With graduation season upon us, a lot of young folks will be looking ahead to another goal: a good launching spot for the careers they’ve been studying so hard for.
Bankrate.com has checked 100 cities across the country, drawn from metropolitan statistical areas (MSAs) with populations above 250,000 and per capita GDP levels of above $40,000, looking for the ones that provide that sweet spot for the beginning of a career. They considered five groups of factors that go into making a city a good spot to embark on a lifetime of work: job prospects, pay potential, quality of life, social opportunities and career advancement. Examining 18 different variables within those categories, they then evaluated how each city placed relative to the others.
Lest you think every factor was something dead serious, like crime rate, air quality and the cost of living, bear in mind that other aspects of a city’s livability came into play: its weather, whether or not it was in or near mountains or a coast and such amenities as bars, restaurants, arts and culture services. But there were plenty of serious considerations, too, such as the price of capital, wages, the tax rate and productivity.
For quality of life information, Bankrate used research results that were published in a 2015 paper by David Albouy, titled “What Are Cities Worth? Land Rents, Local Productivity, and the Total Value of Amenities.” All other data, it said, came from the Census Bureau, the Bureau of Economic Analysis and the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Since today’s grads saw first hand the effects of the Great Recession, Bankrate figured that one of their chief concerns would be financial security, and all the factors that contribute to that — so economic aspects of each area weighed heavily in the evaluations. Other considerations included a “city’s employment rates in occupations likely to require a bachelor’s degree and/or likely to offer a clear path of advancement,” and the occupations examined included STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics), the media, the arts, education, service occupations (police and fire services), and management positions.
Here’s a look at the 20 cities Bankrate rated the best for launching that long-awaited career:
20. Portland, Oregon
Portland scored within the top 20 places in the country with a number of strong positives. It ranked 16th in the nation for quality of life — an important factor when you consider many young grads will be leaving home for the first time in their pursuit of professional opportunities — and also placed 20th in pay potential: something that’s sure to be important, if not the most important, consideration when choosing a starting place.
19. Madison, Wisconsin
Madison’s pay potential is higher than Portland’s, at 16th, but even better, it’s 5th in the country for job prospects.
It also placed 17th in quality of life, and while it finished lower on the scale for social opportunities (40th) and career advancement (44th), it’s in a strong position for new grads looking for a jumping-off place.
18. Hartford, Connecticut
Ranking 8th in pay potential, Hartford also placed 16th in the career advancement category and 36th when it comes to job prospects.
For quality of life it lands pretty far down the scale, at 75, and at 80 for social opportunities, but that might actually serve as a focus on their profession for those serious about “making it” in their chosen fields.
Beware the distractions if you head to Atlanta upon graduation — or else figure out how to parlay the city’s social opportunities into professional ones and a strong support network. Atlanta finished 8th in the social opportunities category, while ranking 12th in career advancement (maybe it’s who you know?) but only 45th in pay potential.
Quality of life only came in at 66 and job prospects aren’t the best, with the city finishing just out of the bottom fifth at 81.
16. Boulder, Colorado
Ski aficionados, rejoice — you have an excuse to move to ski country! Boulder came in at 7th in the country for pay potential and a delightful 12th in quality of life.
While it’s not brilliant in career advancement (38th), social opportunities (also 38th) or job prospects (43rd), you can enjoy life as well as work in pleasant surroundings.
15. Anchorage, Alaska
Anchorage offers a 9th-place finish in pay potential and finishes respectably in all the other categories, at 24th for quality of life (although you’d probably best be fond of winter sports to fully appreciate this), 27th for both social opportunities and career advancement and 50th for job prospects.
A 10th-place spot for pay potential is definitely a strong lure for this city, which also offers a 14th-place ranking for career advancement and a 22nd-place finish for social opportunities — maybe over crab cakes at the Inner Harbor or elsewhere on Chesapeake Bay.
For job prospects it finished at No. 45, while quality of life came in at 57. If you like boating, railroads, history or football, you may rank the city even higher.
Back in the mountains, the mile-high city finished in the top 20 in every category. For job prospects, it was 11th, while quality of life came in at 12; pay potential was 14, while social opportunities and career advancement both finished at 17.
Maybe that’s not a coincidence …
12. Minneapolis-St. Paul
The Twin Cities finished most strongly in job prospects, at 4th in the country, with pay potential at 11th place, career advancement at 13th and social opportunities at 14th.
Interestingly, quality of life was only 79th. Maybe some people are spending too much time at the Mall of America?