The 15 Best-Paying Cities for Recent College Grads

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college graduate with money
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This story originally appeared on Self.

As college education costs climb higher, landing a well-paying job after graduation is more important than ever before. Over half of young adults who attended college incurred some debt, with typical levels of student loans in the range of $20,000 to $25,000 post-graduation. According to the latest data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the median salary for recent college graduates working full-time is approximately $50,000 per year. However, the number varies widely by city, college major, and occupation, among other factors.

The good news is that while the median wage for recent graduates (adjusted for inflation) has fluctuated over the last several decades, the number hit a new peak last year, climbing by nearly $4,500 from 2019 to 2020. What’s concerning is that the $50,000 annual wage figure for 2020 is from survey data collected in March of last year, so it does not adequately reflect the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. College graduates seeking employment last spring faced the worst job market since the Great Depression, and it remains to be seen how wages will be affected in the coming years.

While academic major is one of the strongest predictors of earnings post-graduation, so too is location. Additionally, large differences in the cost of living across locations affect how comfortable it is to live on a given wage and how easy it is to pay off loans. At the state level, recent graduates working full-time in North Dakota and Montana have the highest median earnings after adjusting for cost of living, at $53,751 and $51,337, respectively. Despite being one of the lowest-cost states to live in, New Mexico also reports the lowest cost-of-living adjusted median wage for full-time recent graduates, at just $36,224 per year.

To find the best-paying metropolitan areas for recent college graduates, researchers at Self analyzed the latest earnings data from the U.S. Census Bureau and cost of living data from the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis. The researchers ranked metro areas according to the cost-of-living adjusted median earnings for full-time working college graduates aged 22 to 27 with a bachelor’s degree only. Researchers also calculated the unadjusted median earnings for recent graduates and the recent college graduate proportion of the population. Only the 50 largest metropolitan areas were included in the analysis.

Keep reading to learn the best-paying U.S. metros for recent college graduates.

15. Cincinnati, OH-KY-IN

Cincinnati
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  • Median earnings for recent college grads (adjusted): $48,565
  • Median earnings for recent college grads (actual): $44,000
  • Recent college grad proportion of the total population: 2.4%
  • Cost of living: 9.4% below average

14. Minneapolis-St. Paul-Bloomington, MN-WI

Minneapolis
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  • Median earnings for recent college grads (adjusted): $48,591
  • Median earnings for recent college grads (actual): $50,000
  • Recent college grad proportion of the total population: 3.0%
  • Cost of living: 2.9% above average

13. Chicago-Naperville-Elgin, IL-IN-WI

Chicago, Illinois
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  • Median earnings for recent college grads (adjusted): $48,638
  • Median earnings for recent college grads (actual): $50,000
  • Recent college grad proportion of the total population: 2.8%
  • Cost of living: 2.8% above average

12. Providence-Warwick, RI-MA

Providence, Rhode Island
Sean Pavone / Shutterstock.com
  • Median earnings for recent college grads (adjusted): $48,853
  • Median earnings for recent college grads (actual): $49,000
  • Recent college grad proportion of the total population: 2.5%
  • Cost of living: 0.3% above average

11. Houston-The Woodlands-Sugar Land, TX

Houston, Texas
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  • Median earnings for recent college grads (adjusted): $49,164
  • Median earnings for recent college grads (actual): $50,000
  • Recent college grad proportion of the total population: 1.9%
  • Cost of living: 1.7% above average

10. Austin-Round Rock, TX

Austin, Texas
Roschetzky Photography / Shutterstock.com
  • Median earnings for recent college grads (adjusted): $49,345
  • Median earnings for recent college grads (actual): $49,000
  • Recent college grad proportion of the total population: 3.2%
  • Cost of living: 0.7% below average

9. Dallas-Fort Worth-Arlington, TX

Dallas, Texas
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  • Median earnings for recent college grads (adjusted): $49,407
  • Median earnings for recent college grads (actual): $50,000
  • Recent college grad proportion of the total population: 2.3%
  • Cost of living: 1.2% above average

8. Columbus, OH

Columbus, Ohio
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  • Median earnings for recent college grads (adjusted): $51,856
  • Median earnings for recent college grads (actual): $47,500
  • Recent college grad proportion of the total population: 2.7%
  • Cost of living: 8.4% below average

7. San Francisco-Oakland-Hayward, CA

San Francisco, California
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  • Median earnings for recent college grads (adjusted): $52,045
  • Median earnings for recent college grads (actual): $70,000
  • Recent college grad proportion of the total population: 3.4%
  • Cost of living: 34.5% above average

6. Cleveland-Elyria, OH

Cleveland, Ohio
Rudy Balasko / Shutterstock.com
  • Median earnings for recent college grads (adjusted): $52,280
  • Median earnings for recent college grads (actual): $47,000
  • Recent college grad proportion of the total population: 2.1%
  • Cost of living: 10.1% below average

5. Detroit-Warren-Dearborn, MI

Detroit as seen from the air.
Andrey Bayda / Shutterstock.com
  • Median earnings for recent college grads (adjusted): $52,466
  • Median earnings for recent college grads (actual): $50,000
  • Recent college grad proportion of the total population: 2.1%
  • Cost of living: 4.7% below average

4. Pittsburgh, PA

Pittsburgh
esb-professional / Shutterstock.com
  • Median earnings for recent college grads (adjusted): $52,706
  • Median earnings for recent college grads (actual): $48,700
  • Recent college grad proportion of the total population: 2.8%
  • Cost of living: 7.6% below average

3. Kansas City, MO-KS

Kansas City Missouri traffic highways
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  • Median earnings for recent college grads (adjusted): $52,802
  • Median earnings for recent college grads (actual): $49,000
  • Recent college grad proportion of the total population: 2.3%
  • Cost of living: 7.2% below average

2. St. Louis, MO-IL

St. Louis, Missouri
KENNY TONG / Shutterstock.com
  • Median earnings for recent college grads (adjusted): $53,274
  • Median earnings for recent college grads (actual): $48,000
  • Recent college grad proportion of the total population: 2.1%
  • Cost of living: 9.9% below average

1. San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara, CA

San Jose California
Uladzik Kryhin / Shutterstock.com
  • Median earnings for recent college grads (adjusted): $56,827
  • Median earnings for recent college grads (actual): $72,000
  • Recent college grad proportion of the total population: 3.3%
  • Cost of living: 26.7% above average

Detailed Findings & Methodology

Graduate with money
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The best-paying metros for recent college graduates are a mix of higher-cost tech hubs and more affordable cities in the Midwest and Northeast. The best-paying metro for these young professionals—San Jose, California—is one of the most expensive areas in the country, but college graduates earn enough there to make up for the high cost of living. Young degree holders in the St. Louis metro area earn $48,000 at the median, but living in that Missouri city is so affordable that their cost-of-living adjusted median wage ($53,274) is nearly as high as that of their counterparts in San Jose.

Nationally, recent college graduates aged 22 to 27 make up 2.1 percent of the population, but some of the best-paying metros attract larger numbers. Recent graduates in the San Jose, San Francisco, and Austin, Texas, metro areas account for more than 3 percent of the local population, about one-third higher than the national level.

To find the best-paying metros for recent college graduates, researchers at Self analyzed data from the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2019 American Community Survey Public Use Microdata Sample (ACS PUMS) and the Bureau of Economic Analysis’s 2019 Regional Price Parity (RPP) dataset. Statistics on median earnings were derived from the ACS PUMS, and the cost-of-living index was derived from the RPP data.

To make earnings comparable across locations, earnings in expensive metros were adjusted down to reflect lower purchasing power while earnings in relatively affordable metros were adjusted up to reflect higher purchasing power.

Metro areas were then ranked by the cost-of-living adjusted median earnings for recent college graduates. Recent college graduates were defined as those aged 22 to 27 with a bachelor’s degree only, working full-time (not in school). Only the 50 largest metropolitan areas were included in the analysis.

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