We receive advertising fees from the brands we review that affect the ranking and scoring of such brands.
Advertiser Disclosure

Graduating to Success: Best Cities to Score Your Dream Job

Lauren Le-Hair Updated: August 3, 2023 • 7 min read
Rental cities in US

Graduating college is a hugely rewarding accomplishment, but there are big decisions to be taken after graduation as you embark on your working life. We’ve highlighted the 10 best places for jobs and the top places to live after graduating. This list has been compiled by online real estate giant Zillow and factors in rental costs, job opportunities, cost of living, and earning potential. Read on to see which US cities are best for recent college graduates to get a job.

Most Affordable Rental Markets for New College Graduates

Without further ado, here are the top 10 perfect cities for postgrads. Cities featured scored well when considering rental market prices, average salaries, cost of living, and quality of life. When considering where to move to after graduating, these factors are all essential, as cheap rent alone doesn’t make it a desirable place to live.

1 – Colorado Springs, Colorado

  • Area: Mountain West
  • Main industries: Healthcare, aerospace and defense, cutting-edge technologies, healthcare
  • Average rent: $1,824
  • Average new graduate salary: $63, 190
  • Cost of living: 109.1
  • Unemployment rate: 3.3%

Colorado Springs takes the top sport for desirable places for graduates to live. While not the cheapest for average rent, Colorado Springs offers graduates an above-average starting salary, a large number of graduate opportunities, and an excellent quality of living. The term work/life balance is often thought of as a myth, but taking your first job in Colorado Springs truly offers graduates an opportunity to achieve a perfect work-life balance while earning an excellent starting salary.

2 – Spokane, Washington

  • Area: Pacific Northwest
  • Main industries: Manufacturing, aerospace, education, agriculture, technology
  • Average rent: $1,563
  • Average new graduate salary: $61,1625
  • Cost of living: 99.8
  • Unemployment rate: 3.5%

Like Colorado Springs, Spokane is the second largest metropolitan area in its state. Spokane offers booming job markets at a far reduced cost compared with Seattle. New graduate salaries are above the national average of $59,000, and Spokane provides an affordable cost of living, an outstanding quality of life with opportunities for different types of outdoor recreation, and job opportunities in new and exciting industries.

3 – Des Moines, Iowa

  • Area: Midwest
  • Main industries: Financial services, insurance, IT, agriculture, healthcare
  • Average rent: $1,202
  • Average new graduate salary: $59,697
  • Cost of living: 79.2
  • Unemployment rate: 2.4%

Des Moines has come a long way since famed gambler and poker player John Hennigan lost a bet that just required him to stay in Des Moines for six weeks. Hennigan lost the wager, but Des Moines in the 1990s is very different from the place it has become today. Des Moines offers a very affordable cost of living, cheap rent, and high quality of life coupled with a vibrant cultural scene. Des Moines also boasts a thriving financial services and agribusiness scene, so if you have graduated in these areas, Des Moines could be the right place for you.

4 – Phoenix, Arizona

  • Area: Southwestern
  • Main industries: Technology, aerospace and defense, healthcare, manufacturing, education
  • Average rent: $1,918
  • Average new graduate salary: $62,324
  • Cost of living: 109.5
  • Unemployment rate: 3.4%

Phoenix is the largest metropolitan area on this list, but a higher starting salary and a reasonable cost of living offset the high rental prices. Phoenix is a major business hub with a diverse job market, including education, aerospace, healthcare, and emerging technologies. Phoenix also offers a warm climate suitable for an outdoor lifestyle, which certainly isn’t the case for all cities in the top 10.

5 – Buffalo, New York

  • Area: Mid-Atlantic
  • Main industries: Biotechnology, professional services, healthcare, education
  • Average rent: $1,257
  • Average new graduate salary: $59,929
  • Cost of living: 88.6
  • Unemployment rate: 4.2%

Buffalo is one of the most affordable cities in the Northeast US, offering cheap rental prices while maintaining an average graduate starting salary. Buffalo has been the beneficiary of significant investment in infrastructure in recent years, with improvements to transport links and downtown areas. Buffalo has been embraced by emerging industries such as biotech and clean energy and offers graduates exciting opportunities in these areas and more.

6 – Albuquerque, New Mexico

  • Area: Southwestern
  • Main industries: Technology, aerospace and defense, energy and mining, healthcare
  • Average rent: $1,531
  • Average new graduate salary: $59,163
  • Cost of living: 91.3
  • Unemployment rate: 3.2%

Albuquerque is best known in recent years as the home of the Breaking Bad cinematic universe, and fans of the show will be aware of the natural beauty in and around this New Mexico city. Albuquerque offers a manageable average rent, a good starting salary for recent graduates, and hi-tech industries that are sure to excite alumni. 

7 – Bakersfield, California

  • Area: Pacific Southwest
  • Main industries: Oil and gas, renewable energy, agriculture, logistics, healthcare
  • Average rent: $1,767
  • Average new graduate salary: $66,195
  • Cost of living: 103.1
  • Unemployment rate: 8.9%

California is one of the most expensive states to live in, but Bakersfield enjoys a far lower cost of living than cities like San Francisco, Los Angeles, and San Diego. While average rent is not cheap, starting graduate salary is well above average at $66,000. Bakersfield has significantly developed agriculture and energy industries, and graduates in these areas may wish to consider living in Bakersfield due to the availability of graduate roles.

8 – Albany, New York

  • Area: Mid-Atlantic
  • Main industries: Banking and finance, education, government, healthcare, developing technologies
  • Average rent: $1,524
  • Average new graduate salary: $63,513
  • Cost of living: 96.5
  • Unemployment rate: 2.7%

Albany is the state capital of New York, and as such, provides the home to a considerable number of roles in the government and educational sectors. Albany also hosts leading research facilities in the biotech and nanotech sectors while providing a cost of living lower than the national average. Albany is also 2.5 hours from two of the biggest business hubs in the US; Boston and New York.

9 – Portland, Oregon

  • Area: Pacific Northwest
  • Main industries: Healthcare, sustainable technologies, manufacturing, technology
  • Average rent: $1,856
  • Average new graduate salary: $71,618
  • Cost of living: 131.1
  • Unemployment rate: 3.2%

The second biggest city on this list, Portland is the only suggested area with a cost of living far higher than the national average. Despite this, we’ve recommended Portland as the starting salary is so much higher than average at $71,600, leading to a reasonable rent-to-income ratio of 31%. Portland is great for graduates looking to get started in sustainable technologies, with Portland being one of the leading US cities looking to embrace green economies and technologies.

10 – Little Rock, Arkansas

  • Area: South Central
  • Main industries: Transportation and logistics, manufacturing, healthcare, education and finance
  • Average rent: $1,199
  • Average new graduate salary: $51,294
  • Cost of living: 82
  • Unemployment rate: 2.9%

Little Rock offers residents a far lower cost of living than most other US cities and a quality of life that is the envy of residents of other major cities. As one of the best cities to rent in US, Little Rock offers graduates varied options for roles, including in education, finance, logistics, and healthcare. 

Additional Considerations for New College Graduates

You may wish to consider several other factors when choosing where to settle down after graduating. While your desired job is a key consideration, there are other factors that others bear in mind beyond potential job opportunities.

  1. Distance to family: Graduating and getting your first job can be an emotional time, and knowing that your family is nearby can provide a support network to help through the transition. Consider cities that have convenient transport routes to your home town and family. 
  2. Climate preferences: Climate can have a massive impact on our mood, comfort, and lifestyle. The climates offered by our top 10 cities range from desert to rain and colder temperatures, so consider your preferred environment and research cities that can meet your needs.
  3. Personal preferences around city size and facilities: Cities such as Phoenix cover a vast metropolitan area, whereas places like Little Rock and Des Moines feel much smaller and locally focused. Consider your interests and if the proposed city meets your required needs. You may also want to think about sports, culture, restaurant scene, recreational activities, and access to nature.
  4. Transportation options: Is owning a car essential to you, or do you want to commute by public transport? Consider if you want to live in a city that is bike friendly and has excellent transportation networks.

There are many different tools to use to research different US cities online. We suggest using local real estate websites and online comparison tools to learn as much about cities as you possibly can. It is also a good idea to reach out to school alums who live in cities that you are considering to get the lowdown on what living in these places is really like.


The top 10 cities for recent graduates were suggested by Zillow as part of the real estate giant’s recent study into graduate living. The top 10 was calculated by considering the number of available graduate jobs, rental costs, graduate salaries, and the cost of living index. This creates a ranking table showing the 10 best places for graduates to settle down. A key metric used was rental cost compared with earnings, and all suggested locations have a rent-to-income ratio of under 35%.


Making your money go further is of increasing importance in today’s society, where inflation seems to be constantly growing. Choosing to move to one of the suggested cities can help your money go further while giving you a quality of life that will leave your fellow graduates envious. Consider what you want from your next home city, and see if any of the locations proposed meets your needs.

Article Topics

Written by Lauren Le-Hair linkedin-icon

As an experienced content writer, Lauren's passion for the finance sector is only exceeded by her love of writing. With years of experience writing for financial websites, she has honed her expertise and developed a deep understanding of the industry. Lauren specializes in delivering top-quality, specialized content with an expert tone of voice and a unique flair, leveraging her extensive knowledge and expertise. In addition, she holds a First Class Bachelor's degree from Staffordshire University.