The 25 Best Places for Young Professionals

These places offer the job market, affordability and reputation recent grads are looking for.

U.S. News & World Report

The 25 Best Places for Young Professionals

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Opportunities for recent grads

Whether they’re just out of college or several years into the workforce, young professionals are often willing to move to a new place for career opportunities and fresh experiences. To determine the Best Places for Young Professionals, we calculated the weighted average for the 150 most populous metro areas in the U.S. based on their job market, affordability and desirability scores according to data collected for the overall Best Places to Live ranking. Read on for 25 metro areas that young professionals should consider in 2020-2021.

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25. Richmond, Virginia

Best Places 2020-2021 Rank: 52
Metro Population: 1,281,530
Median Home Price: $234,383
Average Annual Salary: $51,330
Median Age: 38.7

For a relatively low cost of living and fairly strong job market, Richmond may be the right choice for you. Richmond residents spend just 22.7% of the area's median household income on housing costs. Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, Richmond’s unemployment rate was 2.9%, much lower than the national average of 3.7%. Richmond attracts young professionals (and older professionals) with job opportunities connected to the state government, including lobbying and law, as well as the health care, finance and tourism industries.

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Opportunities for recent grads

Whether they’re just out of college or several years into the workforce, young professionals are often willing to move to a new place for career opportunities and fresh experiences. To determine the Best Places for Young Professionals, we calculated the weighted average for the 150 most populous metro areas in the U.S. based on their job market, affordability and desirability scores according to data collected for the overall Best Places to Live ranking. Read on for 25 metro areas that young professionals should consider in 2020-2021.

25. Richmond, Virginia

Best Places 2020-2021 Rank: 52
Metro Population: 1,281,530
Median Home Price: $234,383
Average Annual Salary: $51,330
Median Age: 38.7

For a relatively low cost of living and fairly strong job market, Richmond may be the right choice for you. Richmond residents spend just 22.7% of the area's median household income on housing costs. Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, Richmond’s unemployment rate was 2.9%, much lower than the national average of 3.7%. Richmond attracts young professionals (and older professionals) with job opportunities connected to the state government, including lobbying and law, as well as the health care, finance and tourism industries.

24. San Diego

Best Places 2020-2021 Rank: 45
Metro Population: 3,302,833
Median Home Price: $564,092
Average Annual Salary: $58,090
Median Age: 35.6

In San Diego, young professionals can enjoy warm, sunny weather year-round. San Diego ranks No. 45 on the overall Best Places to Live list and is the sixth-most desirable place to live out of the 150 most populous metro areas in the U.S., based on a SurveyMonkey survey of 3,000 U.S. residents asking where they’d prefer to live, given the choice. Be prepared to spend a lot on housing, however. The median home price is over $500,000, and residents spend 29.36% of the median household income on housing costs, including rent or mortgage payments, property taxes and utilities.

23. San Jose, California

Best Places 2020-2021 Rank: 29
Metro Population: 1,981,616
Median Home Price: $1,024,650
Average Annual Salary: $80,480
Median Age: 37

If you’re looking for a job in the tech industry, the capital of Silicon Valley is likely already on your radar. But with a median home price of $1,024,650, expect to pay a lot for housing in and around San Jose. The high average income helps offset some of the pricey necessities, which means the cost of living requires 25.84% of the area median household income. San Jose has a higher cost of living compared with many other places on the Best Places to Live ranking, but it's not one of the most expensive.

22. Chattanooga, Tennessee

Best Places 2020-2021 Rank: 44
Metro Population: 552,043
Median Home Price: $174,667
Average Annual Salary: $43,890
Median Age: 40.2

With a median age of 40.2, Chattanooga doesn’t have the youngest population on the list, but it offers plenty of opportunities that appeal to young professionals. In particular, the Scenic City’s cost of living requires just 21.61% of the area's median household income, which makes it easier for recent grads with entry-level salaries to afford housing. The average salary in Chattanooga, at $43,890, is well below the national average of $51,960, but the median home price is just $174,667, more than $58,000 below the national median, based on data from real estate information company Zillow. The median rent in the Chattanooga area is just $802 per month, according to Zillow.

21. Fayetteville, Arkansas

Best Places 2020-2021 Rank: 8
Metro Population: 526,412
Median Home Price: $192,708
Average Annual Salary: $46,470
Median Age: 34

A high employment rate, a low cost of living and a fairly young population can make living in northwestern Arkansas the right move. The Fayetteville metro area is home to the University of Arkansas, Walmart and Tyson Foods, so many people move there for school and stay after graduation for job opportunities.

20. Fort Collins, Colorado

Best Places 2020-2021 Rank: 5
Metro Population: 338,161
Median Home Price: $381,358
Average Annual Salary: $51,050
Median Age: 35.9

The first of four Colorado metro areas to make it on the list, Fort Collins is a fast-growing area north of the more populated parts of the state like Denver and Colorado Springs. The pre-pandemic unemployment rate in Fort Collins, at 2.36%, was the second-lowest out of the 150 most populous metro areas in the U.S., with major employers including Colorado State University, Hewlett Packard Enterprises and New Belgium Brewing Co.

19. Minneapolis-St. Paul

Best Places 2020-2021 Rank: 22
Metro Population: 3,557,528
Median Home Price: $237,367
Average Annual Salary: $57,420
Median Age: 36.9

The Twin Cities take the No. 22 spot on the overall Best Places to Live list and require just 21.26% of the area's median household income to cover housing costs. The job market in the Minneapolis-St. Paul area is strong, with an average annual salary more than $5,000 above the national average of $51,960 and a pre-pandemic unemployment rate of just 3%.

18. Dallas-Fort Worth

Best Places 2020-2021 Rank: 24
Metro Population: 7,255,028
Median Home Price: $255,033
Average Annual Salary: $52,590
Median Age: 34.7

The largest metro area on this list, Dallas-Fort Worth holds the No. 24 spot on the overall Best Places to Live ranking. Dallas-Fort Worth’s highest score is for its population growth, having increased by 4.84% between 2014 and 2018 due to net migration. For such a large city and surrounding metro area, Dallas-Fort Worth also manages to stay affordable – residents spend just 22.65% of the median household income on housing expenses.

17. Des Moines, Iowa

Best Places 2020-2021 Rank: 7
Metro Population: 634,201
Median Home Price: $196,067
Average Annual Salary: $52,220
Median Age: 35.8

Taking the No. 7 spot in the overall Best Places to Live ranking, Des Moines has a cost of living that requires just 19.77% of the median annual household income. Des Moines is the third-most affordable place out of the 150 most populous metro areas in the U.S., after Huntsville, Alabama, and Fort Wayne, Indiana. The area is also growing steadily, with the population increasing by 4.41% between 2014 and 2018 due to net migration.

16. Portland, Maine

Best Places 2020-2021 Rank: 19
Metro Population: 529,323
Median Home Price: $292,250
Average Annual Salary: $51,260
Median Age: 43.5

Major employers in Portland include Maine Medical Center and L.L. Bean, which is headquartered in nearby Freeport, though you may find yourself drawn to small-business opportunities in retail, tourism or even fishing along Portland's waterfront. The pre-pandemic unemployment rate in Portland was 2.44%, the fifth-lowest out of the 150 most populous metro areas in the U.S. Portland residents spend 23.35% of the median household income on housing costs.

15. Honolulu

Best Places 2020-2021 Rank: 71
Metro Population: 987,638
Median Home Price: $581,658
Average Annual Salary: $54,870
Median Age: 37.6

Many people may dream of making Honolulu their home, but it may be more possible than they think. Honolulu is ranked the No. 1 most desirable metro area out of the 150 most populous metro areas in the U.S. (tied with Colorado Springs, Colorado, and Los Angeles) for its tropical weather, world-famous beaches and reputation as an ideal vacation spot. Aside from the flourishing tourism industry, Honolulu also has major employers in health care and defense, as U.S. Army and Air Force bases are located on Oahu.

14. Raleigh and Durham, North Carolina

Best Places 2020-2021 Rank: 11
Metro Population: 1,861,123
Median Home Price: $259,429
Average Annual Salary: $54,789
Median Age: 36.7

Well-known for the universities located in the metro area, including Duke University, University of North Carolina—Chapel Hill and North Carolina State University, Raleigh and Durham have plenty of recent grads familiar with the area and jobs aplenty in education and research. The area’s cost of living also helps attract young professionals, since just 21.28% of the median household income is needed to cover housing costs.

13. Washington, D.C.

Best Places 2020-2021 Rank: 30
Metro Population: 6,138,382
Median Home Price: $392,308
Average Annual Salary: $70,980
Median Age: 36.8

While plenty of Washington, D.C., residents work on Capitol Hill and for the federal government, the area is also home to major employers in health care, education, insurance, financial services and tourism. With an average annual salary of $70,980 – $19,000 above the national average – and a pre-pandemic unemployment rate of 3.1%, the District of Columbia has the fifth-strongest job market out of the 150 metro areas in the Best Places to Live ranking.

12. Houston

Best Places 2020-2021 Rank: 27
Metro Population: 6,779,104
Median Home Price: $224,408
Average Annual Salary: $54,290
Median Age: 34.2

Whether it’s for job opportunities in the oil and gas industry, technology, manufacturing or aerospace engineering, Houston draws new people to the area for work and personal reasons. The jobs alone aren’t necessarily why people stay, though – Houston ranks 16th out of the 150 metro areas on the list for desirability. The relatively low cost of living also appeals to many, as residents spend 22.81% of the median household income on housing.

11. Austin, Texas

Best Places 2020-2021 Rank: 3
Metro Population: 2,058,351
Median Home Price: $313,308
Average Annual Salary: $53,810
Median Age: 34.4

The capital of Texas has evolved in the last couple decades into a major tech hub, as companies and venture capitalists have sought a more affordable alternative to Silicon Valley. As a result, Austin is well-known for the number of young professionals moving to the area, which significantly contributes to the metro area’s median age of just 34.4. Its population increased by 8.17% between 2014 and 2018 due to net migration alone, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

10. Huntsville, Alabama

Best Places 2020-2021 Rank: 15
Metro Population: 450,612
Median Home Price: $179,175
Average Annual Salary: $54,630
Median Age: 38.7

The major industries in Huntsville revolve around aerospace and defense, as the area is home to NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center and the U.S. Army Redstone Arsenal. This northern Alabama metro area is also the most affordable place to live out of the 150 most populous metro areas in the U.S., with residents spending just 19.16% of the median annual household income on housing costs.

9. Boston

Best Places 2020-2021 Rank: 18
Metro Population: 4,811,732
Median Home Price: $441,358
Average Annual Salary: $67,370
Median Age: 38.7

Ranking No. 18 on the overall Best Places to Live list, Boston is home to major higher education institutions such as Harvard University, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Boston University and Boston College, bringing more than 300,000 college students to the area each year. But Beantown also manages to retain graduates and attract young professionals. With health care, education, tourism and hospitality as major industries, Boston has the third-strongest job market out of the 150 most populous metro areas in the U.S.

8. Nashville, Tennessee

Best Places 2020-2021 Rank: 17
Metro Population: 1,864,138
Median Home Price: $263,625
Average Annual Salary: $48,370
Median Age: 36.4

Nashville takes the No. 17 spot on the overall Best Places to Live ranking, and ranks 13th for desirability. With strong health care and health care technology industries, Nashville is attracting plenty of new residents to the area: The population grew by 5.55% from 2014 to 2018 due to net migration, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Even with a growing population, Nashville’s pre-pandemic unemployment rate, at 2.6%, was more than a full percentage point lower than the national average.

7. Seattle

Best Places 2020-2021 Rank: 13
Metro Population: 3,809,717
Median Home Price: $463,600
Average Annual Salary: $65,400
Median Age: 37

The Seattle metro area is home to major U.S. employers such as Microsoft, Amazon and Boeing. But jobs in successful and high-paying sectors aren’t the only thing drawing people to Seattle. With easy access to the Puget Sound, national parks and national forests, there’s no shortage of outdoor activities, lending to Seattle’s spot as the 12th-most desirable place out of the 150 most populous metro areas in the U.S.

6. Charlotte, North Carolina

Best Places 2020-2021 Rank: 6
Metro Population: 2,473,125
Median Home Price: $231,233
Average Annual Salary: $51,000
Median Age: 37.3

Home to major players in the financial industry, including Bank of America, Charlotte has a median annual salary in line with the national average of $51,960. Charlotte is growing steadily, as its population increased by 5.83% between 2014 and 2018 due to net migration alone, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. As a result, new construction in the area has been consistent over the past few years, with more retail stores and restaurants attracting downtown visitors.

5. Portland, Oregon

Best Places 2020-2021 Rank: 9
Metro Population: 2,417,931
Median Home Price: $390,350
Average Annual Salary: $56,160
Median Age: 37.9

Fifth on the list of best places to live for young professionals is Portland, which also ranks fourth out of the 150 most populous metro areas in the U.S. for desirability. Portland has long been a destination for people seeking an area with an offbeat personality, and local residents are happy to Keep Portland Weird. Intel Corp., Nike and Providence Health & Services call the Portland metro area home, which helps keep the average annual salary in Portland, $56,160, above the national average.

4. Denver

Best Places 2020-2021 Rank: 2
Metro Population: 2,850,221
Median Home Price: $401,542
Average Annual Salary: $59,440
Median Age: 36.4

Another hot spot for young professionals seeking jobs as well as outdoor pursuits, Denver is the ninth-most desirable place out of the 150 metro areas in the ranking. The high average annual salary of $59,440 and low pre-pandemic unemployment rate of 2.7% make for a strong job market. Although Denver’s cost of living has increased over the last few years, residents spend 23.4% of the median annual household income on housing, on par with the national median of 23.35%.

3. Colorado Springs

Best Places 2020-2021 Rank: 4
Metro Population: 712,266
Median Home Price: $304,500
Average Annual Salary: $51,430
Median Age: 34.5

Ranking No. 4 on the overall Best Places to Live list, Colorado Springs takes the No. 3 spot for young professionals. Colorado Springs ranks first for desirability out of the 150 most populous metro areas in the U.S., maintains a relatively low cost of living and has an average annual salary on par with the national average. While Colorado Springs saw a population increase of 3.85% from 2014 to 2018 due to net migration, the slower growth compared to other parts of the U.S. helps to keep the cost of living at 23.51% of the area median household income.

2. San Francisco

Best Places 2020-2021 Rank: 10
Metro Population: 4,673,221
Median Home Price: $782,350
Average Annual Salary: $72,400
Median Age: 38.8

As the seventh-most desirable place to live out of the 150 most populous metro areas in the U.S., the City by the Bay is a top destination for many young professionals. San Francisco has some of the highest housing prices in the U.S., however, with a median home price of $782,350, according to Zillow data. Still, a high average salary of $72,400, more than $20,000 above the national average, helps offset the high cost of living.

1. Boulder, Colorado

Best Places 2020-2021 Rank: 1
Metro Population: 321,030
Median Home Price: $524,417
Average Annual Salary: $64,690
Median Age: 36.2

Ranking No. 1 on the overall Best Places to Live list, Boulder is also the best place to live for young professionals for 2020-2021. Located at the base of the foothills of the Rocky Mountains, Boulder offers proximity to breathtaking outdoor views and activities that many crave, while also maintaining a job market that many young professionals seek when moving to a new city. Boulder’s average annual salary is more than $12,000 above the national average, and its pre-pandemic unemployment was the lowest of the 150 most populous metro areas in the U.S., at 2.35%.

The Best Places to Live for Young Professionals are:

  • Boulder, Colorado.
  • San Francisco.
  • Colorado Springs, Colorado.
  • Denver.
  • Portland, Oregon.
  • Charlotte, North Carolina.
  • Seattle.
  • Nashville, Tennessee.
  • Boston.
  • Huntsville, Alabama.
  • Austin, Texas.
  • Houston.
  • Washington, D.C.
  • Raleigh and Durham, North Carolina.
  • Honolulu.
  • Portland, Maine.
  • Des Moines, Iowa.
  • Dallas-Fort Worth.
  • Minneapolis-St. Paul.
  • Fort Collins, Colorado.
  • Fayetteville, Arkansas.
  • Chattanooga, Tennessee.
  • San Jose, California.
  • San Diego.
  • Richmond, Virginia.
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Updated on Nov. 19, 2020: This story was published at an earlier date and has been updated with new information.