New Articles
  March 13th, 2021 | Written by

Best-Paying Cities for Recent College Grads

[shareaholic app="share_buttons" id="13106399"]

As college education costs climb higher, landing a well-paying job after graduation is even more important than ever before. Over half of young adults who attended college incurred some debt, with typical levels of student loans in the range of $20,000 to $25,000 post-graduation. According to the latest data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), median earnings for recent college graduates working full-time is approximately $50,000 per year. However, the number varies widely by city, college major, and occupation, among other factors.

The good news is that while the median wage for recent graduates (adjusted for inflation) has fluctuated over the last several decades, the number hit a new peak last year, climbing by nearly $4,500 from 2019 to 2020. What’s concerning is that the $50,000 annual wage figure for 2020 is from survey data collected in March of last year, so it does not adequately reflect the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. College graduates seeking employment last spring faced the worst job market since the Great Depression, and it remains to be seen how wages will be affected in the coming years.

Attaining a bachelor’s degree boosts earning potential by a large margin—median annual earnings of recent college graduates is about $20,000 more than workers of the same age with only a high school diploma. However, some fields of study pay off much more than others. The highest-paying majors for recent college graduates are computer science and several types of engineering degrees, such as chemical, computer, and electrical. Median earnings for recent graduates within these majors is $70,000 per year, or about 40 percent higher than the typical graduate.

While academic major is one of the strongest predictors of earnings post-graduation, so too is location. Additionally, large differences in cost of living across locations affect how comfortable it is to live on a given wage and how easy it is to pay off loans. At the state level, recent graduates working full-time in North Dakota and Montana have the highest median earnings after adjusting for cost of living, at $53,751 and $51,337, respectively. Despite being one of the lowest-cost states to live in, New Mexico also reports the lowest cost-of-living adjusted median wage for full-time recent graduates, at just $36,224 per year.

To find the best-paying metropolitan areas for recent college graduates, researchers at Self analyzed the latest earnings data from the U.S. Census Bureau and cost of living data from the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis. The researchers ranked metro areas according to the cost-of-living adjusted median earnings for full-time working college graduates aged 22 to 27 with a bachelor’s degree only. Researchers also calculated the unadjusted median earnings for recent graduates and the recent college graduate proportion of the population. Only the 50 largest metropolitan areas were included in the analysis.

Here are the best-paying U.S. metros for recent college graduates.

Metro Rank   Median earnings for recent college grads (adjusted)    Median earnings for recent college grads (actual)    Recent college grad proportion of the total population    Cost of living


San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara, CA     1      $56,827 $72,000 3.3% 26.7% above average
St. Louis, MO-IL     2      $53,274 $48,000 2.1% 9.9% below average
Kansas City, MO-KS     3      $52,802 $49,000 2.3% 7.2% below average
Pittsburgh, PA     4      $52,706 $48,700 2.8% 7.6% below average
Detroit-Warren-Dearborn, MI     5      $52,466 $50,000 2.1% 4.7% below average
Cleveland-Elyria, OH     6      $52,280 $47,000 2.1% 10.1% below average
San Francisco-Oakland-Hayward, CA     7      $52,045 $70,000 3.4% 34.5% above average
Columbus, OH     8      $51,856 $47,500 2.7% 8.4% below average
Dallas-Fort Worth-Arlington, TX     9      $49,407 $50,000 2.3% 1.2% above average
Austin-Round Rock, TX     10      $49,345 $49,000 3.2% 0.7% below average
Houston-The Woodlands-Sugar Land, TX     11      $49,164 $50,000 1.9% 1.7% above average
Providence-Warwick, RI-MA     12      $48,853 $49,000 2.5% 0.3% above average
Chicago-Naperville-Elgin, IL-IN-WI     13      $48,638 $50,000 2.8% 2.8% above average
Minneapolis-St. Paul-Bloomington, MN-WI     14      $48,591 $50,000 3.0% 2.9% above average
Cincinnati, OH-KY-IN     15      $48,565 $44,000 2.4% 9.4% below average
United States     –      N/A $45,000 2.1% Average


For more information, a detailed methodology, and complete results, you can find the original report on Self Financial’s website: