Laura Berlinsky-Schine

Where should you live after you graduate or leave your childhood town or city? Sure, New York and San Francisco seem like great places to live for young people, but they’re also some of the most expensive cities in the country. (Not to knock them, of course; I live in New York and love it, but it’s a tradeoff.) When you’re considering where to live as a millennial or a gen Zer, you’ll take into account factors like cost of living, average entry-level salary, city culture, presence of other young people in the area and other factors.

To that end, we’ve rounded up some of the best cities for young professionals. Keep reading to learn more about opportunities, top industries and more.

10 best cities for young professionals

1. Denver, CO

SmartAsset ranks the city 20th for job diversity and commends its wide range of industries available. It also notes that nearly 23% of Denver’s population is between the ages of 25 and 34, with a more than 89% employment rate among these young professionals. Industries range from aerospace, tech and bioscience to outdoor activities and recreation. That last one is no surprise, give the much-hyped skiing and hiking opportunities. 

ZipRecruiter reports an average entry-level salary of $32,826/year, while the cost of living is just 12% higher than average, according to PayScale.

2. Cambridge, MA

Just outside of Boston, Cambridge has a similar feel to its more urban counterpart. It’s home to some of the nation’s top colleges and universities, including Harvard and MIT, and many graduates stay in the city to live and work. 

The cost of living is a somewhat steep 74% higher than the national average, but entry-level professionals have an average salary of $60,725, much higher than the average entry-level salary across the United States of $39,444.

3. Seattle, WA

Home to Amazon and many other businesses in the tech sector and beyond, Seattle is known for its lively culinary and coffee scene. Young professionals flock to neighborhoods like Capitol Hill to take advantage of the sites, restaurants and bars. 

The cost of living is 49% higher than the national average, while the average entry-level salary is $43,463. 

4. Berkeley

If you love the Bay Area but prefer something a little quieter than San Francisco, Berkeley is one of the best cities for young professionals. Although it’s a suburb, it still retains a somewhat urban feel and is just outside the city. Many graduates of UC Berkeley stay in the area, the university attracts professionals across numerous industries. 

The cost of living, unfortunately, is on par with San Francisco, at 80% higher than the national average. Meanwhile, the average entry-level salary, according to ZipRecruiter, is $36,420.

5. Nashville, TN

Known for its music scene, Nashville’s opportunities extend far beyond entertainment. Top industries including technology manufacturing, finance, health care, education and tourism. Not only is it one of the best cities for young professionals, but it’s affordable to live there — 3% lower than the national average. The average entry-level salary is $31,680, according to ZipRecruiter.

6. Charlotte, NC

Another relatively affordable option with a cost of living on par with Nashville is Charlotte. The southern city is known for its charm, as well as its impressive bar and culinary scene. Residents also praise the picturesque views. The city is also home to 25 colleges and universities, bringing plenty of employment and education opportunities. It has an average entry-level salary of $35,381, according to Glassdoor. 

7. Chicago, IL

The largest city in the Midwest, Chicago is great choice for young professionals, with an impressive bar and restaurant scene and plenty of job opportunities across industries such as publishing, energy, biotech, finance and food manufacturing.

The cost of living is 23% higher than the national every, and entry-level professional can expect to earn an average starting salary of $33,379.

8. Austin, TX 

Home to University of Texas’ flagship campus, Austin offers opportunities in education, as well as industries including tech and life sciences. Residents enjoy the music, parks, restaurants, shopping and nightlife.

The average entry-level salary is $31,635, but your money will go a long way, given that the cost of living is 3% lower than the national average.

9. Columbus, OH

Columbus offers a rapidly-growing tech industry, as well as numerous opportunities at Ohio State University, one of the largest college campuses in the U.S. (currently, it’s ranked third in size, behind the University of Central Florida and Texas A&M University). Columbus also has many parks, museums, nightlife and more.

You’ll get plenty of bang for your buck, too: the cost of living is 10% lower than the national average. The average entry-level salary is $47,513, according to Glassdoor.

10. Washington, DC

The nation’s capital is certainly one of the best cities for young professionals. With a cost of living that is 39% higher than the national average, it’s not cheap, but compared with cities like New York, it’s fairly affordable. The average entry-level salary is $47,513, much higher than the U.S. average. Plus, you’ll have access to culture galore, from the free-entry Smithsonian museums to national landmarks like the Lincoln Memorial and Washington Monument — and many, many others. 

When people think of Washington, DC, government jobs are probably the first thing that comes to mind, and while it’s true that there are plenty, industries like education, law, healthcare and tourism are also booming.

These are just a few of the best cities for young professionals in the U.S. When you’re considering where to start your “adult life,” you’ll want to think about your budget, your desired industry, climate and weather, your personal likes and dislikes, the culture and more. There are numerous opportunities for young people throughout the country; keep in mind that wherever you start won’t necessarily be your forever home, either, so don’t overthink it. Chances are, you’ll thrive wherever you end up, and if you don’t, you can always set up shop elsewhere.


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