5 Great Cities for New Graduates

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You’re ready for a change. Maybe your college town is feeling kinda small after four years, or perhaps you stayed a little too close to home and you’re looking to test your independence in a brand-new city or state. The one thing you know for sure is that you’re looking for a new place to live and it needs to be affordable, accessible, and fun. Guest blogger Melissa Nguyen investigates five great cities for new grads and gets the low-down from a few current residents.

When I was getting ready to graduate from the University of Texas with a dual degree in English and Ethnic Studies, I could think of nothing else but the bright lights of New York City. I knew I wanted to get as far away from Texas as possible, and the movies made the bustling scenes of Manhattan look glorious; I wanted to hail a cab with one hand while the other held onto multiple Barneys bags. My hair would blow gently in the New York City breeze and my crisp and tailored trench coat would be both functional and devilishly good looking. This is how real life works, right?

I spent two years in the Northeast after graduation and never stepped foot in a Barneys. I also successfully hailed one cab my entire time there, and it was the most expensive two-mile car ride I’ve ever taken. Also, I quickly learned there is no such thing as a gentle New York City breeze and trench coats are but a mere tissue against the wicked storms locals dubbed Nor’easters.

While NYC is indeed lively and eye-opening—and boy is their public transit system the absolute best in the US (BART, why stop the party at midnight?)—there are also many other wonderful, underappreciated cities out there that offer great value to new graduates.

I got in touch with five of my fellow UT graduates to ask them what it is that they love about their current city, and why it’s a great place for young professionals.

I’ll be the first to admit the list is slightly skewed in three ways: first, two of the five people are software engineers—I had hoped to get a wider range of occupations but found that tech is dominating the market. Second, all five of the interviewees are male, but that’s because all female UT graduates are busy doing big, successful things (like writing for AfterCollege!), and third, two of the five cities listed are in Texas. Believe me when I say that until this very moment, I was the last person to give Texas any props. I had spent too many boiling hot summers eaten alive by mosquitoes and stuck in SUV traffic to declare Texas the top of anything. But after living in two of the country’s most expensive cities (NYC and San Francisco), I can now see some of the giant southern state’s merits (hello, affordable rent).

Through their responses and a user submission database called Numbeo, I’ve listed a few key features of each city (notably, the cost of beer as prompted by the interviewees).

So here we go, five great cities for new graduates:

1. Boston, Massachusetts

Boston is a small city (though it is the largest city in Massachusetts!) packed with everything you can imagine, from a large number of colleges and universities to historic buildings and beautiful foliage and parks that almost make you forget you’re in the middle of an urban setting. National chain Dunkin’ Donuts was founded right outside of Boston so the city has a larger concentration of Dunkin’ Donuts shops than seemingly anywhere else in the world and that’s a major draw.

A few drawbacks of this whimsical city are that winter can be devastatingly cold, and as it is the Northeast, rent and overall cost of living is relatively high. But, Ben Affleck is from Boston and he’s Batman, so there’s that.

Average cost of a 1 bedroom apartment: $1,400–$2,000

Average cost of a domestic beer: $5.00

Public transit: Excellent, no need for a car—but it stops running at 12:30 a.m.

Doug Jew_Boston2

Doug Jew, 2-year resident of Boston, Family Therapist In-Training, Sociology Major

What do you do?

I am currently an intern doing in-home therapy at The Home for Little Wanderers, as well as the graduate assistant in the Asian American Student Success Program at UMass Boston.

What do you love about living in Boston (besides the donuts)?

I love that Boston has a big city vibe while still being completely walkable. Lots of bars, people, music, and culture.

It is great for young professionals because it is a networking city, tons of jobs and booming markets for youthful energy to fill, and did I mention there are enough craft beers to have a different variety every day of the week?

2. Alexandria, Virginia

The city of Alexandria is about a 30-minute commute from the heart of Washington, DC—which means you’re a heartbeat away from all the action, politically, intellectually, culturally, and bar scene-wise. The trade-off for being so close to it all is that your rent and overall cost of living will be higher—though my DC friends are quick to point out that living half an hour out means cheaper rent than living on the other side of the Potomac. Alexandria is nicknamed the “Old Town” because of its sweet small town historic charm. It is quaint and a safe area to live, walk, and enjoy being young.

Average cost of a 1 bedroom apartment: $1,200–$1,600

Average cost of a domestic beer: $5.50

Public transit: Fair, while there are buses and trolleys available, their reach is not widespread. Depending on where you like to hang out, you may need a car.

Andy Tien_DC

Andy Tien, 3-year resident of Alexandria, Satellite Operations Engineer (or classified secret agent, you never know), Aerospace Engineer Major

What do you do?

I work in spacecraft operations and I am currently the launch and initialization flight operations lead working for a defense contractor. The work environment could be described as similar to NASA mission control but in a classified setting.

What do you love about living in Alexandria?

High-skilled and high-paying jobs attract young professionals from all over the country. Because we’re mostly transplants and are generally unfamiliar with the area, it makes it easy for young professionals to meet and socialize with others—and if you’re single, it helps that the DC-area has a large pool of single young professionals.

Take a city with plenty of highly educated singles, sprinkle in some physical fitness (or a lot, since DC is rated one of the top cities with physically fit residents), add a lot of booze (DC residents are also known to be big on bars), and you end up with an environment full of educated, interesting, attractive, and social young professionals, making it easy to expand your network or social life. There’s also ethnic diversity which allows for great food variety, ranging from pho to tapas, and outdoor activities, such as hiking and kayaking, accessible within an hour car ride.

3. Chicago, Illinois

Chicago is not for the faint of heart. It is a big, bustling city (the third most populated city in the US!), where skyscrapers and baseball games are grand, and the winters are cold while the summers are hot. But if you like commotion, busy bodies, museums galore, and a city steeped in fast-paced culture, then Chicago is where it’s at. Plus, the famous Second City improv club is there (where Tina Fey, Steve Carell, and Stephen Colbert got their start), so Chicago’s population must be a funny one.

Average cost of a 1 bedroom apartment: $1,000–$1,500

Average cost of a domestic beer: $5.00

Public transit: Excellent, no car necessary. Most residents take the train, bus, or cabs, if needed.

JasonShin_Chicago

Jason Shin, 4-year resident of Chicago, Investment Product Manager, Finance Major

What do you do?   

I’m an “Investment Product Manager” for Northern Trust‘s Wealth Management division. I’m part of a group that helps manage an “approved list” of third party investment products (e.g. mutual funds, exchange-traded funds, hedge fund/private equity fund of funds).

What do you love about living in Chicago?

Chicago attracts the best talent from all throughout the Midwest—just to name off some notable universities: University of Chicago, Northwestern University, U of I Urbana-Champaign, Notre Dame, University of Michigan. It’s also a very fun city, a cleaner and more affordable version of NY. It’s a perfect mix between urban and suburban lifestyle in my opinion and the summers here are the best.

4. Austin, Texas

How do I love thee? Let me count the ways! I am biased because I lived in Austin for nearly five years before the extreme summer heat melted away my willpower and I declared, “enough!” But it is a green haven for artists, creative folks, intellectuals, and more recently home to the South’s tech boom. It has been called the San Francisco of the South, or more cheekily, San Francisco at half the rent, but I don’t think the charming small-town-feel of a city wants to be known as anything else but a collaborative community of Austinites. A huge drawback to the South, in addition to the blistering heat, would be the lack of public transportation (something I’m told they’re working on) and the carnivorous mosquitos.

Average cost of a 1 bedroom apartment: $900–$1,300

Average cost of a domestic beer: $3.00

Public transit: Downtown has bus lines, and for commuters outside of the city of Austin, there’s a train into downtown.

David Sumera_Austin

David Sumera, 7-year resident of Austin, Software Engineer (of course), Computer Science Major

What do you do?

Software engineer in authentication and identity management at HomeAway Inc.

What do you love about living in Austin?

I’ve lived here since 2006 and I still find plenty of new things to do. Even the things that I do routinely remain fresh and enjoyable. For the outdoorsy folks, Austin is quintessential—I have no problem finding awesome places to hike, rock climb, ride my bike, or even play pickup soccer. This is definitely a city for explorers, and that’s without mentioning all the good restaurants!

I can only speak from the perspective of a software engineer, particularly a web developer, but Austin is almost perfect for young professionals. There are plenty of big shots around town, like Dell, IBM, Intel, AMD, HomeAway, BazaarVoice, EA, etc., and for every one of those, there are ten other small startups looking to plant a foot in the Austin technology scene. Add to that the various venture capital firms, and options are limitless for an aspiring developer. Given the fast-paced and, for lack of a better word, transient nature of this industry, Austin becomes an amazing city to network as well.

5. Houston, Texas

If you want to talk about surprising up-and-coming hip cities for young folks, let’s talk about the US’s fourth largest, and one of its most ethnically diverse cities, Houston. Forbes magazine has had its eyes on The Bayou City for the past few years, bestowing upon the town of over 2.1 million superlatives such as America’s Coolest City and America’s Next Great Global City. Earlier this year, Business Insider also named Houston the “Best City in America.” Not bad, H-town. With its booming energy and trade industries and a strong, steadily growing job market—plus majorly affordable housing (at least for now)—Houston is ideal for new graduates. But don’t say I didn’t warn you about the average 435°F summers.

Average cost of a 1 bedroom apartment: $800–$1,200

Average cost of a domestic beer: $2.75

Public transit: A work in progress. There’s a light rail that runs through limited sections of the city and there are buses into downtown, but there’s a dominant car culture here (SUV-style).

Eric Draper_Houston2

Eric Draper, 22-year resident of Houston (once you see how far your dollar goes here, you’ll never leave either), Software Developer, Computer Science Major

What do you do?

I am a software developer at Gyrodata.

What do you love about living in Houston?

What I love about Houston is its diversity—there is something for everyone. If you’re into sports, take your pick: There is basketball, football, soccer (or the real football, depending on where you’re from), and baseball. You like museums? Houston offers some of the best exhibits in the country. Like music? There is always someone worth seeing; it may take a little more research to find the location, but it’s worth it. Houston offers plenty of city for those accustomed to the fast-paced lifestyle, but it also offers a side of country for those that want to get away. It is a large city, but there are plenty of things to do in your area if you make a little effort to find it.

So there you have it! Five great cities for new college graduates for many different reasons. You’ll see that the Northeast—with its vibrant historical landscape and expansive public transit systems—has a significantly higher cost of living. And then there’s the South, where life may be a little bit slower and there’s a strong car culture, but you get a break in rent and overall living costs. Chicago, as Jason shared, is a blend of both worlds. In the end, it’s what is important to you and where you see the most value. How do you want to spend your time outside of the office? And where do you want to hang up your trench coat and drop your Barneys bags each night? (I left mine in NYC when I departed for the [sometimes] sunnier skies of San Francisco!)

Though, I will say that across these five very different cities, one thing was surprisingly relatively equal in price across the board and that was a cappuccino. So if you end up choosing the more expensive cities to live in, you can always save a little cash by learning to drink your coffee black—apparently the money is in the foam!

Melissa Nguyen is a freelance writer who loves San Francisco but does not love paying rent in San Francisco. She’s secretly plotting her return to Texas where she and her dog can roll around in all the cheap land, but she’ll deny it if anyone asks. You can find more of her writing on writingsbymelissanguyen.wordpress.com.

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