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America’s Graduate Capitals

best cities and states for recent graduates in the us


America’s Graduate Capitals

The USA’s best cities and states for graduate opportunities

Finishing your college degree is, for most, the first step in starting your professional life. Moving away and getting a job marks the big jump into adulthood, and the process can be much more challenging depending on where you choose to live.

It might seem logical to live in the same city or state where you grew up or went to college. Or maybe you’ve thought about moving to a big city with a thriving economy and countless job opportunities. Knowing which are the best locations to live can take the pressure off the apartment search, job hunt, and budget planning. 

We’ve investigated the vital factors that could impact where you live, including the number of entry-level graduate job openings per 100,000 people, unemployment rate, cost of living, and the number of bars, attractions, and restaurants per 100,000 people in US states and cities. The results reveal the best cities and states for college graduates.

The best cities to be a graduate

1. Orlando | Score: 7.2

Orlando is the best city for college graduates looking to start their careers in a new place. There are currently 291 listings for entry-level graduate jobs in Orlando for every 100,000 residents – which is the third-highest in all of the US!

With so many graduate jobs on offer, it’s easy to see why Orlando has one of the lowest unemployment rates in the country. Just 5% of Orlando’s population is unemployed, meaning it’s a city with high economic growth and opportunity.

As a graduate, costs can add up fast and markups in regular expenses like grocery shopping and transportation can make all the difference. Compared to other cities across the country, Orlando has one of the lowest monthly living costs.

In Orlando, the average single person would spend almost $900 per month on living expenses before rent, leaving more money to spend on nights out. 

There’s no shortage of entertainment in Florida’s tourist city. Orlando has more restaurants and attractions than any other US city! There are over 900 restaurants and over 400 attractions for every 100,000 people. 

Orlando has a lively nightlife scene – there are over 50 bars in Orlando per 100,000 people from the famous ICEBAR to live music venue House of Blues. 

2. St Louis | Score: 6.65

In the heart of the Midwest, St Louis is one of the States’ best cities for graduates.

There are 272 job listings for graduate roles for every 100,000 people, and just over 4% of the city’s residents are unemployed, making it the perfect place for those struggling to find a job.

The cost of living in St Louis is lower than in most cities, at just over $900 per month, before rent, living in St Louis can help thrifty graduates save some money while working. 

Famous for its barbecue restaurants and blues music, it’s clear why St Louis comes out on top for its entertainment and lifestyle scene. 

The city ranks in the top-5 for the most restaurants and bars per 100,000 people, giving young grads plenty of options for nightlife entertainment.

3. Atlanta | Score: 6.49

Atlanta is best known for sweet peaches, southern charm, and homegrown comfort food, however, that isn’t all it has to offer. 

The Peach State’s capital city is also one of the best cities for recent graduates. With 327 graduate job listings per 100,000 residents, Atlanta has the most job opportunities for grads of all the cities in the US!

With so many job prospects, it’s easy to see why the city is in the top five for unemployment rates – just 3% of Atlanta’s population is currently unemployed.

However, Atlanta has one of the most expensive monthly living costs, as it would cost over $1,000 per month, without rent, to live in Georgia’s largest city.

Atlanta scored above most cities for entertainment – there are over 650 restaurants and over 150 attractions per 100,000 people, leaving plenty of options for food and sightseeing.

The best city for job opportunities:



Unemployment rate: 3.1

Number of graduate jobs per 100,000: 327

One of the most crucial factors when deciding where to start your life as a graduate is the possibility of getting a job in your new city. Some college grads flock to big cities like Chicago and New York City in hopes of landing a competitive graduate job role.

However Atlanta, one of the United States’ best cities for graduates overall, is the clear winner for job opportunities. There are 327 listings for entry-level graduate positions in Atlanta for every 100,000 people who live there.

With an unemployment rate of just 3.1%, one of the lowest in the country, Atlanta is a city with thriving economic growth and employment opportunities.

The best city for affordability: San Jose



Average annual income: $114,080

Monthly cost of living: $982

San Jose, California is the best place to move to for budget-conscious college graduates. 

The monthly cost of living in San Jose is just $982 for a single person without rent. Although more expensive than most areas, it is much cheaper to live in San Jose than other bay area cities like San Francisco which can cost $1,360 without rent!

In San Jose, the average annual income per person is over $114,000, the highest out of all the areas on our list.

The best city for lifestyle: Orlando


Bars: 51 |Restaurants: 974 |Attractions: 479 (all per 100,000 people)

Orlando truly lights up at night and there’s no shortage of bars and nightlife venues for the social graduate. There are over 50 bars and nightclubs for every 100,000 residents catering to every interest.

Home to 12 theme parks, Disney World and Universal Studios, there is an ever-growing list of things to do in Orlando, making it the city with the most attractions per 100,000 people.

The city of sun and entertainment doesn’t disappoint in the variety of restaurants on offer. Orlando has over 900 restaurants per 100,000 people, from Mexican food trucks to authentic Turkish cuisine, securing its place as the perfect city for foodie college graduates.


The best states to be a graduate


1. Minnesota | Score: 7.7

The job market in Minnesota has over 200 open entry-level vacancies for graduates per 100,000, more than any other state! Alongside great job prospects, the unemployment rate in Minnesota is 3.7%, one of the lowest in the country. 

The state ranks 15th in the US for the highest annual salary – residents in Minnesota make on average $64,700 a year. 

However, the cost of living in Minnesota is higher than the national average. The Missouri Economic Research and Information Center (MERIC) found that the overall cost of living index in Minnesota in 2021, was 30th in the country at 101.

2. New Hampshire | Score: 7.3

New Hampshire, one of the smallest states and in the top corner of the US, is one of the best states for college graduates to live in.

It ranks as the fifth-best state for job vacancies, since there are 140 entry-level graduate job listings in New Hampshire per 100,000 people.

The unemployment rate in New Hampshire is under 3% – coupled with the large number of grad jobs on offer, the state has plenty of opportunities for employment.

The average income for an adult in New Hampshire is $68,000 each year which is higher than most US states. The cost of living index in the state is 110, which is around the national average.

3. Nebraska | Score: 7.2

Nebraska is one of the best states for college graduates, thanks to its low cost of living and low unemployment rate.

Nebraska’s cost of living index is 100 –  lower than Minnesota and New Hampshire, which can be the deciding factor for some graduates. The average salary in Nebraska is $61,000 which is just above the national average.

However, there are fewer graduate job opportunities – in Nebraska, there are currently 100 advertised positions for graduates per 100,000 people. Despite this, only 2% of Nebraska’s population is unemployed.

The best state for job opportunities: Minnesota


Graduate jobs: 205 | Unemployment rate: 3.7%

Minnesota is the best state for job-hunting graduates. For every 100,000 residents, there are 205 live graduate job listings – the highest in the country.

In the northern state, the unemployment rate is just 3.7%, making it the best state for job prospects.

The best state for affordability: Connecticut


Average salary: $81,800 | Cost of living index: 122.3

Known for prestigious colleges like Yale University and the University of Connecticut, the state has a reputation for being expensive. 

Despite its high cost of living index of 122.3, the average annual income in Connecticut is over $81,800. With the US’ third-highest average salary, grads working in Connecticut could see salaries that are high enough to balance living costs, making this the most affordable state for graduates.



The unemployment rate for each city was taken from, which is based on a survey of households and is accurate as of Q2 2021. The data on unemployment by state was collected in the same way from and is accurate as of Q2 2021.

From Lensa, the number of entry-level job listings for graduates in each city and state was taken and divided per 100,000 residents. The population of each city and state was taken from the 2020 census as recorded on Wikipedia.

The number of nightlife venues, restaurants, and attractions in each city were obtained from Tripadvisor and divided per 100,000 of the population. was used as a data source for the average annual income by state in 2021 Q2, and the average income by metropolitan area in 2019.

The cost of living in each city was taken from Numbeo as the monthly cost of living for a single person without rent.

The cost of living index in each state was taken from the Missouri Economic Research and Information Centre (MERIC) as an average of groceries, housing, transportation, health, and miscellaneous costs.

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Team Lensa
Team Lensa is a group of HR specialists, career counselors, and tech enthusiasts dedicated to helping job seekers navigate the employment landscape through actionable tips and insights.

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