The best cities for launching your career

Ready to make that big transition from college kid to working adult? Bankrate has great information and tools to help you get your professional life off to a strong start. We've ranked 100 of the largest cities to show you the top launching pads for a lucrative career, based on important factors including pay levels; the availability of jobs; opportunities for advancement; and quality-of-life stuff like weather, crime and even whether there are lots of bars and restaurants.

Top towns for grads

10 best and 10 tough cities to start a career

Hover over our top 10 and bottom 10 cities on the map above to see their profiles, then check out how all 100 cities ranked in each category on the chart below.

How major cities rank as career launching pads
Overall City Social opportunities Job prospects Pay potential Career advancement Quality of life
1 New York 1 94 6 1 14
2 Los Angeles 2 92 26 2 6
3 San Francisco 10 78 2 5 1
4 Washington, D.C. 4 40 4 3 57
5 San Jose, CA 31 80 1 9 2
6 Boston 9 30 3 6 19
7 Chicago 3 54 15 4 33
8 Seattle 13 53 5 11 9
9 Dallas 5 31 21 8 93
10 Philadelphia 7 73 12 7 87
11 Houston 6 55 13 10 100
12 Minneapolis-St. Paul 14 4 11 13 79
13 Denver 17 11 14 17 12
14 Baltimore 22 45 10 14 57
15 Anchorage, AK 27 50 9 27 24
16 Boulder, CO 38 43 7 38 12
17 Atlanta 8 81 45 12 66
18 Hartford, CT 80 36 8 16 75
19 Madison, WI 40 5 16 44 17
20 Portland, OR 35 52 20 23 16
21 Santa Barbara, CA 26 69 44 42 3
22 Austin, TX 15 46 31 36 30
23 Miami 11 91 70 15 20
24 Milwaukee 51 14 24 37 52
25 Detroit 19 68 35 18 94
26 Columbus, OH 28 18 38 30 72
27 Kansas City, MO 44 12 34 33 76
28 Phoenix 12 65 81 19 34
29 Omaha, NE 57 3 32 51 48
30 St. Louis 34 27 40 24 77
31 Sacramento, CA 32 93 28 21 21
32 Cincinnati 41 21 39 26 83
33 Salt Lake City 24 9 49 60 25
34 Providence, RI 58 35 43 22 35
35 Ann Arbor, MI 16 70 19 56 94
36 Cedar Rapids, IA 94 1 25 74 42
37 Albany, NY 74 25 22 32 91
38 Pittsburgh 59 33 27 28 82
39 Raleigh, NC 52 47 29 40 31
40 New London, CT 91 84 18 20 45
41 Indianapolis 42 29 42 41 85
42 Cleveland 69 34 30 34 64
43 Nashville, TN 36 37 47 47 47
44 Lincoln, NE 23 2 67 92 23
45 San Luis Obispo, CA 62 96 36 29 5
46 Charlotte, NC 39 56 50 31 53
47 Richmond, VA 56 58 33 39 78
48 Oklahoma City 33 28 55 69 38
49 Grand Rapids, MI 48 10 64 52 90
50 Fort Collins, CO 29 41 69 73 8
51 Durham-Chapel Hill, NC 49 87 23 66 31
52 Harrisburg, PA 93 32 37 49 73
53 Baton Rouge, LA 37 47 52 71 68
54 Louisville, KY 73 17 62 55 63
55 Fayetteville, AR 46 42 54 75 28
56 Tulsa, OK 70 20 48 80 51
57 Buffalo, NY 78 23 57 46 97
58 Lancaster, PA 90 6 73 63 61
59 Norfolk, VA 20 98 53 45 26
60 Green Bay, WI 95 8 51 81 59
61 Wichita, KS 65 16 65 84 70
62 Las Vegas 43 71 93 25 74
63 Amarillo, TX 61 7 83 90 37
64 Huntsville, AL 88 61 41 53 81
65 Tampa-St. Petersburg, FL 53 72 87 35 41
66 Reno, NV 76 57 66 65 15
67 San Antonio 21 75 89 57 65
68 Naples, FL 100 85 17 62 7
69 Peoria, IL 96 24 46 70 96
70 Salinas, CA 45 99 75 50 4
71 Lansing, MI 30 63 80 61 92
72 Orlando, FL 25 64 98 58 39
73 Rochester, NY 71 51 60 59 89
74 Davenport, IA 97 15 59 78 69
75 Toledo, OH 64 44 68 72 80
76 Lafayette, LA 55 22 63 100 60
77 Charleston, SC 50 86 78 67 27
78 Evansville, IN 92 19 74 83 67
79 Syracuse, NY 82 77 58 48 99
80 Jacksonville, FL 54 90 76 54 50
81 Wilmington, NC 85 62 90 68 10
82 Atlantic City, NJ 98 60 61 43 87
83 Little Rock, AR 60 39 84 94 44
84 Dayton, OH 87 59 72 64 71
85 Birmingham, AL 79 74 56 77 84
86 Boise City, ID 75 38 97 86 29
87 Fort Wayne, IN 83 13 88 95 86
88 Corpus Christi, TX 66 49 71 97 62
89 Albuquerque, NM 67 76 91 87 18
90 Columbia, SC 47 82 94 85 46
91 Roanoke, VA 99 26 82 82 49
92 Greensboro, NC 81 67 96 76 54
93 Shreveport, LA 72 79 77 96 55
94 Fort Walton Beach, FL 77 97 86 79 11
95 Knoxville, TN 89 66 92 88 40
96 Montgomery, AL 68 89 95 89 36
97 Jackson, MS 63 95 85 91 56
98 Beaumont-Port Arthur, TX 86 83 79 98 98
99 Mobile, AL 84 88 99 99 43
100 Fayetteville, NC 18 100 100 93 22

Methodology: The study analyzed the 100 largest U.S. Metropolitan Statistical Areas (MSAs) with the healthiest economies -- that is, with per capita GDP levels above $40,000. Cities were ranked based on an index (scaled from 0 to 100) that captured a total of 18 variables within 5 groups with equal weightings: job prospects, pay potential, quality of life, social opportunities and career advancement. The quality of life group factors in housing affordability, cost of living, tax rates and amenities (including weather, crime rates, air quality, closeness to a coast and availability of bars and restaurants) and is based on research results published in a 2015 paper by David Albouy, associate professor of economics at the University of Illinois. All other data come from the U.S. Census Bureau, the Bureau of Economic Analysis and the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

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