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Why These 5 Underrated Cities are Great Places to Live After College

Artlington, VA city skyline
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New York, Chicago, San Francisco: these are just a few of the big cities that college graduates flock to every year in hopes of starting their careers. The reputation these cities have as being hotbeds for high-paying jobs are well-deserved, but are they necessarily the best places to live after college?

Why Location is Everything for New College Grads

In the midst of a recovering job market, recent college grads have more opportunities than the graduates of just a few years ago.

But the outlook isn’t completely rosy—students are graduating with more student loan debt than ever, and the strong earning potential in today’s job market can be offset by loan payments and high costs of living. A big paycheck doesn’t mean much if most of it is gone by the time it reaches your savings account.

If you’re deciding on the best place to live after college, check out these five underrated cities that can give you the career and social opportunities you’re looking for without the high price tag.

1. Arlington, VA  

Arlington, Virginia may not have the name recognition that neighboring Washington D.C. has, but it’s still a thriving market for fresh college grads.

According to NerdWallet, “71.5 percent of Arlington’s 25-and-older population holds at least a bachelor’s degree.” Arlington also stands out for the number of jobs that require a B.A. in fields like management, business, science or the arts. The median salary in this city for someone with a Bachelor’s Degree or higher is $72,406—an increase from the year before.

The one downside to Arlington is the high rent: On average, you can expect to dedicate a third of your income to rent when you live here. Fortunately, the high salaries can offset these expenses.

2. Indianapolis, IN

Career and social opportunities for recent college grads are abundant in Indianapolis these days.

A collaborative study from Trulia and LinkedIn of 40 U.S. job markets ranked Indianapolis third in the country in terms of job openings suitable for college grads. Additional data from Forbes shows that the median income for recent graduates in the city is $48,200, but the cost of living is 7.5% below the national average.

If you’re looking for more than just a career boost, Indianapolis has a lot to offer: Data from Trulia and LinkedIn shows that 4.3 percent of the city’s population is recent grads, so you won’t find yourself wanting for social opportunities.

3. Pittsburgh, PA

Like Indianapolis, Pittsburgh has a great blend of career and social opportunities.

About 45 percent of open jobs available to college grads are in the fields of management, business, science or the arts, NerdWallet reported. Salaries for college grads are somewhat lower in Pittsburgh than in some of the other cities we’ve looked at, with the average salary coming in at about $37,416 according to That said, rents are very low compared to cities like Arlington, so the smaller salary may not be as much of an issue here.

The amount of college grads flocking to the city has also grown dramatically. According to The New York Times, Pittsburgh’s population of college graduates between 25 to 34 grew 29 percent from 2000 to 2012.

4. Raleigh, NC

Raleigh is the perfect place for an educated young professional—with three of the nation’s top universities in close proximity, there’s no shortage of grads putting down roots in the Raleigh/Durham area. And for good reason: nearby Research Triangle Park is made up of 170 companies who are eager to tap into the educated workforce the area boasts.

The average yearly salary for college graduates in Raleigh is $66,317, and the cost of living is among the lowest in the country.

5. Minneapolis, MN

Minneapolis rounds out the list with a great showing in terms of the number of college grads living here, the high salaries and overall affordability.

The average yearly salary in Minneapolis is $61,682, according to Payscale. This is above the national average, though Trulia and LinkedIn did find that entry-level jobs are harder to come by here than in other cities we’ve looked at.

Rents, however, are fairly low here—the average resident only spends about 22 percent of his or her income on rent. With all the money you’re saving, you can enjoy the social opportunities that come with a city where about 5.5 percent of the population are recent graduates.

These cities, and others like them, prove that you don’t need to go to New York or Silicon Valley for a great job or a thriving social life. It’s certainly worth going off the beaten path to find great opportunities that other college grads might overlook in their haste to move to the biggest cities.

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CUNA 2023 diamond award trophy icon

CUNA 2023 Diamond Award Winner

Financial Education

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