The 3 Best US Cities For Young Graduates

Where have all the college grads gone? In this period of economic recovery, that has become an important question, relevant to the America's vitality, its job opportunities, and its potential and necessary growth, financially and otherwise.

Forbes has recently released a list of the top 10 Brainpower Cities in the country, or in other words, the cities who saw the largest increase in college grads between 2007 and 2012. This list points to economic and cultural maturation in the country, and these cities could be a beacon of hope for other cities who are working to build their economy and attract the minds of the future who will help them to build and grow.

When NerdWallet performed a similar survey, it used five questions to determine the list rankings:

  1. Will you have peers and others your age?
  2. Will you have an active social life?
  3. Is the city walkable? Can you live there without a car?
  4. Can you afford to live there?
  5. Can you get a job?

Forbes uses many of these same criteria in formulating its own list, saying, “The best strategy for attracting graduates lies in creating jobs, as well as in offering both affordable housing and a range of housing options, including both reasonably priced urban and lower-density living. Generally speaking an area that is economically vital as well as physically or culturally appealing will do best.”

The results are in, and these are the top three on Forbes’ list of Brainpower Cities as well as an analysis of just why college grads might be flocking there.

1: New Orleans (Tied)

To top the list, Forbes ranked New Orleans the No. 1 Brainpower City, tied with San Antonio. Between 2007 and 2012, in the years following Hurricane Katrina, New Orleans gained 44,005 graduates for an increase of 20.3 percent, which is almost twice the national average of 10.9 percent. With universities like Tulane University (often dubbed the “Harvard of the South”), Loyola University, and University of New Orleans, many college students come to New Orleans and then stay on after they graduate.

New Orleans had also been dubbed the fastest growing city by Forbes in 2013, so it’s no wonder why college grads are attracted to the city, as jobs and opportunities, particularly in the tech, tourism, and healthcare industries, are both plentiful and increasing. Plus, New Orleans is currently a fairly young city, as young people came to New Orleans in droves following Katrina to attend school and work on social and community projects to contribute to the city’s rebuilding.

New Orleans topped Forbes’ list of top brainpower cities in 2010 as well. Forbes posited that “New Orleans’ No. 1 ranking, for example, is likely a product of the continuing recovery of its shrunken population, where the central city appears to be somewhat more attractive to professionals than before Katrina while the suburban populations have recovered more quickly from the disaster.”

But other reasons abound as to why New Orleans might be considered a top destination for college grads. The cost of living, for example, is much less than what can be found in other cities, four percent below the national average, so a college grad or 20-something could afford housing, groceries, transportation, healthcare and the like.

In addition to a cheaper cost of living, residents of New Orleans can find their way around a good time for cheaper too, and they have innumerable options between restaurants, music venues, art galleries, festivals and the like. Having so much to do is usually another draw for college grads to a particular city, and New Orleans certainly isn’t short of entertainment.

1: San Antonio (Tied)

Between 2007 and 2012, San Antonio saw an increase of 76,331 college graduates added to its population for a 20.3 percent gain, also nearly twice the national average of college grad influxes.

Another brainpower survey from The Business Journals, which examines the number of people over the age of 25 with bachelor, grad and post-grad degrees, places the two near each other as well, though New Orleans does pull slightly ahead with its No. 84 ranking versus San Antonio’s No. 90.

The two cities share some similarities as to why college graduates are attracted to them both, including being more entertaining and financially realistic. The San Antonio Current postulates, “Boasting a cost of living markedly cheaper than traditional destinations for recent college gradslike San Francisco or Bostonand an active, taco and Tecate-centered nightlife, the Alamo City offers new degree holders a vibrant start to their career.”

In 2013, USA today ranked San Antonio in the top 20 metro areas for jobs in 2011, particularly for college grads, which is obviously a major consideration for grads deciding where to spend their first years out of school. College grads often head to where the best jobs are available, so the cities who figure out how to offer a better job economy, like San Antonio, are likely to see the best growth of the college grad population.

As for cost of living, Sperling’s Best Places ranked cost of living in different cities based on the national average. With a score of 100 for the national average of cost of living, San Antonio was ranked 85.70, a number that is much more attractive to college grads looking to start out their careers.

3: Austin

Austin ranks high among many brainpower city surveys, both for college grad increases and the college grad population as a whole. Austin saw an increase of 94,939 grads between 2007 and 2012, for a percentage gain of 19.9 percent. In The Business Journals’ brainpower rankings survey, Austin came in at 16 with 40.2 percent of its population having bachelor’s degrees and 13.6 percent having graduate degrees.

According to NerdWallet’s survey, Austin “has it all: the third-most 18 to 24 year-olds of any city, a low cost of living and the lowest unemployment rate.”

Plus, the jobs are there. Austin is particularly growing in the tech industry—Dell and IBM are both headquartered there—as well as in the realm of biotechnology. USA Today ranked Austin among the top 20 metro areas for jobs in 2011 with a 48.5 percent increase in jobs from 2006 to 2011, nearly three times that of the average gain (17 percent) for all metro areas. Austin’s level of unemployment is well below the national average at 5.5 percent. In 2013, Forbes also ranked Austin as the No. 2 city in terms of job growth and No. 14 on its list of best places for business and careers.

In addition to job opportunities and a reasonable cost of living, Austin has plenty of things to do for college grads looking for a good time when the work day is done. Austin’s current official slogan is The Live Music Capital of the World due to the many musicians and live music venues in the area, and its annual SXSW festival is considered to be among the biggest music festivals in the country, particularly in the realm of indie rock and independent musicians.

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