The Best Cities for Young Professionals

Young professionals are becoming a major part of the workforce. Ranging in age from early-20s to mid-30s, young professionals are typically classified as working in a professional or white-collar field. However, as new careers emerge, the very definition and work of a young professional are changing and evolving on a daily basis.

It's an exciting time for a young person in the workforce, with plenty of innovative opportunities, new directions and forward-thinking workplaces. To start their work lives off on the right foot, young professionals want to situate themselves in a good city with ample work opportunities in various fields.

But it's not all about work. Young people want to have fun, as well! That's why it's imperative that a city wanting to cater to young professionals has a happening social scene. This can include everything from great restaurants to sports, live music and entertainment. A vibrant cultural scene gives young professionals a chance to let their hair down after work and connect with others in their community.

From a thriving jobs market to great after-work hours fun, these are the best cities for young professionals.

These are the 10 best cities for young professionals

To be a good place for young professionals, a city needs to have a diverse job market. But it isn't enough to have plenty of companies and job openings. You need chances for advancement within fields and companies. Plus, you need plenty of fun things to do outside of work that appeal to a hip, youthful crowd. These 10 cities rank highest as the best cities for young professionals in America.

10. Boston, MA

boston ma

Massachusetts' capital city is one of the best cities on the East Coast for young people to live and work. With thriving industries in IT, tech, finance, insurance and healthcare, young professionals working or hoping to work in these fields have tons of options. It's an especially good location for the healthcare field, as Boston is home to some of the best hospitals nationally and around the world.

Another big plus: Boston is the home of Harvard, MIT and other top universities. This gives young professionals the chance to pursue advanced degrees in their field or change career paths.

Boston's city life is one of the most diverse and vibrant on the East Coast. The city is full of history, which you can experience in its architecture and museums. But it's also fully in the present and looking to the future in giving its residents a good quality of life. In 2017, Boston was named one of the most innovative cities in the world, which is felt everywhere from its work and educational institutions to its urban planning and cultural offerings.

It's also an extremely health-conscious city, with tons of parks, bike paths and pedestrian-friendly areas. It boasts of a renowned art, theater and live music scene, as well as great dining and nightlife. Neighborhoods like South End and Allston/Brighton offer affordable, trendy places to live.

9. Madison, WI

madison wi

Once overlooked as young professionals flocked to major coastal metropolises, Midwestern cities like Madison are showing that they have a lot to offer ambitious young people. The University of Wisconsin-Madison has highly regarded tech and IT programs, fueling a citywide industry.

Alongside education, young professionals here have their choice of many interesting, cutting-edge industries like healthcare, energy, aerospace and agriculture. Madison's proximity to Chicago and Milwaukee also allows young professionals to make connections and network with companies in larger cities while enjoying Madison's more relaxed and affordable quality of life.

Outside of work, Madison bustles with the energy of a college town. Sports are huge here (Go Badgers!), with football, basketball, hockey and baseball. Be sure to watch all those games while enjoying a cold, locally-made beer. Alongside its love of brats and cheese curds, Madison is known for its craft brews.

To burn off all those good eats, hit the paths of Madison's many parks, especially the scenic ones along the shores of Lake Mendota and Lake Monona. For the more artistically inclined, you can find live music, museums and art exhibitions in abundance.

8. Atlanta, GA

atlanta ga

Pursuing a career in Atlanta is bound to set young professionals up for success in life. The city positively crackles with expectation and energy. People living here are all about big ideas and big dreams, setting the stage for innovation and collaboration. Healthcare and finance are major industries here. But it's also a great spot for young professionals looking to break into communications, media, film and entertainment.

The young workforce can take advantage of local groups like the Young Professionals of Atlanta for guidance, networking and giving back to the community. The Hartsfield–Jackson Atlanta International Airport, which is a major hub, also allows for easy work travel.

Beyond that, Atlanta just knows how to have a good time. There's always something going on, from a concert to a new restaurant to try. So, there's always an incentive to go out. Live music is king here. Atlanta's dominance in the hip hop, live music and entertainment scenes is undeniable. It has great sports teams like the Falcons, Hawks and World Champion Braves.

From southern comfort food like fried chicken and barbecue, Atlanta is all about the good eats. With its lush parks set against towering skyscrapers, it's a great city to explore on foot. Finally, neighborhoods like Cabbagetown and Old Fourth Ward have affordable living close to work in the downtown area.

7. Austin, TX

austin tx

Austin's cultural scene is enough of a draw to get young people to move there. The city has seen tremendous growth over the past decade and for good reason. Austin is a town for creatives, from its live music to visual art to multi-discipline experimentation. Local museums, the University of Texas at Austin and the famous SXSW Festival foster a highly creative environment. And let us not forget how good the tacos are.

But it's not all play, no work. By many metrics, Austin is one of the best cities for young professionals to learn skills, gain experience and develop their careers. It's fast becoming a major center for tech, advanced manufacturing, digital media, start-ups and space technology. Even Tesla is transplanting its headquarters to Austin.

But for a town that's so tech-focused, it's still affordable with a rent-to-income ratio of about 10 percent. Young professionals can expect to earn high incomes here but will be shelling out less of their money for rent and cost of living. Austin's population growth has been a cause for concern for its affordability, but there's no denying it's a great place to live as a young professional.

6. Minneapolis, MN

minneapolis mn

Alongside Madison, Minneapolis is another Midwestern city showing its chops. With a diverse job market, young professionals are here not only for work but also for the low cost of living and cultural landscape. The live music and nightlife scenes rival those of major coastal cities. And sports lovers enjoy games cheering on the Vikings and other local teams like the Minnesota Twins.

Healthcare, banking, finance, data centers and biosciences are just some of the fields young professionals can work in here. Young people hoping to go into the medical field should definitely have Minneapolis on their radar. Nearby Rochester is home to the internationally-renowned Mayo Center.

You can pursue higher education at local universities like the University of Minnesota. From top-tier career opportunities to a vibrant social scene, Minneapolis has everything young professionals need to launch their careers while enjoying their youth.

5. Washington, D.C.

washington dc

If you're a young professional looking to get into politics, there's nowhere better than the nation's capital. From internships to working in the offices of congresspeople, opportunities abound. And as politics revolve around connecting with people, networking is practically an art form here. At power lunches and events, young professionals can make valuable connections to parlay into prized job positions. But politics isn't the only game in this town. Healthcare, communications, higher education and tech also have strong footholds here.

Apart from work, Washington, D.C., is a hit among young people for its nightlife, dining, arts and culture. Good public transit also allows for easy connection between neighborhoods and business districts. With D.C. having a high cost of living, this gives young professionals the chance to live more affordably outside the city center.

4. Denver, CO

denver co

The Mile High City also ranks very high on our list of the best cities for young professionals. For outdoor lovers, there's nowhere better. The Rocky Mountains are right next door, with hiking, climbing and skiing. But there's plenty of fun in town, as well, from dining to craft brews to cheering on the Denver Broncos. The nightlife here is hot.

When not out climbing peaks, young professionals can climb the ranks at work. Top industries in Denver include telecommunications, healthcare, financial services, IT and aerospace. Hip neighborhoods like Capitol Hill and Highland are centrally located, with easy access to downtown for work. An average commute of 25 minutes also means that living outside the city center isn't a deal-breaker.

3. San Francisco, CA

san francisco ca

The City by the Bay is a great place for young professionals to put down roots. This is especially true if they're in the fields of tech, IT, software, digital and social media, international business and biotech. Thanks to its proximity to the tech hub of San Jose, San Francisco has become an outpost for innovative, forward-thinking young professionals all working on the next big thing.

It's no secret that affordability is not San Francisco's strongest suit. However, due to the in-demand careers and work opportunities present in the area, the median household income is $112,449. So, even with the high cost of living, it's still possible to earn enough to enjoy a comfortable lifestyle. And most locals will say the high rents are the price you pay for living in such a dynamic place. With historic neighborhoods, parks, a robust performing arts scene and a food scene spanning cuisines from around the world, San Francisco is a great place for young professionals with active social lives.

2. Charleston, SC

charleston sc

The city of Charleston is known for its historic architecture, Southern cuisine and abundant history. But it's fast getting a reputation as a great hub for young professionals. The city is home to major industries like aerospace, tech, defense and life sciences.

Housing here is also very affordable for renters. In popular neighborhoods like Harleston Village, North Charleston and James Island, the average rent is around $900 to $1,100. You can find higher education opportunities at the College of Charleston and the Medical University of South Carolina.

Charleston also boasts of a very lively social scene. That classic southern hospitality makes it a great place to go out and meet people. Young people living here have tons of activities to choose from in their free time. Charleston has a much-lauded dining scene, with tons of restaurants and cuisines to try.

The city also has a growing nightlife scene that will greatly appeal to the young crowd. Arts and culture lovers can get their fill at Charleston's many museums and galleries. Live music is also getting a foothold here, offering something for the late-night crowd besides dancing and bars.

1. Seattle, WA

seattle wa

It's called the Emerald City, but it's taking home the gold as the best city for young professionals. Seattle is one of the West Coast's top cities for industry and business. But it also provides unbeatable access to the great outdoors, art, culture, dining and live music. While Seattle is an expensive city, it has plenty of affordable neighborhoods that young professionals can call home.

Seattle is famously home to multiple Fortune 500 companies. Just to name a few, there's Amazon, Starbucks and Microsoft. Many other household name companies are also based here, giving young professionals plenty of highly sought-after jobs to go after. The aerospace industry, tech and IT are also big players.

Beyond the competitive job market, young professionals in Seattle enjoy taking advantage of the city's multicultural food scene, live music, theater and art. Heading out into the forests, waterways and mountains of Washington state is another popular way people living here unwind.

The top 50 cities for young professionals

Do the cities in the top 10 not have the right opportunities or connections you're looking for? Craving a different type of scene? Don't worry, there are plenty more options for great cities for young professionals.

RankCityTotal ScoreDemographics ScoreRent ScoreRecreation and Community ScoreEconomics Score
1Seattle, WA68.9421.8923.967.2215.87
2Charleston, SC66.9219.2720.4111.7615.48
3San Francisco, CA66.721.223.56.2215.78
4Denver, CO66.4118.6824.057.4216.26
5Washington, DC66.3920.2723.968.4213.74
6Minneapolis, MN65.2717.6523.968.515.16
7Austin, TX64.417.624.645.3316.83
8Atlanta, GA63.3918.4623.928.3412.67
9Madison, WI62.9216.623.36.6616.36
10Boston, MA62.920.6222.84.5414.94
11Pittsburgh, PA62.8818.423.127.7213.64
12Orlando, FL62.3613.7122.1413.0413.47
13St. Louis, MO61.6915.1522.7810.0213.74
14Chicago, IL61.6815.0924.873.6818.04
15Alexandria, VA61.4418.0520.78.3814.31
16Bellevue, WA60.819.1217.6610.9513.07
17Salt Lake City, UT59.7815.522.247.8214.22
18Jersey City, NJ59.562220.824.3712.37
19Cambridge, MA59.532513.937.912.7
20Cincinnati, OH58.9113.2723.4310.0612.15
21Miami, FL58.8111.3822.2611.313.87
22Tempe, AZ58.4318.221.716.7911.73
23Portland, OR58.3714.3824.016.4113.57
24Los Angeles, CA58.1411.9824.842.1119.21
25Sandy Springs, GA57.9418.6619.833.9315.52
26Houston, TX57.5311.63254.7316.17
27Charlotte, NC57.3413.2224.524.8114.79
28Columbus, OH57.2914.8424.622.6915.14
29Tampa, FL57.0811.6623.4210.511.5
30Durham, NC56.9814.8823.245.4613.4
31Dallas, TX56.8512.5224.664.2715.4
32Kansas City, MO56.5612.124.146.0414.28
33San Diego, CA55.9113.4324.174.3114
34Raleigh, NC55.8114.0823.864.2613.61
35Richmond, VA55.5915.3521.996.2611.99
36Sunnyvale, CA55.5619.2918.015.612.66
37Fargo, ND54.6911.3122.685.7314.97
38St. Paul, MN54.5612.7722.925.9412.93
39Chattanooga, TN54.5311.6822.865.4914.5
40Scottsdale, AZ54.3611.7819.858.4514.28
41Columbia, MO54.0612.5622.825.413.28
42Columbia, SC53.9611.2619.4414.328.94
43Boulder, CO53.8116.9510.9811.3714.51
44Philadelphia, PA53.5712.7324.643.8712.33
45Rochester, MN53.5113.9120.94.2914.41
46Reno, NV53.489.9721.916.4815.12
47Sioux Falls, SD53.139.8923.444.0815.72
48Overland Park, KS53.0312.5621.815.6313.03
49Oakland, CA53.0315.1621.693.1113.07
50Omaha, NE52.910.124.185.5713.05

The worst cities for young professionals

Not every city has the right tools for the job as one of the best cities for young professionals. Plenty of cities fall short due to factors like bad income-to-rent ratio, high rental rates and high unemployment rates among young people. These are the worst cities you can live in as a young professional.

RankCityTotal ScoreDemographics ScoreRent ScoreRecreation and Community ScoreEconomics Score
1Thousand Oaks, CA22.26.272.772.2210.94
2Upland, CA25.399.0703.0513.27
3Vacaville, CA25.966.887.483.548.06
4St. George, UT28.375.978.891.8811.63
5Moreno Valley, CA28.65.1415.720.577.17
6Melbourne, FL29.675.237.358.019.08
7Lancaster, CA30.625.5317.742.145.21
8Orange, CA30.639.7710.812.867.19
9Citrus Heights, CA30.87.712.880.929.3
10Flint, MI31.534.4120.323.653.15

Young professionals can have it all in these cities

Young people launching their careers want good opportunities. But they also want to enjoy the trappings of youth, like going out to parties or concerts. These cities provide the best of both worlds for young professionals.

Methodology

Cities were ranked based on a weighted scoring system using four broad categories: Demographics, Housing Costs to Income, Recreation and Community and Economics. Each category was weighted to account for 25 percent of the final score. Among the categories, features were weighted as follows:

Demographics: 25 points

  • Percent of the population age 25-34: 12.5 points
  • Percent of population with a bachelors degree or higher: 12.5 points

Housing Costs to Income: 25 points

  • Rent to income ratio: 25 points

Recreation and Community: 25 points

  • Bars and restaurants per capita: 6.25 points
  • Art/culture and nature/parks per capita: 6.25 points
  • Inbound migration, different state, 1 year: 6.25 points
  • Inbound migration, abroad, 1 year: 6.25 points

Economics: 25 points

  • Laborforce participation, Age 25-34: 8.33 points
  • The unemployment rate, Age 25-34: 8.33 points
  • Percent change in median income, 2015-2019, Age 25-44: 8.33 points

Data on population, educational attainment, migration, labor force participation, unemployment and median income are from the U.S. Census' 2019 American Community Survey 1-year Estimates. Median income data from the U.S. Census' 2015 American Community Survey 1-Year Estimates were used in calculating the percent change in median income.

Recreation data, including estimates of bars, restaurants, art and cultural institutions, and natural amenities are from commercially licensed business listings and are based on NAICS categories for Drinking Places (Alcoholic Beverages), Full-Service Restaurants, Independent Artists, Writers and Performers, and Nature Parks and Other Similar Institutions.

Cities with insufficient data were excluded.

The rent information included in this article is used for illustrative purposes only. The data contained herein do not constitute financial advice or a pricing guarantee for any apartment.

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Zoe BaillargeonZoe Baillargeon is an award-winning writer and journalist based in Portland, Oregon, where she covers a variety of beats including travel, food and drink, lifestyle and culture for outlets like Apartment Guide, Rent.com, AFAR.com, Fodor's, The Manual, Matador Network and more. In her free time, she enjoys traveling, hiking, reading and spoiling her cat.

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