6 Details to Help You Decide Where You Should Move

For college graduates deciding where to move next, keep these key details in mind.

U.S. News & World Report

How to Decide Where to Live

Before making your first major move, consider the factors that will matter most, including the right job opportunities and how the cost of living will work with your income.(Getty Images)

Earning a college degree is a significant achievement indeed. It's the culmination of 17 years (or more) of hard work, and at the end of this long road, college grads are faced with myriad choices for how to begin their adult lives in the "real world." Chief among them is the question, "Where am I going to live?"

According to the National Center for Education Statistics, more than 2.75 million people earned bachelor's or postgraduate degrees in the 2018 to 2019 school year, and for many, this will mark the first (and maybe only) time they're truly free to live anywhere in the country. For those millions of you who are new or soon-to-be graduates, and perhaps overwhelmed by choice, let's take a look at six factors that will help you decide where to put down roots.

Here's what to consider when thinking about finding a new city or metro area to live in:

  • Job market.
  • Type of place that appeals to you.
  • Housing costs.
  • Social opportunities.
  • Transportation.
  • Where you see yourself in a few years.

1. The Job Market

For the vast majority of people, finding work is the primary factor in deciding where you'll live once you've got that degree in hand. Looking for a region with a thriving job market, especially on the entry-level end of the spectrum, is key. While you will want to consider the strength of the specific industry you plan to work in, taking a moment to ponder the overall economic drivers of your target city is also smart.

Places like New York City (No. 90 in U.S. News' Best Places to Live in the U.S. in 2019), Seattle (No. 9), San Francisco (No. 7), Raleigh and Durham, North Carolina (No. 10) and Madison, Wisconsin (No. 12), have long been strong employment centers, as reflected in their rankings among the Best Places to Live 2019 list. But less expected towns, such as Portland, Maine (No. 23), and Colorado Springs, Colorado (No. 3), also earn high marks for their abundant job opportunities and substantial starting salaries. Fayetteville, Arkansas (No. 4), and Reno, Nevada (No. 33), were recently named among a list of emerging boomtowns – for places with populations under 500,000 within city limits that are experiencing strong GDP and wage growth – proving that even small towns can offer some sweet job prospects.

2. City Slicker, Country Mouse or Something In Between?

While your employment prospects might be the primary factor driving your post-graduation home search, the overall size, geography and culture of your soon-to-be hometown are also important considerations. Fortunately, the U.S. is filled with every type of environment you could want – from urban metropolis to coastal hamlet.

The country's largest metro areas, including New York, Los Angeles (No. 107) and Chicago (No. 104), offer an unbeatable appeal for those seeking vibrant diversity, lively nightlife and abundant cultural venues, all supported by sizable job markets and transit infrastructure. Meanwhile, America's small cities are often home to surprisingly hearty employment centers with a slower pace and leafier surroundings. For example, in the south, Asheville, North Carolina (No. 16), and Pensacola, Florida (No. 37), provide value and beautiful outdoor space, while out west, Santa Barbara, California (No. 73), and Salem, Oregon (No. 77), deliver coastal living and small town appeal.

3. The Price is Right

Housing and other cost of living factors can have a significant impact on your choice of residence. Who can doubt the allure of living in New York City, Seattle or San Francisco? But the fact is, those cities come with notoriously tight housing markets and expensive price tags, so you'll need to have a plan for ameliorating the higher cost of living. The plentiful shared housing options, cheap eats, public transit and year-round free cultural events found in these urban hot spots can help ease the financial strain.

On the other hand, if you'd like to have a little more cash left in your wallet each month, there are plenty of places that offer an ideal mix of affordability and high wages. In the southwest, Dallas-Fort Worth (No. 21) and Phoenix (No. 26) deliver strong value, stable job markets and big-city attractions like national sports teams, international airports and thriving nightlife scenes. For a relaxing pace and low home costs, not to mention fantastic barbecue, value-driven midwestern places like Omaha, Nebraska (No. 32), and Kansas City, Missouri (No. 49), are worth a look.

4. Nightlife, Social Life and Quality of Life

All work and no play – well, you know how the saying goes. Your newly chosen hometown should offer not just great jobs and affordability, but also some really enjoyable ways to spend your free time. Do you love the outdoors? Colorado is known for its sunny days and glorious natural beauty, so it's no surprise that both Denver (No. 2) and Colorado Springs land near the top of the Best Places to Live list. Runners have their pick of cities where social ties can be built through local running clubs, and it’s virtually free of charge. New York City has dozens of casual and competitive running clubs and a full calendar of road races. Washington, D.C. (No. 19), and Minneapolis-St. Paul (No. 6), are also repeatedly praised by runners.

Is live music your thing, either to watch or play? Then you can do no better than Austin, Texas (No. 1), and Nashville (No. 15). If art is your passion, Charleston, South Carolina (No. 45), and Cincinnati (No. 39) are among the country's best, albeit lesser known, cities for the arts and artists. Foodies, meanwhile, can do no better than San Francisco and Portland, Oregon (No. 8).

5. Getting Around Town

Studies repeatedly show that commute times have a major impact on overall quality of life and job satisfaction, so it stands to reason that factoring in transportation in a prospective home makes sense. Unless you're lucky enough to work from home or score a pad within walking distance of the office, you'll either need to drive or take public transportation to your place of work. Those who plan to be behind the wheel every day might consider Winston-Salem, North Carolina (No. 31), or Jacksonville, Florida (No. 41), both of which earn high marks in their overall combination of traffic, infrastructure and car ownership costs. Meanwhile, Grand Rapids, Michigan (No. 13), Omaha, Knoxville, Tennessee (No. 46) and Kansas City have ranked among the U.S. metro areas with the least traffic.

For those who'd prefer to live car-free, seeking out a robust public transit system is crucial. New York City has passed some important initiatives – including the nation's first congestion-pricing model – to maintain and improve its massive public transit system. While San Francisco is a challenging place to drive, it does offer an array of public transportation options that make getting around the Bay Area without a car a breeze. Same for its neighbor, San Jose, California (No. 14). The District of Columbia, Boston (No. 27) and Indianapolis (No. 38), also offer plenty of public transit options.

6. Room to Grow

Believe it or not, there will be a time when the fun, carefree life of a recent graduate begins to give way to thoughts of settling down. That may include marriage and children, or maybe even a return to school for an advanced degree. Choosing a city or town where there's room to grow and evolve through several stages of life can lend a sense of long-term stability. Will you outgrow your metro area's nightlife-driven energy or are their other cultural or educational venues available to nurture your interests? You may have never before contemplated the quality of the local school system, but if kids are in your near future, now's the time to start doing your research. Will you be ready to transition to a larger home soon? If so, does the local housing market support your next steps?

While no single city or town may tick all the boxes, taking into consideration a wide range of factors is a surefire way to find your best new home address.

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