2024’s Best US Cities for New College Grads

David Patterson
May 21, 2024
8 min read

Checkr analyzed data to uncover the 100 best cities for new college grads in 2024, along with the top 10 for large, mid-sized, and small cities. Join us as we dig into the key factors that make these American cities great places for young people entering the workforce based on key factors in employment, affordability, and social aspects.

As new college graduates step into the workforce, they bring with them a fresh perspective, innovative ideas, and a hunger to learn and contribute. These young professionals inject vitality into businesses, driving growth, and fostering creativity. Their diverse backgrounds and recent education equip them with the latest skills and knowledge, making them invaluable assets to companies aiming to stay competitive in rapidly evolving industries.

Embracing new talent is not just beneficial but crucial for businesses across the country. By hiring recent graduates, companies infuse their teams with a blend of enthusiasm and eagerness to tackle challenges head-on. These individuals often bring unconventional solutions to the table, challenging conventional thinking and spurring organizational innovation.

Moreover, investing in young talent ensures a pipeline of skilled workers for the future, laying the foundation for long-term success and sustainability in an ever-changing marketplace.

As we move toward the summer months, families across the country have and will continue to celebrate their new college grads moving on from college into the workforce. As those proud grads make all-important career-based decisions in the coming weeks, Checkr set out to learn more about the cities that are best fit for graduates across the country.

With that in mind, we crunched the numbers using data sourced from the US Census Bureau and Bureau of Economic Analysis to uncover the best US cities for new college grads based on three categories: employment, affordability, and social aspects. We analyzed this data to help employers in these highly ranked cities understand the importance of embracing younger workers to widen their talent pool, tap into their diverse skill sets, and bring innovative perspectives into the workplace. Graduates might also use this report to learn more about a variety of cities that might be a potential fit for them as they continue to grow as professionals.

Overall, we dug into a total of seven critical factors from the new college grad age range (20-27) for all US cities. Each of the following key factors was assigned to one of the previously mentioned categories, which were then appropriately weighted to reveal the top cities for new college grads.

Key Metrics for New College Grads (20-27 years old):

  • Unemployment rate
  • Labor force participation rate
  • Income to rent ratio
  • Percentage of renters paying <30% of income in rent 
  • Real personal income 
  • College grads as a portion of the population 
  • College grads per entertainment establishment

Now, let’s check out some of the key findings. 

America’s best cities for new college grads

Let’s start by looking at the best cities, of all sizes, for new college grads.

America’s 25 Best Cities for New College Grads in 2024

*Data analyzed by Checkr from US Census Bureau & Bureau of Economic Analysis

Above you’ll see Fargo, ND as the top-ranked city in America for new college grads. Fargo showcases an impressive combination of affordability (4th) and employment factors (6th), making it a great choice for young professionals in the workforce. On top of those metrics, Fargo is also well-known for its thriving art scene, entrepreneurial spirit, and many green spaces, parks, and recreational areas for outdoor enthusiasts.

Rounding out the top five best cities for new college grads is a group of midwestern cities, including Iowa City, IA, Lincoln, NE, Oshkosh, WI, and east coast California, MD. This group may not showcase the best weather in the country, but when it comes to employment factors for new college grads, all five of these cities rank inside the top 25 — an awe-inspiring feat. 

Joining the aforementioned cities in the top ten are Madison, WI, home to the University of Wisconsin, as well as Grand Forks, ND, Ames, IA, Fayetteville, AR, and Elkhart, IN. 

While the social scene might fall behind some of the larger cities covered later in this report, the opportunity to earn a great income in the workforce in these places cannot be overlooked. 

Next, let’s dive into rankings based on city sizes, starting with the best large cities—cities with more than 500,000 people—for new college grads.

America’s best large cities for new college grads

New college grads often gravitate towards large cities (population of 500,000+) for both work and living due to the myriad opportunities and amenities they offer. Urban centers serve as vibrant hubs of industry, innovation, and networking, providing opportunities for career advancement and professional growth. 

With a dense concentration of companies spanning various sectors, these cities present abundant job prospects across diverse industries, allowing graduates to explore different career paths and find roles that align with their passions and skills.

Moreover, the collaborative and dynamic urban environments foster networking and mentorship opportunities, catering to the generation's desire for meaningful connections and professional growth.

So, where should new college grads look for work in 2024?

America’s Best Large Cities (500,000+) for New College Grads

*Data analyzed by Checkr from US Census Bureau & Bureau of Economic Analysis

Leading the nation as the best large city for new college grads is Madison, WI. Madison is home to a top-ranked university—The University of Wisconsin—and is situated between two lakes providing fantastic scenery and outdoor activities for young professionals. In addition, the social scene that comes with a major university brings a college town flair perfectly fit for new grads. Even more impressive, Madison ranks 1st in employment opportunities for new college grads and 7th for affordability.

Joining Madison within the top five are Fayetteville, AR, Grand Rapids, MI, Durham, NC, and Omaha, NE. These cities provide new college grads with a combination of affordable housing and above-average wages. Much like Madison, many of these cities are home to major universities or colleges which makes them even more attractive for sports and entertainment fans. 

Rounding out the top ten are Cincinnati, OH, Columbus, OH, Des Moines, IA, Salt Lake City, UT, and Akron, OH. 

Next up, we’ll learn more about the best mid-sized cities for new college grads.

America’s best mid-sized cities for new college grads

New college grads may find mid-sized cities with populations ranging from 200,000 to 500,000 residents to be compelling options for work and living. These cities offer a balance between the opportunities of urban life and the comforts of a smaller community. 

With a more manageable size, mid-sized cities often boast lower living costs, affordable housing, and shorter commutes compared to their larger counterparts. Additionally, they still feature a diverse array of job opportunities across industries such as technology, healthcare, and education, providing graduates with ample prospects for career growth. 

What sets mid-sized cities apart is their tight-knit communities and strong sense of belonging, fostering deeper connections and collaboration among residents. From vibrant local art scenes to impressive culinary landscapes, these cities offer a high quality of life with a unique blend of urban amenities and small-town charm, making them attractive destinations for new graduates seeking a balance between career opportunities and a welcoming environment to call home.

Let’s take a look at the best mid-sized cities for new college grads in 2024.

America’s Best Mid-Sized Cities (200,000-500,000) for New College Grads

*Data analyzed by Checkr from US Census Bureau & Bureau of Economic Analysis

The top-ranked mid-sized city for new college grads is also the top-ranked among all city sizes—Fargo, ND. Home to North Dakota State University, Fargo ranks 2nd among mid-sized cities for both employment opportunities and affordability. Additionally, the city has shown an incredible commitment to sustainability, and outdoor recreational opportunities may also resonate with young people’s focus on environmental consciousness and a balanced lifestyle outside of the workplace. 

Joining Fargo in the top five are Lincoln, NE, Elkhart, IN, Sioux Falls, SD, and St. Cloud, MN.  These midwestern gems provide great affordability for young workers and all rank inside the top 10 for key employment factors among mid-sized cities.

Wrapping up the top ten are Columbia, MO, home to the University of Missouri, Champaign, IL, Kalamazoo, MI, Green Bay, WI, and the University of Michigan’s home Ann Arbor, MI.

Again, most of these cities are all near major universities and colleges—a common theme—and provide fantastic employment metrics for new college grads looking to start their careers.

Next, we’ll dive into the best small cities for new college grads in 2024.

America’s best small cities for new college grads

New college graduates may discover the allure of small cities, those with populations of less than 200,000 residents, as ideal destinations for work and living. These intimate communities offer a tranquil and tight-knit environment, fostering deep connections and a strong sense of belonging among residents. 

In small cities, opportunities for career advancement and professional development may be more accessible due to less competition and a greater demand for skilled workers in various sectors such as healthcare, education, and local businesses.

Additionally, the cost of living in small cities is often lower than in larger urban areas, enabling recent graduates to stretch their budgets further and achieve financial stability sooner. The slower pace of life in small cities allows for a better work-life balance, with ample opportunities for outdoor activities, cultural experiences, and community involvement. For new graduates seeking a peaceful yet fulfilling lifestyle with opportunities for personal and professional growth, small cities offer an inviting and supportive environment to call home.

Now, let’s dive into the list.

America’s Best Small Cities (>200,000) for New College Grads

*Data analyzed by Checkr from US Census Bureau & Bureau of Economic Analysis

The top-ranked small city best fit for Gen Z workers is Iowa City, IA—home to the University of Iowa. Iowa City offers a strong job market across various sectors, including healthcare, education, technology, and the arts, providing ample opportunities for career growth and advancement. Beyond professional prospects, the city's rich cultural scene, with its numerous art galleries, theaters, music venues, and literary events, ensures that there's always something exciting to explore and experience. The city also ranks inside the top 15 for both social and employment factors among all small cities in America. 

Joining Iowa City in the top five are Oshkosh, WI, California, MD, Grand Forks, ND, and Iowa City rival Ames, IA. Among these highly-ranked small cities, one common theme is apparent—they all rank within the top 35 for employment metrics for new college grads, including labor force participation and unemployment rate.

Rounding out the top 10 best small cities for new college grads are Waterloo, IA, Cape Girardeau, MO, Bismarck, ND, Midland, TX, and Jefferson City, MO. 

For more information and detailed rankings, check out the full list of the top 100 best cities for new college grads in 2024 below to learn more about the appealing cities that young workers might consider for their next move.

The full list of America’s best cities for new college grads in 2024

Overall RankMetro AreaEmployment RankAffordability RankSocial Rank
1Fargo, ND-MN Metro Area6467
2Iowa City, IA Metro Area245820
3Lincoln, NE Metro Area233036
4Oshkosh-Neenah, WI Metro Area42074
5California-Lexington Park, MD Metro Area117042
6Madison, WI Metro Area191880
7Grand Forks, ND-MN Metro Area204159
8Ames, IA Metro Area60956
9Fayetteville-Springdale-Rogers, AR Metro Area112735
10Elkhart-Goshen, IN Metro Area19269
11Waterloo-Cedar Falls, IA Metro Area147657
12Cape Girardeau, MO-IL Metro Area1010040
13Sioux Falls, SD Metro Area83138
14St. Cloud, MN Metro Area165482
15Bismarck, ND Metro Area32153
16Midland, TX Metro Area384773
17Columbia, MO Metro Area957312
18Champaign-Urbana, IL Metro Area838917
19Jefferson City, MO Metro Area264695
20Grand Rapids-Kentwood, MI Metro Area507056
21Florence-Muscle Shoals, AL Metro Area1310361
22Sheboygan, WI Metro Area28155
23Mankato, MN Metro Area1025138
24Durham-Chapel Hill, NC Metro Area478462
25Bloomington, IL Metro Area1096129
26Missoula, MT Metro Area4233100
27Kalamazoo-Portage, MI Metro Area4510843
28Omaha-Council Bluffs, NE-IA Metro Area2023131
29Green Bay, WI Metro Area319144
30Ann Arbor, MI Metro Area1226529
31Cincinnati, OH-KY-IN Metro Area961194
32Columbus, OH Metro Area795770
33Fort Wayne, IN Metro Area716576
34Cedar Rapids, IA Metro Area776128
35Valdosta, GA Metro Area2915315
36Terre Haute, IN Metro Area3014331
37Billings, MT Metro Area1416147
38Dubuque, IA Metro Area9312106
39Lafayette-West Lafayette, IN Metro Area351548
40Des Moines-West Des Moines, IA Metro Area9210116
41Salt Lake City, UT Metro Area749053
42Lawrence, KS Metro Area881397
43Akron, OH Metro Area1092772
44Austin-Round Rock-Georgetown, TX Metro Area746486
45Amarillo, TX Metro Area2710198
46Ogden-Clearfield, UT Metro Area6711047
47Eau Claire, WI Metro Area943685
48Knoxville, TN Metro Area857865
49Kansas City, MO-KS Metro Area6334118
50Hinesville, GA Metro Area541573
51Raleigh-Cary, NC Metro Area6250109
52Columbus, IN Metro Area8215124
53Milwaukee-Waukesha, WI Metro Area7017123
54South Bend-Mishawaka, IN-MI Metro Area8110252
55Appleton, WI Metro Area4014148
56Wichita, KS Metro Area1204263
57Denver-Aurora-Lakewood, CO Metro Area4186107
58Evansville, IN-KY Metro Area5761115
59Chambersburg-Waynesboro, PA Metro Area1259143
60Greeley, CO Metro Area6911149
61College Station-Bryan, TX Metro Area461584
62San Angelo, TX Metro Area3912071
63Dalton, GA Metro Area2514939
64Rochester, MN Metro Area2024151
65Tyler, TX Metro Area669381
66Grand Island, NE Metro Area721157
67Dayton-Kettering, OH Metro Area1264565
68Indianapolis-Carmel-Anderson, IN Metro Area9726101
69Morgantown, WV Metro Area7113234
70Oklahoma City, OK Metro Area1357440
71Lewiston, ID-WA Metro Area3319152
72Chattanooga, TN-GA Metro Area37103110
73Davenport-Moline-Rock Island, IA-IL Metro Area3137145
74Bloomington, IN Metro Area1161349
75Bloomsburg-Berwick, PA Metro Area1533044
76Harrisburg-Carlisle, PA Metro Area8749110
77Lancaster, PA Metro Area7361116
78Pocatello, ID Metro Area5612764
79Jackson, TN Metro Area4413658
80Blacksburg-Christiansburg, VA Metro Area7815210
81Burlington-South Burlington, VT Metro Area3612293
82Albany-Schenectady-Troy, NY Metro Area1143299
83Utica-Rome, NY Metro Area982146
84Tulsa, OK Metro Area1342988
85Jacksonville, NC Metro Area1211461
86Abilene, TX Metro Area6414831
87Toledo, OH Metro Area1376860
88Flagstaff, AZ Metro Area5811384
89Canton-Massillon, OH Metro Area4843141
90Lansing-East Lansing, MI Metro Area12513015
91Nashville-Davidson--Murfreesboro--Franklin, TN Metro Area4980127
92Fond du Lac, WI Metro Area3440150
93Bangor, ME Metro Area17123120
94Lynchburg, VA Metro Area8412946
95Cheyenne, WY Metro Area18126119
96Elizabethtown-Fort Knox, KY Metro Area1009475
97Logan, UT-ID Metro Area8814726
98Provo-Orem, UT Metro Area13312524
99Washington-Arlington-Alexandria, DC-VA-MD-WV Metro Area10543113
100Manhattan, KS Metro Area1481372

*Data analyzed by Checkr from US Census Bureau & Bureau of Economic Analysis

For more information on Check’s research or to request graphics or commentary about this study, please contact press@checkr.com


To rank America’s best cities for new college grads (ages 20-27), Checkr analyzed seven key factors from the US Census Bureau & Bureau of Economic Analysis. The factors include new college grads' unemployment rate, labor force participation rate, income-to-rent ratio, percentage of renters paying <30% of income in rent, real personal income, new college grad portion of the population, and new college grad members per entertainment establishment. Each factor was weighted appropriately by Checkr and scaled, resulting in the final rankings of the best cities in the country for new college grads in 2024.


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