with communities and networks that could benefit you personally and professionally.

Which big city might be right for you?

Start your search for the next place to call home by checking out our list of big cities that are the perfect combination of affordable and desirable places to live for recent grads.

Austin, TX

The live-music capital of the world, home of the South by Southwest festival, and the place to be if you want breakfast tacos every morning, Austin offers a lot to new grads. Just look at the numbers: Over roughly the past decade, Austin’s population has grown by almost 40%. The city’s vibrant nightlife and countless venues mean there’s no shortage of entertainment, and locals have made it their mission to “Keep Austin Weird.”

  • Average cost of housing: $16,961.
  • Median monthly rent: $1,106.
  • Demographics: 20% of the city’s residents are in their 20s.
  • Education level: 47.7% of individuals living in Austin hold bachelor’s degrees.
  • Jobs: Austin’s concentration of computer and mathematical, office and administrative support, and food preparation and serving-related positions is higher than the U.S. average.
  • Average hourly wage: $24.44, which is just 2% higher than the national average.
  • Public transportation score: Austin offers some public transportation, but its spread-out neighborhoods make walking tough. Biking is a great option for many residents.
  • Tax rates: The combined sales tax is 8.25%. Texas does not have state income tax.
Austin skyline in front of pink sunset

Boston, MA

Boston regularly falls right below New York and San Francisco among the U.S.’s most expensive cities. But the cost is often worth it considering all the benefits, amenities and opportunities. Massachusetts is also a “best of” list darling, with high marks for residents’ health and happiness (despite the occasional Nor’easter).

  • Average cost of housing: $26,671 — or 39.2% of average household budgets.
  • Median monthly rent: $2,866.
  • Demographics: 35% of the city’s residents are between 20 and 34, the highest proportion of this age group in the 25 biggest cities in America.
  • Education level: 50% of workers in Massachusetts have bachelor’s degrees or higher, making the state home to the highest-educated workforce in the US.
  • Jobs: Boston has a higher concentration of management, computer and mathematical, and business and finance positions than the national average.
  • Average hourly wage: $32.66 — or 37% higher than the national average.
  • Public transportation score: Boston is highly walkable with a strong public transportation system.
  • Tax rate: Income tax starts at 5.1%. Sales tax is 6.25%.
Boston church city view

Minneapolis, MN

By population it’s the smallest of the big cities on this list. But Minneapolis is an overachiever when it comes to what new grads might find most important: affordable rent, a young population and amenities that cater to the 20-something crowd. That’s thanks in part to its being home to the University of Minnesota, which keeps the city young and one of the most vibrant in the Midwest.

  • Average cost of housing: $23,945 — or 30.9% of average household budgets.
  • Median rent for a one-bedroom: $1,384.
  • Demographics: 23% of the city’s residents are between 18 and 34.
  • Education level: 48% of workers in Minnesota have bachelor’s degrees or higher – second only to Massachusetts.
  • Jobs: Minneapolis has high-than-average concentrations of jobs in business and financial operations, management, and personal care and service sectors.
  • Average hourly wage: $26.45 — or 11% higher than the national average.
  • Public transportation score: While Minneapolis lags in terms of access to public transit, it’s excellent for commuting by bike. It’s reasonably walkable, too, ranked as the 12th most walkable city in the U.S.
  • Tax rates: Minneapolis has a combined sales tax of 7.775%, and the state’s income tax starts at 5.35%.
View of Minneapolis river at sunset

Seattle, WA

The largest city in the Pacific Northwest is also home to the likes of Amazon, Microsoft and Starbucks, making it a magnet for millennials. Portland, OR, is just a few hours’ drive away, giving Seattleites access to funky, cool cultural scenes from a home base with a stronger economic engine. Likewise, the day-trip-reachable Olympic Peninsula beckons with acres of protected parklands.

  • Average cost of housing: $24,993 or 33% of average household budgets.
  • Median rent: $1,823.
  • Demographics: People between 24 and 35 represent the largest percentage of the population.
  • Education level: 34.2% of workers in Washington have bachelor’s degrees or higher.
  • Jobs: Roles in computer and mathematical, business and financial operations, and architecture and engineering are more highly concentrated in Seattle than in other U.S. cities.
  • Average hourly wage: $30.43 — or 28% higher than the national average.
  • Public transportation score: Seattle’s downtown district and surrounding neighborhoods are highly walkable. Public transportation could be improved, although a new light rail now connects the city to its distant airport.
  • Tax rates: Seattle has a combined sales tax of 9.6%. Washington has no state income tax.
Seattle city skyline at dusk

Embracing (and budgeting for) your new home city

Unforeseen expenses are bound to crop up once you arrive in unfamiliar territory. Plan ahead as much as you can; for instance, if possible, save enough money to cover one to three months of living expenses if you plan to move without a job. (Consider stashing aside a one-to-three-month emergency fund, too.) And think about giving yourself a deadline to feel settled and ”at home.” You can’t plan for everything and you may have to deal with some setbacks — but you need to know when it’s time to cut your losses and try something new.

Speaking of feeling at home, look into groups like Ivy, a “social university” designed to foster community post-graduation around shared experiences like learning new skills. Organized social groups like Ivy, as well as user-directed platforms like MeetUp, can make it easier to engage with a diverse network in a vibrant cultural scene. It can push you to grow and improve in ways you couldn’t imagine back home.

Dix-Kessler, the Floridian turned New Yorker, says that while living in the city can be expensive, there are many ways to hack it on a budget. “When the weather is nice, my friends and I will venture to Central Park or Washington Square Park to spend the day. There’s always something going on, whether it be live music, performances or people playing volleyball,” she says. She walks almost everywhere, which helps save money — and gives her an opportunity to get to know her new home that much more.

Kali Hawlk

moved from a rural town in Georgia to Boston, MA, in her early 20s and never looked back (except to think fondly of the days when rent was under four figures). You can follow her at