A robust job market and affordable cost of living typically top most recent college graduates' lists when deciding which city to call home. Many also want to live someplace with a thriving arts scene with lots of choices for eating out, nightlife, and networking with fellow 20- and 30-somethings. For these suggestions, we consulted lists compiled by outlets such as NerdWallet and eliminated cities with the highest cost of living and affordability gaps (mostly attributable to real estate costs), so usual suspects like San Francisco, Washington, New York City, Los Angeles, and Boston are out. So, too, are white-hot Portland, Oregon; Seattle; San Diego; Riverside, California; and even Denver. But that still leaves plenty of promising prospects. Here's a roundup of 10 of the best affordable cities across the nation for today's budget-conscious college grads (in no particular order).
10 Cities Where Today's College Grads Can Actually Make a Living
This metro area tops many lists of best cities for newly minted grads, and for good reason. The Twin Cities of St. Paul and Minneapolis host more Fortune 500 companies per million people than all but one other city in the nation, so they invite plenty of job applicants. Minneapolis enjoys a thriving theater scene, with a surprisingly large and diverse range of live entertainment offerings. A one-bedroom apartment in Minneapolis averaged $1,036 a month as of February, according to Rent Jungle.
Overland Park sits at No. 14 in a Livability ranking of best small to mid-size cities in the U.S. Residents of this sprawling Kansas City suburb point to pristine parks and affordable neighborhoods as attractions. The state's second-largest city, Overland Park offers a broad range of employment options, including financial services, health care, and transportation and logistics. Recreational opportunities are abundant, too, and rent for a one-bedroom apartment averages $774.
Raleigh boasts one of the best-educated workforces of any U.S. city, with 32 percent of residents holding at least a bachelor's degree. The city's high-tech industries include aerospace, biotechnology, green energy, and manufacturing. One-bedroom apartment rents on Rent Jungle average about $915, while two-bedroom apartments run about $1,133 a month. The North Carolina Museum of Art provides a wealth of educational, aesthetic, intellectual, and cultural experiences for area residents.
Cincinnati has plenty of open space, with about 10 percent of its land area dedicated to parks. Rich with history, the Queen City has four distinct seasons, racial diversity, and an arts culture influenced by Germanic and Irish immigrants. It also offers great restaurants and numerous food festivals -- Cincinnati's favorite dish is chili. Unemployment in the metropolitan area stood at 5.2 percent in January, slightly higher than the state's 4.9 percent jobless rate. Millennials represent 27 percent of the population, and the city's median age is a youthful 32.4. Average monthly rent for a one-bedroom apartment stood at $698 in February, while two-bedroom units averaged $890.
For those who don't mind sizzling summers, Phoenix just might be the ticket. As the state capital, Phoenix's economy is a diverse mix of government, technology, telecommunications, tourism, and more, providing graduates with ample choices in employment. The metropolitan area, which includes suburban communities such as Mesa and Scottsdale, recorded a low 4.6 percent unemployment rate in January. A one-bedroom apartment averages about $898 a month, while graduates can share a two-bedroom unit for an average of $1,179 a month.
When it comes to affordable housing, it's hard to beat Memphis, which has some of the cheapest real estate of any big city. The median home price was $100,000 in the quarter ending March 16, roughly half the nationwide median home price. Renters will find bargains, too, with one-bedroom apartments averaging $682 as of February and two-bedroom apartments only slightly more at $742 a month. When it comes to employment, three Fortune 500 companies call Memphis home -- Federal Express, AutoZone, and International Paper -- and the economy benefits from a broad range of industry, including medical device makers. The city also has a dedicated program for promoting civic engagement among millennials and boasts a vibrant, hip art community.
One of the most LGBTQ-friendly cities in the Midwest, Madison also offers robust nightlife, plenty of music venues, and a vibrant outdoor-sports scene. For the eco-conscious, Madison is consistently ranked among the greenest cities in the nation, in part for its extensive network of biking and hiking trails. Major employers include a broad range of industry, from health care to hospitality to state government and higher education. Rents for one-bedroom apartments average about $1,000 a month. Add about $230 for a two-bedroom unit.
Steady job growth, affordability, and great arts scene are just a few of the reasons Atlanta is a top destination for millennials. Atlanta offers a diverse urban environment that some say rivals Brooklyn, New York, but is much more affordable. One-bedroom rents average $1,183 a month, but newcomers willing to consider suburban living can find more affordable rates in one of Atlanta's many neighboring communities.
A large college town, Columbus offers new arrivals a robust economy while remaining an affordable place to live. Rent for a one-bedroom apartment averages $744. New grads have opportunities to work in many roles at Ohio State University (which boasts nearly 60,000 students) and many other large employers in the sprawling region. The city, Ohio's largest, has several public gardens and an aquarium, as well as an avid sports culture.
Tampa and its twin city, St. Petersburg, are top choices by WalletHub for finding a job in 2016, and there is much more to like about this thriving, temperate, ethnically diverse, and affordable metropolis on Florida's west coast. Tampa houses the University of South Florida, as well as several performing arts centers, theaters, and museums. There's a famed historic Cuban district, Ybor City, and lots of great Cuban cuisine and popular nightlife nearby. Tampa features several theme parks, including Busch Gardens and Adventure Island. A one-bedroom apartment averages $1,006.