The Best Places to Live in the U.S. for Young Professionals

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

By Devon Thorsby, Editor, Real Estate |Jan. 25, 2019, at 5:27 p.m.

The Best Places to Live in the U.S. for Young Professionals

Slideshow

Which places provide opportunities for recent grads?

The beautiful City of Colorado Springs in the middle of summer

(Getty Images)

When it comes to finding a new hometown, the needs of a parent or retiree can vary widely from those of a recent college grad. Young professionals, whether they’re just out of college or several years into the workforce, are typically more willing to move to a new place both for career options and fresh experiences. To determine the Best Places to Live for Young Professionals, we calculated the weighted average for the 125 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 the 25 strongest metro areas for young professionals.

25. Charlotte, North Carolina

25. Charlotte, North Carolina

A foggy and colorful sunrise in Charlotte, North Carolina during the morning rush hour traffic.

(Getty Images)

Best Places 2018 Rank: 22
Metro Population: 2,381,152
Median Home Price: $200,942
Median Annual Salary: $49,600
Median Age: 37.1

Home to major players in the financial industry, including Bank of America's headquarters, Charlotte has a median annual salary in line with the national average of $49,630. Charlotte is also growing quickly, as its population increased by 6.64 percent between 2012 and 2016 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, encouraging more retail stores and restaurants to attract downtown visitors.

24. Atlanta

24. Atlanta

Atlanta, Georgia downtown aerial view.

(Getty Images)

Best Places 2018 Rank: 47
Metro Population: 5,612,777
Median Home Price: $192,892
Median Annual Salary: $50,720
Median Age: 35.9

Recent grads looking for Southern culture but not wanting to sacrifice big-city amenities need look no further than Atlanta. Residents of the ATL, which originates from its airport code, earn more than those in many parts of the U.S., with a median annual salary of $50,720. Their money goes even further when it comes to housing, as the median home price is $30,000 below the national median of $222,408.

23. Indianapolis

23. Indianapolis

Downtown Indianapolis skyline at twilight

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Best Places 2018 Rank: 55
Metro Population: 1,968,768
Median Home Value: $161,600*
Median Annual Salary: $46,840
Median Age: 36.1

Indianapolis residents benefit from a cost of living not found many other places. Just 24.75 percent of the median annual household income is required to cover median mortgage or rent costs, combined with property taxes and utilities. While the metro area doesn’t rank as highly in desirability as other places on this list – according to a Google Consumer Survey that asked 2,000 U.S. residents where they would prefer to live – an unemployment rate of just 3.3 percent adds some serious appeal for recent grads.

(*Median home price for Indianapolis was not available, so median home value is listed.)

22. San Antonio

22. San Antonio

San Antonio Texas skyline cityscape aerial panorama

(Getty Images)

Best Places 2018 Rank: 14
Metro Population: 2,332,345
Median Home Price: $200,667
Median Annual Salary: $45,210
Median Age: 34.4

Ranking No. 14 on the overall Best Places to Live list, San Antonio is the 24th-most desirable place to live out of the 125 most populous metro areas in the U.S. With a median age of just 34.4, the metro area skews younger than most places on the list, plus residents have more money to spend on other activities, as just 27.5 percent of the median household income is needed for housing costs.

21. Fort Wayne, Indiana

21. Fort Wayne, Indiana

Downtown Fort Wayne, Indiana Skyline, including Allen County Courthouse.

(Getty Images)

Best Places 2018 Rank: 40
Metro Population: 426,755
Median Home Price: $135,500
Median Annual Salary: $42,250
Median Age: 36.3

Fort Wayne is the second-most affordable place to live out of the 125 most populous metro areas in the U.S., as just 22.86 percent of the median annual household income is needed to cover housing costs. An active manufacturing industry with major employers that include General Motors, BAE Systems and Steel Dynamics help keep the Fort Wayne metro area's unemployment rate low at just 3.3 percent.

(*Median home price for Fort Wayne was not available, so median home value is listed.)

20. Madison, Wisconsin

20. Madison, Wisconsin

Madison, WI, USA - July 29, 2015: View of State street looking towards the State Capitol building in Madison Wisconsin

(Getty Images)

Best Places 2018 Rank: 16
Metro Population: 634,269
Median Home Price: $238,375
Median Annual Salary: $50,830
Median Age: 35.9

Madison ranks No. 16 on the overall Best Places to Live list. With major employers in health care, technology and higher education, Madison residents see a median annual salary just above the national average at $50,830. It also helps that to cover the cost of living, Madison residents pay just 26.69 percent of the median household income.

19. Raleigh and Durham, North Carolina

19. Raleigh and Durham, North Carolina

Raleigh, North Carolina, USA downtown city skyline.

(Getty Images)

Best Places 2018 Rank: 13
Metro Population: 1,786,119
Median Home Price: $227,814
Median Annual Salary: $52,669
Median Age: 36.2

Best known for the universities located in the metro area – 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, as just 25.38 percent of the median household income is needed to cover housing.

18. San Jose, California

18. San Jose, California

Mixed-use european style buildings of the upscale Santa Row shopping district in San Jose, California.

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Best Places 2018 Rank: 17
Metro Population: 1,943,107
Median Home Price: $932,108
Median Annual Salary: $78,990
Median Age: 36.8

If you’re looking for a job in the tech industry, the capital of Silicon Valley is likely already on your radar. With a median home price of $932,108, expect to pay a lot for housing in and around San Jose. The high income compared to the rest of the U.S. does offset some of the pricey necessities, but residents spend 30.74 percent of the median household income on housing costs, which is a larger share compared to most other places on the Best Places to Live for Young Professionals list.

17. Anchorage, Alaska

17. Anchorage, Alaska

Anchorage Alaska downtown skyline.

(Getty Images)

Best Places 2018 Rank: 42
Metro Population: 398,000
Median Home Price: $325,500*
Median Annual Salary: $57,770
Median Age: 33.3

If maximum access to outdoor activities and long winters sound appealing, consider Anchorage, which ranks No. 42 on the overall Best Places to Live list. Housing costs may be steep compared to many metro areas in the Lower 48, but with a higher median annual household income, just 26.08 percent of it is needed to cover housing costs. Residents should expect higher prices for groceries as well, since most goods have to be shipped from the contiguous U.S.

(*Median home price for Anchorage was not available, so median home value is listed.)

16. Des Moines, Iowa

16. Des Moines, Iowa

Des Moines, Iowa skyline from the summer of 2013. Taken from the Mercy Holiday Inn

(Getty Images)

Best Places 2018 Rank: 4
Metro Population: 611,755
Median Home Price: $181,217
Median Annual Salary: $49,420
Median Age: 35.6

Ranking No. 4 on the overall Best Places to Live list, Des Moines comes in as the No. 16 Best Place to Live for Young Professionals. With a cost of living that requires just 23.52 percent of the median annual household income, Des Moines is the third-most affordable place out of the 125 most populous metro areas in the U.S. And the area is growing quickly, with the population increasing by 5.17 percent between 2012 and 2016 due to net migration.

15. Phoenix

15. Phoenix

Phoenix Arizona with its downtown lit by the last rays of sun at the dusk.

(Getty Images)

Best Places 2018 Rank: 19
Metro Population: 4,486,153
Median Home Price: $235,333
Median Annual Salary: $47,540
Median Age: 36

Ranking No. 12 out of the 125 most populous metro areas in the U.S. for desirability, the Phoenix area is aptly nicknamed the Valley of the Sun for its year-round hot, sunny climate. Phoenix attracts many looking to work in tourism, tech or financial services, all of which are major industries in the area. Phoenix residents spend 28.37 percent of the median annual household income on housing costs.

14. San Diego

14. San Diego

Cheap beach vacations

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Best Places 2018 Rank: 30
Metro Population: 3,253,356
Median Home Price: $521,067
Median Annual Salary: $55,480
Median Age: 35.3

Phoenix isn’t the only top metro area for young professionals that offers plenty of warm, sunny weather. San Diego ranks No. 30 on the overall Best Places to Live list and is the third-most desirable place to live out of the 125 most populous metro areas in the U.S. The consistently good weather comes at a cost, however: The median home price is over $500,000, and residents spend 35.09 percent of the median annual household income on housing costs.

13. Huntsville, Alabama

13. Huntsville, Alabama

Downtown Huntsville, Alabama on a sunny day.

(Getty Images)

Best Places 2018 Rank: 7
Metro Population: 440,230
Median Home Price: $163,100*
Median Annual Salary: $52,960
Median Age: 38.3

The major industries in Huntsville center around aerospace and defense, as the area is home to NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center and the U.S. Army Redstone Arsenal. The northern Alabama metro area is also the most affordable place to live out of the 125 most populous metro areas in the U.S., with residents spending just 22.56 percent of the median annual household income on housing costs.

(*Median home price for Huntsville was not available, so median home value is listed.)

12. Salt Lake City

12. Salt Lake City

Morning orange sky over Salt lake city utah

(Getty Images)

Best Places 2018 Rank: 15
Metro Population: 2,361,981
Median Home Price: $280,894
Median Annual Salary: $46,221
Median Age: 30

Salt Lake City’s role in the tech industry, specifically with analytics data, has been on the rise in the past decade, adding to other major industries in the area such as trade, transportation and health care. Of course, many people who choose to move to Salt Lake City are attracted by the outdoor activities the area has to offer, with several ski resorts located relatively close and 12 national parks and monuments within a five-hour drive.

11. Boston

11. Boston

Waterfront of Boston, Massachusetts. Composite stitched image.

(Getty Images)

Best Places 2018 Rank: 25
Metro Population: 4,728,844
Median Home Price: $399,458
Median Annual Salary: $64,080
Median Age: 38.7

Ranking No. 25 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 those graduates and attract more young professionals. With health care, education, tourism and hospitality as major industries, Boston has the fourth-strongest job market out of the 125 most populous metro areas in the U.S.

10. Minneapolis-St. Paul

10. Minneapolis-St. Paul

City view of Minneapolis by the 3rd Avenue Bridge

(Getty Images)

Best Places 2018 Rank: 9
Metro Population: 3,488,436
Median Home Price: $237,367
Median Annual Salary: $55,010
Median Age: 36.7

The Twin Cities take the No. 9 spot on the overall Best Places to Live list and are also the ninth-most affordable metro area out of the 125 most populous in the U.S. Minneapolis-St. Paul residents spend just 25.06 percent of the median annual household income on housing costs. The job market in the area is also strong, with a median annual salary about $6,000 above the national average and an unemployment rate of just 3.3 percent.

9. Honolulu

9. Honolulu

Cityscape of Waikiki, Honolulu, Oahu Island, Hawaii

(iStock/Getty Images)

Best Places 2018 Rank: 35
Metro Population: 986,999
Median Home Price: $581,658
Median Annual Salary: $51,080
Median Age: 37.4

Many people may dream of making Honolulu their home, but making it a reality may be more possible than they think. Ranked the fourth-most desirable metro area out of the 125 most populous metro areas in the U.S. for its tropical weather, world-famous beaches and reputation as an ideal vacation spot, the Honolulu area also has an unemployment rate of just 2.4 percent. The Hawaiian location has a flourishing tourism industry, and it also has major employers in health care and defense, as U.S. Army and Air Force bases are located on Oahu.

8. Nashville, Tennessee

8. Nashville, Tennessee

The Nashville Tennessee Skyline at sunset

(Getty Images)

Best Places 2018 Rank: 11
Metro Population: 1,794,570
Median Home Price: $236,267
Median Annual Salary: $45,780
Median Age: 36.3

Nashville ranks No. 11 on both the overall Best Places to Live list and for its desirability. With strong health care and health care technology industries, Nashville is already attracting plenty of new residents to the area. In fact, the population grew by 6.7 percent from 2012 to 2016 based on net migration. Even with the sizable population growth, unemployment remains low at 3 percent for the Nashville metro area.

7. San Francisco

7. San Francisco

Row of historic houses in San Francisco, California.

(Getty Images)

Best Places 2018 Rank: 20
Metro Population: 4,577,530
Median Home Price: $790,233
Median Annual Salary: $69,110
Median Age: 38.7

As the seventh-most desirable place to live out of the 125 most populous metro areas in the U.S., the City by the Bay is a top destination for many young professionals. San Francisco is one of the priciest places in the U.S. However, with the second-strongest job market in the U.S., after only Bay Area neighbor San Jose, and a median annual salary of more than $69,000, the relative cost of living in San Francisco is still high, but it's not crippling. Residents spend 31.82 percent of the median annual household income on housing.

6. Washington, D.C.

6. Washington, D.C.

Washington Monument and Reflecting Pool, Washington DC, USA

(Getty Images)

Best Places 2018 Rank: 8
Metro Population: 6,011,752
Median Home Price: $368,642
Median Annual Salary: $68,000
Median Age: 36.5

The most populous metro area out of the 25 Best Places to Live for Young Professionals, the District of Columbia is best known for being the nation’s capital. While plenty of Washington residents work on Capitol Hill and for the federal government, the area is home to major employers in health care, education, insurance, financial services and tourism. With a median annual salary of $68,000 – $19,000 above the national average – and an unemployment rate of 3.7 percent, the District of Columbia has the third-strongest job market out of the 125 places on the Best Places to Live list.

5. Seattle

5. Seattle

Seattle, Washington during the commuting hour with the downtown area and Century Link field, home of the NFL football Seahawks, on the left.

(Getty Images)

Best Places 2018 Rank: 10
Metro Population: 3,671,095
Median Home Price: $403,650
Median Annual Salary: $61,170
Median Age: 37.1

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 of the workforce aren’t the only thing drawing people to Seattle. With easy access to the Puget Sound and Mount Rainier in the Cascade Range, there’s no shortage of outdoor activities, lending to Seattle’s spot as the fifth-most desirable place out of the 125 most populous metro areas in the U.S.

4. Austin, Texas

4. Austin, Texas

Austin, Texas is the best place to travel alone

(Getty Images)

Best Places 2018 Rank: 1
Metro Population: 1,942,615
Median Home Price: $278,608
Median Annual Salary: $50,830
Median Age: 33.9

The capital of Texas has evolved in the last decade to become a major tech hub, as companies and venture capitalists have sought a more affordable alternative to Silicon Valley. As a result, Austin has become known for the number of millennials moving to the area, which significantly contributes to the metro area's median age of just 33.9.

3. Denver

3. Denver

Denver Colorado downtown with City Park

(Getty Images)

Best Places 2018 Rank: 3
Metro Population: 2,752,056
Median Home Price: $362,492
Median Annual Salary: $55,910
Median Age: 36.2

Another millennial hot spot, Denver is the 10th-most desirable place out of the 125 metro areas considered. The high median annual salary of $55,910 and low unemployment rate at 2.6 percent make for a strong job market. Although Denver’s cost of living has increased over the last few years, residents still pay just 26.88 percent of the median annual household income on housing.

2. Portland, Oregon

2. Portland, Oregon

Portland, Oregon is one of the best couples vacations

(Getty Images)

Best Places 2018 Rank: 6
Metro Population: 2,351,319
Median Home Price: $349,675
Median Annual Salary: $53,960
Median Age: 37.6

Second on the list of Best Places to Live for Young Professionals is Portland, which also ranks second out of the 125 metro areas 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 all call the Portland metro area home, which helps keep the unemployment rate at just 3.8 percent.

1. Colorado Springs

1. Colorado Springs

A view of Downtown Colorado Springs in front of Pikes Peak in the winter.

(Getty Images)

Best Places 2018 Rank: 2
Metro Population: 688,643
Median Home Price: $255,233
Median Annual Salary: $49,450
Median Age: 34.3

Ranking No. 2 on the overall Best Places to Live list, Colorado Springs takes the top spot for young professionals. Colorado Springs ranks first for desirability out of the 125 most populous metro areas in the U.S., maintains a low cost of living and has a median annual salary right around the national average. While Colorado Springs is growing – seeing its population increase 3.84 percent from 2012 to 2016 due to net migration – the slower growth compared to other parts of the U.S. helps to keep the cost of living below 27 percent of the median annual household income.

The Best Places to Live for Young Professionals

The Best Places to Live for Young Professionals

(Getty Images)

The top spots for young professionals in the U.S. include:

  • Colorado Springs, Colorado
  • Portland, Oregon
  • Denver
  • Austin, Texas
  • Washington, D.C.
  • Nashville, Tennessee
  • Honolulu
  • Minneapolis-St. Paul
  • Boston
  • Salt Lake City

Read More

Devon Thorsby is the Real Estate editor at U.S. News & World Report, where she writes consumer-focused articles about the homebuying and selling process, home improvement, tenant rights and the state of the housing market.

She has appeared in media interviews across the U.S. including National Public Radio, WTOP (Washington, D.C.) and KOH (Reno, Nevada) and various print publications, as well as having served on panels discussing real estate development, city planning policy and homebuilding.

Previously, she served as a researcher of commercial real estate transactions and information, and is currently a member of the National Association of Real Estate Editors. Thorsby studied Political Science at the University of Michigan, where she also served as a news reporter and editor for the student newspaper The Michigan Daily. Follow her on Twitter or write to her at dthorsby@usnews.com.

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