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Summer is here, but if you just graduated from college, it’s not time for a summer vacation. Now is the time to take everything you’ve learned and prepare for the big time. Your first year out of college is more than a chance to get comfortable in the real world: What you do immediately after receiving your diploma will likely play a critical role in your future, how quickly you can climb to a leadership position and how much money you will make along the way.
While living on either coast has always been a popular choice, Bankrate’s latest research shows that a view of the ocean isn’t synonymous with opportunity. Instead, consider landing right in the middle: Austin, Texas claimed the number-one spot in Bankrate’s newest ranking of the best places to launch a career. Is Austin the right place for you to join the working world? Read on to find out.
- Austin, TX is the number-one city for college graduates, according to Bankrate's new study on the best cities to launch your career.
- Three other metro areas in Texas appeared in the top 50, including Dallas–Fort Worth, Houston and San Antonio. Midland, TX, close to the New Mexico border, had the highest year-over-year job market growth of all cities analyzed.
- Job location is one of the most important factors for most candidates when applying for a job, according to a recent poll from Ipsos.
The national job market
Based on historical data, approximately 2 million students will receive bachelor’s degrees this year. They’re entering the workforce at a shaky time: Economists predict a jobs slowdown this year as businesses look ahead to a potential recession.
However, job prospects will depend on each graduate’s area of expertise. Those looking to launch a career in healthcare, leisure and hospitality and education are likely in a fairly good position: These industries are still on a hiring spree. Technology, media and communications, however, have been shaken by layoffs.
Job opportunities exist all over the country, but depending on what you studied in college, you may be focused on certain areas that are “hub cities” for particular industries. For example, if you’re hoping to start a career in banking, Charlotte, North Carolina, is likely near the top of your list. If you’re in the biosciences, you might be looking in Boston or Raleigh.
If you’re pursuing a career in tech, Austin is certainly on your radar. In recent years, Texas’ capital city (and its surrounding area) has been dubbed Silicon Hills — a nod to its growing status as a tech hub. The list of well-known tech companies with headquarters or major operations here includes:
- Dell (based just north in Round Rock, which tops Bankrate’s list of the best places to live in the country)
There’s more than tech in Austin, too. Companies like Charles Schwab, Whole Foods, AT&T and the University of Texas are just a few of the high-profile, non-tech-focused employers in the city.
How does Austin compare to other cities?
Austin certainly didn’t come out of nowhere as one of the best places for recent grads: The city has been attracting loads of newcomers in recent years. In fact, its population grew by a staggering 33 percent between 2010 and 2020, according to the Austin Chamber. Not surprising, as people chase the good vibes of a city where live music can be heard on just about every corner and warm temperatures and abundant outdoor activities make it easy and fun to stay fit.
One drawback, however, is the surging housing prices that make the cost of living here significantly higher than many other places where you can start your career. The median home price in Austin was $574,000 in May 2023, according to data from Redfin — that’s about $178K higher than the nationwide median.
|Cost of living
|Job growth year-over-year
|Percentage of remote workers
|Average rent (per RentCafe)
How much you’ll earn and how much you’ll need to spend to live in Austin aren’t the only factors to consider. The methodology section at the end of Bankrate’s study can show you more about how Austin stacks up against the competition, including commute time, wage growth, diversity, community well-being and more.
Other top cities in Texas
Austin topped the chart as the best career launching pad, but it’s not the only metro area in the Lone Star State that can put you on the path to career success. Dallas–Fort Worth also cracked the top 10, thanks to a relatively low cost of living and impressive job growth over the past year. With major operations and headquarters for some of the biggest companies in the country — American Airlines, Exxon Mobil and AT&T, to name just a few — the DFW metro area is another ideal place to pursue professional opportunities.
And while major cities like Houston and San Antonio were also well represented, bigger doesn’t always mean better here. Midland, one of the best places to live in Texas and a hub of Texas oil country, has a small population of just 172,000. But despite its petite size, Midland managed to post the largest job growth of any city analyzed between the beginning of 2022 and 2023, according to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Consider your financial health while launching your career
Wherever you want to move after graduation, think carefully about how much it’s going to cost you. This is an exciting time filled with the promise of new beginnings, but it’s important to remember that the decisions you make today will impact your ability to live comfortably tomorrow. Here are some key considerations to keep in mind:
- Expenses: What kind of lifestyle will that new job’s salary afford you in your new city? Your annual salary can take you a lot further in some cities than others. Bankrate’s cost of living calculator can show you how far your money will stretch in Austin versus other cities.
- Transportation: Consider whether you need a car in your new city, or whether you can get around easily enough without one. Paying for parking can be a big expense in big cities, and many have a robust enough public-transportation system to make a car unnecessary.
- Housing: Condo or single-family home? City or suburbs? Peace and quiet or hustle and bustle? Different living options provide different lifestyles — and different price points. If you want to be downtown, in the center of your new city’s action and entertainment scene, be prepared to pay more for the privilege.
Whatever decisions you make, don’t forget to consider savings. When you’re young, it’s easy to assume you can put off saving and make up for it down the road. However, now is the time to get serious about stashing away cash, says Greg McBride, CFA, Bankrate’s chief financial analyst.
It’s crucial to balance your desire to have fun after you graduate with your need to save.— Greg McBride, Bankrate Chief Financial Analyst
“No matter where you start your career, get in the habit of saving between 10 and 15 percent of your income,” McBride says. “If you can do that when your income is low, the habit will stay with you in the decades to come as your income rises. You have a level of income you’ve never had before, but it’s crucial to balance your desire to have fun after you graduate with your need to save. Feel free to reward yourself from time to time, but keep in mind that your salary may not go quite as far as it appeared at first glance.”
And while the price tag of life in Austin might be a bit steep, consider it an investment: The expenditure now may well be worth it for the career boost you could get down the line. “Where you start your career isn’t necessarily the place you’re going to stay,” McBride says. “You may need to spend two or three years in a high-cost area to propel your career.”
Most financial experts advise spending no more than 30 percent of your monthly income on rent. For example, if you earn $5,000 each month, you should try to look for a place that will cost you $1,500 or less in monthly rent.
You’ll likely need a car in Austin — our research shows a mean commute time of 26.1 minutes, based on Census data. However, do look into the city’s public transportation system, CapMetro, to see if its trains, buses, shuttles, ride shares and bike rentals can get you where you need to go. Additionally, you can search the address of any potential housing unit on Walk Score to see how the area stacks up in terms of walkability and bikeability.
The average starting salary for college graduates was around $55,260 at the end of 2022. However, defining a “good” salary isn’t as simple as looking at a number. The most important factor is understanding how far that salary will take you in your city of choice, and what kind of lifestyle it can afford you there. For example, the cost of living in New York City is more than double that in Austin, according to Bankrate’s cost of living calculator, so that same $55,260 would be considered a much better salary in Austin than it would in Manhattan.