Best & Worst Cities to Start a Career

by John S Kiernan

Wallet Hub 2014 Best Cities to Start a CareerWhile the struggles endured in recent years by America’s youth pale in comparison to those suffered by young people in Spain and Greece – where unemployment rates in excess of 50% have spawned great social unrest – finding a job, let alone laying the foundation for a long and prosperous career, is far from simple in the current economic climate. With many employers adopting a wait-and-see approach to both the economic recovery and Obamacare and many young people refusing to adjust expectations in the face of stiff competition, the effective unemployment rate for Americans ages 18 - 29 is currently 15.5%.

There is nevertheless reason for optimism among the graduating class of 2014 as well as the scores of young people who have become so disillusioned with the job market that they have given up their search for employment. Not only do more employers plan to hire recent college grads this year, according to the National Association of Colleges and Employers, but hiring in general is also on the rise.

Increased hiring obviously doesn’t guarantee employment, though. Young people still must learn how to maximize their employability. In addition to customizing cover letters and making social media accounts safe for work, that could very well entail finding a new place to live and work.

While Americans in their 20s are now 40% less likely to move than they were 30 years ago, according to U.S. Census data, employment opportunities do vary significantly based on simple geography. So, in order to help recent college graduates find the best cradles for their burgeoning careers, WalletHub analyzed the 150 largest cities in the U.S. to determine the relative strength of their job markets, the attractiveness of their social scenes, and various other factors that are important to new job market entrants. A complete breakdown of our findings, additional information about the methodology we used to conduct this study, and expert financial management tips for young people can be found below.

Main Findings


Overall Rank

City Name

Quality of Life Rank

Professional Opportunities Rank

1 Washington, DC 3 3
2 Denver, CO 9 5
3 Irving, TX 32 2
4 Seattle, WA 4 20
5 Minneapolis, MN 11 24
6 San Francisco, CA 18 11
7 Austin, TX 8 30
8 Dallas, TX 27 27
9 Charlotte, NC 7 63
10 Houston, TX 30 23
11 Nashville-Davidson, TN 2 69
12 St. Paul, MN 36 14
13 Salt Lake City, UT 15 45
14 Raleigh, NC 5 72
15 Pittsburgh, PA 10 65
16 Atlanta, GA 1 106
17 Aurora, CO 106 1
18 Jersey City, NJ 47 11
19 Oakland, CA 75 4
20 Overland Park, KS 29 40
21 Tampa, FL 21 53
22 Boston, MA 23 51
23 Omaha, NE 24 50
24 Richmond, VA 19 60
25 Arlington, TX 79 8
26 Plano, TX 56 25
27 Fort Worth, TX 63 18
28 Orlando, FL 17 73
29 New York, NY 50 29
30 San Diego, CA 35 44
31 Tulsa, OK 69 15
32 Portland, OR 16 78
33 Fremont, CA 93 6
34 Los Angeles, CA 52 32
35 Kansas City, MO 48 35
36 Durham, NC 12 91
37 Anchorage, AK 53 37
38 Tempe, AZ 14 88
39 Oklahoma City, OK 44 47
40 Madison, WI 6 107
41 Irvine, CA 34 62
42 Fort Lauderdale, FL 42 53
43 Cincinnati, OH 31 74
44 San Jose, CA 112 7
45 Colorado Springs, CO 51 56
T-46 Columbus, OH 33 77
T-46 Miami, FL 67 35
48 Grand Prairie, TX 103 10
49 Pembroke Pines, FL 99 17
50 New Orleans, LA 26 96
51 Corpus Christi, TX 105 13
52 Tacoma, WA 116 9
53 Santa Clarita, CA 88 26
54 Chicago, IL 49 67
55 Chandler, AZ 62 52
56 Huntsville, AL 39 79
57 Huntington Beach, CA 114 19
58 Lexington-Fayette, KY 13 115
59 Scottsdale, AZ 58 66
60 Lincoln, NE 22 105
61 Knoxville, TN 37 98
62 Des Moines, IA 77 53
63 Grand Rapids, MI 40 101
64 Little Rock, AR 38 97
65 Louisville, KY 54 86
66 Sioux Falls, SD 20 116
67 Bakersfield, CA 107 33
68 San Antonio, TX 64 75
69 Yonkers, NY 130 21
70 Long Beach, CA 128 22
71 Gilbert, AZ 71 70
T-72 Garland, TX 122 28
T-72 Rancho Cucamonga, CA 100 43
74 Baton Rouge, LA 56 93
75 Worcester, MA 109 39
76 Amarillo, TX 86 59
77 Phoenix, AZ 80 71
78 Greensboro, NC 28 134
79 Glendale, CA 124 34
80 Newport News, VA 111 49
81 St. Louis, MO 46 113
82 Vancouver, WA 120 40
83 Indianapolis, IN 41 120
84 Aurora, IL 78 83
85 Virginia Beach, VA 55 110
86 Peoria, AZ 108 61
87 Lubbock, TX 60 103
88 Newark, NJ 136 31
89 Philadelphia, PA 90 76
90 Providence, RI 61 111
91 Sacramento, CA 84 85
92 Memphis, TN 66 108
T-93 Norfolk, VA 70 99
T-93 Boise City, ID 45 121
95 Rochester, NY 43 132
96 Anaheim, CA 135 42
97 Baltimore, MD 96 82
98 Oxnard, CA 140 38
99 Chesapeake, VA 119 64
100 Wichita, KS 94 87
101 Chattanooga, TN 82 104
102 Tallahassee, FL 24 148
103 Garden Grove, CA 149 15
104 Fontana, CA 131 68
105 Shreveport, LA 68 117
106 Birmingham, AL 85 102
107 Oceanside, CA 137 56
108 Chula Vista, CA 139 58
109 Buffalo, NY 65 129
110 St. Petersburg, FL 113 94
111 Mobile, AL 104 99
112 Springfield, MO 72 122
113 Glendale, AZ 121 84
114 Albuquerque, NM 73 124
115 Santa Ana, CA 145 48
116 Jacksonville, FL 81 123
117 Winston-Salem, NC 59 140
118 Santa Rosa, CA 127 89
119 Spokane, WA 95 112
120 Henderson, NV 74 133
121 Cape Coral, FL 134 79
122 Montgomery, AL 91 118
123 El Paso, TX 133 95
124 Mesa, AZ 138 81
125 Jackson, MS 92 125
126 Hialeah, FL 150 46
127 Reno, NV 76 142
128 Honolulu, HI 110 119
129 Moreno Valley, CA 141 92
130 Brownsville, TX 144 90
131 Fort Wayne, IN 86 137
132 Las Vegas, NV 98 135
133 Milwaukee, WI 83 145
134 Fresno, CA 132 114
135 Toledo, OH 115 130
136 North Las Vegas, NV 122 127
137 Laredo, TX 118 131
138 Tucson, AZ 117 136
139 Augusta, GA 102 141
140 Ontario, CA 143 109
141 Riverside, CA 128 128
142 Cleveland, OH 97 149
143 Fayetteville, NC 101 147
144 Columbus, GA 89 150
145 Detroit, MI 126 143
146 Akron, OH 125 144
147 San Bernardino, CA 148 126
148 Stockton, CA 141 138
149 Port St. Lucie, FL 146 139
150 Modesto, CA 147 146

Detailed Breakdown by City

WalletHub Best Cities To Start A Career

Ask The Experts: Starting Your Financial Life

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Ron Culp

Professional Director of the Public Relations & Advertising Graduate Program, DePaul University

What should recent graduates look for in an industry?

Potential of growth is the key measure when assessing a career opportunity. Be careful if an organization isn't growing and doesn't appear to have the potential for growth. Such situations don't provide the types of personal growth experiences that will provide a rewarding launch pad for your career.

Do you have any tips for turning an entry-level job into a long, successful career?

Internships have become the primary proving ground for full-time jobs. Work hard, check in regularly with your supervisor and volunteer to do more than what is assigned to you. Don't ever complain. If you're doing something you hate, proceed with a smile. Recognize that this, too, will pass and the way you handle your early days on the job lays the groundwork for your success in the next position.

What is the biggest career mistake that young people make?

Failing to build a network early in your career is a major mistake for many young professionals. Don't become so focused on getting your job done as quickly as possible so you can meet up with friends. Make time to meet peers in other organizations through professional associations, nonprofit organizations and other groups. These relationships will lead to future opportunities if and when you want to move on. I have held 12 different jobs over my career and all but two came via my network, not job postings or other advertising.
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Elizabeth Venturini

College Career Strategist,

What should recent graduates look for in an industry?

Focus on college majors that can pay the bills after college. The selection of college majors specifically a second major is extremely important. The job market is flooded with new grads who selected majors that offer little chance of employment or return on investment of their education. I tell students to research their chosen industry for employment projections, education required, years of experience, major tasks on the job, and starting salary. If they still intend to major in a degree that offers little chance of employment or a low salary I counsel them to double major or minor in a field that can provide an income until they are a proven professional in their chosen occupation.

Do you have any tips for turning an entry-level job into a long, successful career?

Be more than your Avatar. Employers are constantly stating that college grads are greatly lacking in communication and presentation skills. A speech or debate class, participation in Toastmasters will be of enormous help for students by helping them learn how to present themselves.

Know ‘thy’ apps. To be at the top on the list for a good career, young people should become comfortable with the most used business applications. These include word processing, spreadsheets, presentation applications, web design, and simple troubleshooting of computer problems.

What is the biggest career mistake that young people make?

I think there are three:

Get a life – and a career. The first biggest mistake I see with new college grads is they do not know what they want to do with their life or their future career. I recommend they take a respected career assessment to help them learn about their interests and how they can be applied to a future career they will love and can pay the bills after college graduation.

It’s who you know. The second biggest mistake I see with young people is their belief that they must wait until they graduate to network for possible internships or future jobs. Networking starts when they enter college not after. Everyone is a possible contact – friends, professors, administrators, organizations, speakers for special events. While in college and after graduation young people should take advantage of every opportunity to meet people in their future field of interest and begin building professional relationships with them.

Put your best fork forward. The third biggest mistake I see with young people is their lack of business etiquette skills. In an age when it is second nature for so many young people to prefer to text than talk, knowing business etiquette is critical as they prepare for future employment. Because no matter how technically brilliant you are a lack of business and social skills could hold you back from prime academic, social, and future career opportunities

Graduates need to set themselves apart from their peers with more than just having good grades and a resume of accomplishments. Now more than ever, college grads are no longer just applying for a college internship or a job after graduation – they are competing for them! In a society such as ours, which judges people in less than five seconds, the ability to show poise, have good manners, and know basic etiquette can give graduates a competitive edge in a very tight job market.
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Lynne Sarikas

Director of the MBA Career Center, D’Amore-McKim School of Business, Northeastern University

What should recent graduates look for in an industry?

Graduates should think about their interests and passion. It is much easier to work hard when you believe in the product or services the company provides. In my experience, students tend to focus on industries they have experienced such as consumer products but often overlook industries that require similar skills. It is important to do online research to identify target industries and companies. The critical next step is then to identify networking contacts in those organizations and conducting information interviews. Students should learn as much as possible about what it is like to work in a particular industry or company and to see what people like and don’t like about their jobs. It is important to gain insight into the critical skills for success at the company and their track record for growth within the organization. Often if you seek opportunities in the companies that the masses are not targeting you can be much more successful.

Do you have any tips for turning an entry-level job into a long, successful career?

Other than doing your job well and looking for opportunities to add value, the biggest thing you have to do to support your longer term career success is to build a strong network. Look for opportunities to build a network within the organization. Learn what happens before and after your steps in the process. Ask questions about how your work impacts other areas of the company. Use your lunch hour to conduct information interviews to learn about other departments, the work they do, and the critical skills for success. Also build a network external to the organization in your area of expertise. Attend professional meetings. Connect with alums in your field. You can learn best practices from colleagues in other organizations while learning about how the roles are similar and different across organizations. As you advance in your career that network will be critical to your success.

What is the biggest career mistake that young people make?

Impatience is likely the biggest career mistake for young people. They expect to be given the high visibility, glamorous projects right away when in reality they need to prove themselves and earn the right to those bigger assignments. Likewise, doing a good job doesn’t mean a promotion when you feel ready for it. You have to work within the process of the company. Do a good job and the rewards will follow but you have to be patient. You do not determine the timeframe. Always looks for opportunities to deliver more than what was asked, anticipate the questions and next steps. Volunteer for special projects. Become the expert at what you do so others come to rely on you. Advancement in business is about performance.
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Eric Melniczek

Career Advisor, Career & Internship Services, High Point University

What should recent graduates look for in an industry?

Recent graduates should look for industries with a high demand for their skills. In addition, some industries are very popular in certain cities in the country. Therefore, it might be wise to relocate. Recent graduates should conduct multiple informational interviews with industry professionals to gather relevant information about particular industries.

Do you have any tips for turning an entry-level job into a long, successful career?

There are several tips we provide to recent graduates regarding turning an entry-level job into a long and successful career. First, pay attention and actively listen to your work supervisor. Your job as an employee at the entry-level is to make your work supervisor look good in the eyes of his or her work supervisor. Next, over deliver. Be sure you are delivering extraordinary results at your company and ask for additional work assignments after completing your assigned tasks. Last, identify influential and respected people in the company. Treat them to lunch or coffee. Pick their brain and ask them how they got to where they are in the company.

What is the biggest career mistake that young people make?

Attendance is one of the biggest career mistakes young people make at the start of their career. You can possibly be late to class or miss an organizational meeting while you are a student; however, you need to impress at work and that means arriving to your office in advance of your assigned shift and staying at work until after your assigned shift. Take one hour for lunch if that is what is offered. Manage your time effectively at work.
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Bob Franco

Senior Assistant Director, The Career Center, Seton Hall University

What should recent graduates look for in an industry?

Students coming out of college either think about an ‘industry’ or a ‘functional’ area, depending on their major. For example, someone wanting to get into healthcare is describing an industry; as opposed to someone who wants to be a programmer (a function). Typically, functional roles can cut across industries. Someone with a particular industry in mind will need to understand what they plan to do, functionally in that industry. As an example, for healthcare, is it sales, administration, program management? In general, it is likely more beneficial for students entering new careers to understand what they are good at – what they can do that adds value tomorrow.

I was at a recent campus Career Fair. One of our marketing students came with her friend who was an English major and she asked me to help him. It was funny because I told him to take four steps to his left, turn around and introduce himself. The recruiter at that table was looking for someone who could do some writing for their web site, a potentially hand-in-glove career assignment. The student had a terrific background, but did not know how to apply his background functionally. This is very common. The ‘functional’ majors in college (Accounting, Finance, Programming, Public Relations, Marketing, IT, etc.) have a clear path, at least initially. For the ‘content-oriented’ or ‘industry-overview’ majors, it is not as obvious, but, with assistance, a student can see how a background will add value across many roles.

Do you have any tips for turning an entry-level job into a long, successful career?

Long, successful careers usually include many changes in direction, organization, industry, etc. Having a clear functional direction can certainly help craft a career path (since these are often defined within functional job categories). However, after decades of downsizing, re-engineering, globalization, etc., these career paths tend to get professionals through to their mid-career, unless they were fortunate to rise to a c-level role (which would carry them further into the career path). That’s when things can get a bit messy. The key to maintaining a path is to stay marketable by 1) keeping up-to-date with relevant skills and 2) staying focused on making clear impacts by solving relevant problems and addressing key goals and strategies. Showing that you are an impact player is the best way to demonstrate transferable skills across organizations, industries and job functions. Successful professionals, starting at the entry level, are very good at describing how their previous accomplishments translate to success in future roles.

What is the biggest career mistake that young people make?

There are two critical errors job seekers make, regardless of career stage. First, many job seekers start their job search by identifying what they want as opposed to what organizations need. Defining a job search through the lens of the types of skills employers are looking for and the types of goals they seek to achieve is critical. A job seeker needs to make the case that he/she is an answer to solving a problem – the person chosen to fill a role will have made the strongest case. Second, many job seekers talk about their backgrounds as a description of tasks done at previous employers (whether it be through an internship or full time role); instead they need to discuss their backgrounds in terms of how what they’ve done applies to the position they are seeking (skills demonstrated and goals achieved) with an orientation for the future – they must show how they’ve accomplished similar things as required in their next role. This starts with the resume and continues in all job interviews and networking efforts.
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VA Hayman Barber

Director of Experiential Education & Career Services, Johnson & Wales University

What should recent graduates look for in an industry?

There are several things graduates should look for when researching an industry, including types of jobs and internships, career paths and names of organizations where they can work. A recent graduate should also research the kinds of skills needed to work in that industry and how they relate to a graduates passions and goals. A great place for students to start is the Bureau of Labor Statistics which gives sample salary ranges, growth of the industry and job titles. The best way to know about an industry is to ask professionals working in the field. These can be friends, family, teachers or people you meet through organizations including career centers and alumni offices.

Recent graduates need to be aware of educational requirements and further skills needed for the career path along with regional and national opportunities within the industry. Much of this information can be attained via websites and professional organizations. The way to truly find out about an industry is to interview and speak with people in the field about career paths and opportunities.

Do you have any tips for turning an entry-level job into a long, successful career?

Do your research and use your resources including talking with as many professionals in the field as possible. Develop a network of mentors who can not only give you advice on your career but also serve as a resource and advocate as you move through your career path. Ask questions to co-workers and staff about their career at the organization and see if there are opportunities to advance. Take on new projects and try to work with as many departments and types of people as you can.

Recent graduates should not be afraid to show their passion for the work and for the job they are doing no matter if it’s entry level or high level management. There is always something to learn in a work environment and organizational culture. Be positive, ask questions and spend time knowing your skills and looking for areas of growth.

What is the biggest career mistake that young people make?

The biggest mistake I see with students is not being thoughtful about professional communication. This means a number of things including having a negative social media presence, not communicating with supervisors when interpersonal challenges arise and not presenting an articulate argument for what they need.

Building a career path is a long process that takes a lot of dedication and experiences with successes and failures. Students need to be patient and persistent in their career path which can have many exciting twists and turns. It’s important for students to have a high desire to learn from others and be humble and enthusiastic.
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Shannon Merchant

Career Consultant, Texas Christian University

What should recent graduates look for in an industry?

It is always a good idea for graduates to keep up with industry trends. Following the news and getting involved in professional associations will assist in developing understanding of current issues, trends, and challenges in many industries. It will also provide direction when considering decisions regarding geographic location, cost of living, and job growth. When graduates have a good grasp on industry trends, they can focus on developing skills related to in-demand jobs in order to position themselves for strong future growth.

Do you have any tips for turning an entry-level job into a long, successful career?

New professionals should always be looking to learn, grow, and make an impact on an organization. I recommend that new professionals observe and ask questions to gain understanding on strategies, processes, and dynamics. Then, make yourself invaluable—take initiative to own a project, share an idea and actually implement it, and step up when others won’t. Showing critical and strategic thinking will demonstrate value to an employer and inspire trust that will lead to increasing responsibility. I work with students every day who did this as an intern, and received full-time offers upon graduation as a result of taking that initiative and responsibility.

What is the biggest career mistake that young people make?

The best advice I could give to a new professional is to remember that career development is a process and it takes work. Start where you have an opportunity, but don’t settle for doing simply what has been assigned to you. You are responsible for your own growth and learning, so always look out for new opportunities and room for growth. See how you can work your passions into your job, and think about how your work in the moment will position you for future opportunities. If your daily work is not providing an opportunity for growth, ask yourself where else you can pursue that knowledge and skill—join a professional association, get involved in the community, and build relationships with others in the industry so that you don’t find yourself stuck and falling behind.
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Sarah Trzeciak

Career Center Director, University of Colorado Denver

What should recent graduates look for in an industry?

More and more graduates are looking at their values and what organizations match those. They’re not necessarily looking anymore for just a great salary, but what the organization gives back to the community. So recent graduates need to look at what values the industry has and if it matches theirs. If so, chances are it will lead to a long-term fit. This can include salary, but also schedule, flexibility, work-environment, community contributions and most importantly, enjoyment of the job.

Do you have any tips for turning an entry-level job into a long, successful career?

Before you start any job search, do a self-assessment of your wants and needs. Will you enjoy the job? Does the organization adhere to your values? The better the fit with your personality, interests and values, the more likely you’ll stay for longer than just a year. Once in a job, take on additional tasks, network within the company and establish a name for yourself. This could eventually lead to a promotion and longevity with an organization.

What is the biggest career mistake that young people make?

Saying that they’ll take anything. ‘I just need a job.’ ‘I just want to work in accounting’ ‘I’ll work at any location.’ Not having a clear career goal is a turnoff to potential employers because you are not demonstrating how you will contribute to the organization and can make you look desperate. It’s not up to an employer to determine your fate. Having a clear career goal allows you to showcase what you have to offer an employer and how they fit in with you career goals.
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Vanessa Valentin

Employee Engagement Coordinator, Hispanic Alliance for Career Enhancement

What should recent graduates look for in an industry?

Recent graduates should look at opportunities for growth and diversity. As the workplace becomes more global, it is important to be in an industry that embraces change and the leadership of its employees. Being in an industry that offers all of this will give entry level employees a jump start to their careers.

Do you have any tips for turning an entry-level job into a long, successful career?

Today's best employers offer entry level leadership and rotational programs, giving recent graduates a chance to see the company they work for as a whole, all while building their leadership skills. Look for companies like this and if the one you are really interested in does not offer this type of program, create something similar with your supervisor and HR. Creating a strong career development plan for yourself is important but sharing it with your management team is vital.

What is the biggest career mistake that young people make?

One of the biggest mistakes I see students make, and one that I'm guilty of myself, is thinking too linear when it comes to a career. Yes, it is important to have a plan and goals for your career but make sure to build some flexibility in your plan. I've met many professionals trying to switch careers but finding that they have no experience in anything else. So take an internship that may not necessarily be in your major but will teach you something that will help you in the long run. Within your role, volunteer to be a part of different projects. Check out what the marketing department is all about, or finance, etc. Stepping out of your comfort zone is not easy, but the payoff is huge.
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Kay Lynn Mayhue

Executive Vice President, The Botsford Group

What is the biggest financial mistake made by young people?

Not living below their means! The advantage of starting to save early is amazing when you look at the power of compounding. If a young person starts out on the wrong foot and accumulates debt vs. savings, that same power of compounding builds up a huge, difficult wall that they will have to eventually climb over if they want to reach financial success.

What’s the best financial advice you would give to recent grads?

Delayed gratification can be a beautiful thing! If you live below your means and save your pennies, you will be able to afford that __________ (fill in the blank with car, apartment, boat, designer bag, etc.) in the future and I promise, you will appreciate it more by waiting!
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Rachel Cruze

#1 New York Times Best-Selling Personal Finance Author

What is the biggest financial mistake made by young people?

The most common mistake I see teens and young adults make is not being intentional when it comes to their money. They don’t think about how the decisions they make now will affect the rest of their lives. By learning how to create a simple budget you can get control of your money and avoid costly debt that will leave you struggling for years to come.

What’s the best financial advice you would give to recent grads?

Avoid debt. If you’re headed off to college, go to a school you can afford, get scholarships and work your way through school so you can avoid student loans. If you’re graduating college, remember that you’re 22, not 52. It’s okay not to have the best of everything right after college. Be patient and save so you can pay cash for things like cars, furniture and vacations. Debt robs you of your greatest wealth building tool, your income. By starting your adult life without debt, you’re able to lay a solid foundation for your financial future.
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Alana L. Golden

Public Information Officer, Office of Public Affairs, California Department of Business Oversight

What is the biggest financial mistake made by young people?

The most common mistake continues to be getting in debt at an early age. High interest credit can take a very long time to pay off and if it’s not paid on time, will affect and lower credit scores. Choose debt carefully. Understand the difference between good debt and bad debt.

What’s the best financial advice you would give to recent grads?

Start saving early. It’s okay if it’s a very small amount. Small contributions to a retirement account now will pay off later. And please keep a rainy day fund for unexpected expenses.
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Maura Hume Sweeney

Associate Director, Employer Relations, College of the Holy Cross

What is the biggest financial mistake made by young people?

Based on my experience, I would probably say that they have a general lack of motivation to learn financial literacy until it becomes absolutely necessary. We've tried to conduct workshops for seniors to teach them about renting an apartment, buying a car, etc. and only a handful of students ever show up.

What’s the best financial advice you would give to recent grads?

Know what kind of loans you're taking out and what the payments will be like after graduation. It's not free money and although loans can be relatively easy to obtain, they can be quite difficult to pay off.
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Bing Yu

Assistant Professor, School of Business, Meredith College

What is the biggest financial mistake made by young people?

The most common mistake that young people make with their money is that they don’t do financial planning. Many people don’t know how much they spend and how much they could save each month. As a result, when they over-consume, they have to rely on installment payment and not be able to pay off credit card balance in many times.

What’s the best financial advice you would give to recent grads?

Planning your monthly expenses well and make sure that each month you are able to pay off your credit card monthly statement balance. If you pay the credit card minimum payment only, your unpaid balance will be charged by daily-compounding interest. This daily-compounding interest charge will accumulate huge interest expenses over times.
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Ellie Kay

Author of Lean Body, Fat Wallet

What is the biggest financial mistake made by young people?

They don't know how to budget the limited funds they have. They can learn to budget their graduation money, allowance or even funds from their part time job. For a cool interaction budgeting tool, you can go to or I have found that the most common mistake is NOT that people don't have enough money, but that they don't have a plan for the money they have. In my counseling in the wealthy industry, I've seen people making $500k a year who still can't make ends meet and have an extraordinary amount of consumer debt. Develop a plan for your money and you'll not go wrong.

What’s the best financial advice you would give to recent grads?

Planning your monthly expenses well and make sure that each month you are able to pay off your credit card monthly statement balance. If you pay the credit card minimum payment only, your unpaid balance will be charged by daily-compounding interest. This daily-compounding interest charge will accumulate huge interest expenses over times. Find a money mentor who has done a good job in paying off debt, living on a budget, paying cash for regular expenses and saved enough money for an emergency. Set up regular dates for a money workout and let them coach you on how they did it. This person may be an older sibling, a parent, a coach or teacher or a fellow grad who just happens to be really good with money.
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Kevin Gallegos

Vice President of Phoenix Operations for Freedom Financial Network, Freedom Financial Network, LLC.

What is the biggest financial mistake made by young people?

1. Not budgeting (even if living with parents). Budgeting may not sound exciting, but it is the # 1, sure-fire way to stretch a salary and save money – and is one thing young adults do least often. Budgeting need not be complicated. An Excel spreadsheet, or pencil and paper, will work as well as budget-specific software. The key is to set goals – and as appropriate, with parents. Whether the goals are to save up for an apartment, save for retirement, or budget time and money to train for a marathon, write down the goals and build the budget with the goals in mind.

2. Maintaining credit card debt. Few investments can top the rate of return for eliminating debt; by maintaining credit card debt, you not only bypass the chance to save that money, but you lose out further with the interest. Paying off credit card debt at typical interest rates effectively makes an investment that returns 20 percent or more per year.

3. Treating savings as something for “money left over.” Savings needs to be a mandatory ‘bill.” Set up self-billing for savings. Some financial institutions let you arrange automatic withdrawal from your checking account to a savings account. Also check with your employer for automatic deposit into your savings accounts. Record this expense like a bill every month to painlessly accumulate savings. If necessary, start with a small amount like $25 or $50 per month and increase it whenever possible – when you pay off a credit card with a $50 monthly payment, increase your savings by that $50. With the same outflow you have today, you’ll be paying yourself.

4. Paying bills when you get around to it. Big mistake!!! Pay every bill in full and on time, period, to avoid increasingly high late charges, penalties and fees. More people spend more money paying interest (and late fees) than on many other expenses. You’ll up your credit score at the same time.

What’s the best financial advice you would give to recent grads?

One word: Save!

Save part of every paycheck received – whether from salary, a freelance engagement or a yard sale. Ideally, save 10 percent. But if that doesn’t work, save a smaller percent, but make sure it’s consistent.

While many experts believe the No. 1 challenge today for young adults is preparing for retirement, it’s easy for young adults to ignore this advice because retirement seems so far away and so irrelevant. It’s better to think of it as saving to create options – the option to do what you want with your time, whenever that time may be.
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Sheryl Garrett

Founder, The Garrett Planning Network, Inc.

What is the biggest financial mistake made by young people?

Americans are optimistic. When we’re young, add invincible to that optimism. Although they seem like wonderful traits, and are in many ways, this attitude lends itself to causing young people to postpone boring stuff like savings. We think… When I get that job, promotion, bonus, or get that degree, then I’ll be making enough money to save. Year after year we tell ourselves this, but life gets more complicated… houses, children, etc. and our resources are even more stretched. Time is your biggest ally…use it, don’t lose it.

What’s the best financial advice you would give to recent grads?

You’re an adult now. Everyone wants your money. Use cash. It’s real. It’s tangible. Credit cards are not your friends. Save a nickel of every dollar you earn.

Young people don’t resonate with the concept of retirement (or even planning for the long-term) and taking some of their “pent up demand” spending money to save for retirement isn’t going to work. My 17 year old nephew said he doesn’t want to retire or even think about it. “That’s for old people!” When I reframed the question and asked him if he’d like to have enough money that he wouldn’t have to work for a living… that got him excited. If he started saving 5% of every dollar he makes, he’ll be in great shape to achieve financial independence before he’s too old to enjoy it.
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Rick Ferri

CFA, Portofolio Solutions

What is the biggest financial mistake made by young people?

Many young people spend above their means and get deep into debt. Most graduating college students already have school loans. Adding credit card debt only makes things worse.

What’s the best financial advice you would give to recent grads?

Read “The Richest Man in Babylon” by George S. Clason. First published in 1926, this is perhaps the best book on personal money management ever written. Follow the link to a free version!
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Edna Grover-Bisker

Director, Career Opportunities & Employer Relations, Missouri University of Science and Technology

What is the biggest financial mistake made by young people?

Buying items they don't need...and paying extra for them in interest. Recent graduates have “real” money coming in for what may very well be the first time. It is exciting and they want to splurge a little bit to reward themselves. Every time they make an "impulse buy" and use a credit card but don't pay in full by the due date, they could be paying interest on that purchase for months or years to come. Spending money for something you really don't need can be a big waste of your money. But you can make the matter worse, a lot worse, by putting the purchase on a credit card and paying monthly interest charges.

Another mistake I see recent graduates making is getting too deeply in debt. Being able to borrow allows us to buy clothes or computers, take a vacation or purchase a home or a car. But taking on too much debt can be a problem, and each year millions of adults of all ages find themselves struggling to pay their loans, credit cards and other bills.

What’s the best financial advice you would give to recent grads?

Here are my top two.

1. Learn to live within your means right out of the gate – and understand that means your life likely won’t look like mom & dad’s right away.

2. Respect the incredible power of compounding – start saving right out of school no matter how hard it hurts & how unpleasant the tradeoffs.
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George Papadopoulos

NAPFA Registered Financial Advisor, Founder, Fee Only Wealth Management

What is the biggest financial mistake made by young people?

The most common mistake is they do not contribute enough to their employer’s retirement plan. At the very least they should contribute enough to participate fully in the matching! If they can maximize their contributions and adjust their lifestyle accordingly and keep it up for several straight years, they will be way ahead than their peers to building wealth.

What’s the best financial advice you would give to recent grads?

I mentor some young college students in my alma matter and at times I email them this below. Feel free to use any of the advice tips.

First, I would concentrate on getting a good education in something you enjoy doing that will provide you with good income with potential [for growth].

Whatever you do, work a little harder than the next guy and always be connected by getting involved in your chosen profession/industry. Never stop networking.

Always have some money laying aside in the bank or an online savings account for emergencies. As you will find out, [bad stuff] does happen when you least expect it.

Avoid carrying credit card balances, they are truly evil!

If you have a 401(k) at work, sign up right away and maximize your contributions!

Start saving for a house down payment. Renting is also okay, too, until you have a 20 percent deposit for you first purchase. And whatever you get, do not buy more house than you can afford!

Marry well. (Just kidding…well, not really.)

Never ever spend more than you earn!

Always save, at a minimum, 10 percent of what you earn. 15 percent is better, 20 percent is super.

Don’t blow your money in a brand new sports car. Buy one a little used and have two or three dealers compete against each other on the price you got on the Internet. And, don’t fall in love with those wheels, they are just transportation.

When you do have an investment portfolio, always diversify with no-load mutual funds, preferably cheap index funds and ETFs.

Never believe that there are gurus who have “proven” systems who can make you rich, they are full of it and are looking for suckers to separate from their money.
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Eric Tyson

Author, Personal Finance for Dummies

What is the biggest financial mistake made by young people?

The most common mistake young people make with their money is thinking and believing that since they generally have so little money, there's no point in getting educated about personal financial management. But, regardless of your income, you are always spending money and making decisions that impact your finances so it pays to get smarter sooner about handling money decisions for your sake and your parents' sake. And, once you have a steady, full-time job, there's even more at stake.

What’s the best financial advice you would give to recent grads?

Take the time to get educated now regarding personal finances by reading my book and other quality resources!
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Peter Bielagus

Financial author and Speaker, Wealth Educators International, LLC.

What is the biggest financial mistake made by young people?

The most common mistake is not paying attention to personal finance at a young age. When finance is ignored in life decisions, young people lose out big time on future opportunities. The student who falls in love with a college because it has a cool campus and a new $80 million dollar fitness center, but borrows through the nose to go there, sets their life on a very limiting path. (They must make choices that will support the massive debt payments.) Likewise, the new employee who waits just a few years to start their retirement fund cuts themself off from hundreds of thousands of dollars in compound interest earnings. And the would be homeowner who doesn’t check her credit until she starts looking for houses, might find herself in with the 70% of Americans who have a mistake on their credit report that is not their fault. So the best piece of advice is always START!

What’s the best financial advice you would give to recent grads?

For college students: If you have student loans, you need to know the amount of your monthly loan payments. Many students know how much they have borrowed, but very few can identify how much their monthly student loan payments are. Knowing this number will affect all of your post college decisions; what job you accept, where you live, the car you have, and whether or not you can afford HBO (hint: you can't.) So ask the financial aid office for the total monthly payment on your student loans.

For high school students headed to college: Remember you go to college for only one reason: to increase your opportunity. Debt decreases opportunity. So students and parents MUST weigh these two factors against each other. The brand name, education, and experience you believe you will get from the expensive school must outweigh the lost opportunities the debt burden will take away. College is no longer an experience (it used to be) but now it is an investment and it has to be treated like one. You must get a good return on your time and money.
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Debra Wheatman

President, Careers Done Write, Inc.

What is the biggest financial mistake made by young people?

Oftentimes, young people accumulate debt on credit cards, which becomes a tremendous burden. With the interest that they have to pay, they cannot get caught up. This becomes a vicious cycle as they continue to charge with no way of paying off the debt.

What’s the best financial advice you would give to recent grads?

If you cannot afford to pay for it in cash now, then you cannot afford to buy it. This is an important lesson to learn. Spending on credit cards gives a false sense of security because no actual "cash" is being exchanged. If you had to bring real money to a transaction, you might reconsider whether or not you should be spending money on a particular service or product.

Keeping a budget so that you remain aware of how much you have vs. what can be spent will keep you on track and help avoid situations where you spend too much and cannot afford to pay debts at the end of the month. If you do use credit cards, make sure you have enough money to pay the full balance when the bill comes due at the end of the month. Consider using American Express as the card of choice. They have many card options, some of which are not credit cards; the balance must be paid in full at the end of the cycle. This can help keep spending in check.
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Robyn Young

Professional Daily Money Manager Money Care, LLC.

What is the biggest financial mistake made by young people?

The most common mistake I see young people making with their money is trying to live beyond their means.

What’s the best financial advice you would give to recent grads?

Don’t expect your parents to maintain your standard of living. Although they may have paid for your cell phone, car, and vacations while you were in high school and college, it is time to pay for these things yourself. If you can’t afford them, go without or use lower-cost services until you can. Now that you are out of school, your parents may need to save for their retirement, or you may be supporting them in their old age.
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Andrew Josuweit

CEO, Student Loan Hero

What is the biggest financial mistake made by young people?

Two out of three young adults graduate with student loan debt. The average debt load per borrower rolls in slightly above $30k for a 2014 graduate. While the jury is still out investigating the ROI of a college degree, what else can be a worse graduation present?

Student loan debt often paralyzes and forces young adults to make life decisions they don’t necessarily want.

What’s the best financial advice you would give to recent grads?

Start building an emergency fund ASAP. As a young adult, it’s crucial to have at least a few thousand dollars in the bank to get you through the first few months after graduation.
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Kate Brooks

Executive Director of Personal and Career Development, Wake Forest University

What should recent graduates look for in a place to live?

I guess we're talking two issues here: location (as in city) and type of living situation - apartment, condo, etc. The obvious answer is you live where the jobs are - but if you don't have a job yet, then one way to start thinking about where to live is: where do you want to live, and where do you have relatives or friends you could share living space with? Most young graduates can't afford to just move to a city, rent an apartment, and look for a job. So you want to look for ways to economize - even if that means moving home. The only danger in moving home is if you live in an isolated location where jobs are not readily available. While you will be able to live cheaply, that doesn't much matter if there are no jobs.

There are no perfect cities to move to-- location should be based on where your industry hub is. If you want advertising, for example, the bulk of entry-level opportunities will be in New York and LA - there will be options in other cities, but perhaps not as many.

What should recent graduates look for in an industry?

Look for industries that are growing and developing and on a long-term trajectory (even if there's a slight dip now). This would include healthcare, technology, and service fields like the travel industry and personal services. Most fields are rapidly changing due to technology so if you have the skills to combine a tech background with a field (for instance, higher ed has been and will continue to be rapidly influenced by new technology) that's the way to go.

What should recent graduates look for in an employer?

Look for a place where you can learn and will receive mentoring. Recognize that you won't know everything-- you are, in essence, starting over and it's important to find an environment where you can observe, develop new skills, make a contribution (even if it's not glamorous) and where you can develop your work skills: punctuality, responsibility, learning to take on new tasks and meeting deadlines, etc.

What is the biggest career mistake that recent graduates make?

Not devoting the necessary time to do the job search well. They need to approach every opportunity in a professional manner and understand that looking for a job is actually a full-time job - not just something to do when they find the time.

Also, expecting the first job to be perfect or the beginning of their career trajectory. Sometimes a first job is just a transition-- it's a step away from the academic world and a step into the corporate or nonprofit world. It will likely not be the job of their dreams-- but they will learn, they will understand what they like and don't like on that job and that will help them when they are ready to look for the next job.

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Carl Martellino

Executive Director, University of Southern California Career Center

What should recent graduates look for in a place to live?

At the start of one’s career mobility is a key component to future success and opportunities. While it is important that a recent graduate selects a location that is congruent with his or her lifestyle it is also important to consider current and future job prospects. A recent graduate should not consider the initial city or location as a permanent decision. He or she might select a city where, in fact, they do not want to live long-term, but for 2 or 3 years it is the perfect place to launch their career. For example, a leadership or management training program might be at a city where the organization is headquartered, but the employee will have opportunities to move to other locations after this initial training period. Or, a student doing non-profit work might want to spend some time in D.C. or various large cities that have particular issues that need to be addressed. Along the way the recent graduate is building his or her resume and portfolio of skills.

Housing costs, of course, vary greatly by city and location. It is suggested that not more than 30% of one’s salary be spent on rent/housing expenses. In some cities, particularly on an entry-level salary this can be quite difficult and going up to 40% is necessary. Beyond this price point it gets very difficult to manage one’s finances. Sharing an apartment can be a great way to cut those expenses. In addition to reducing the outlay of rent it also offers a recent graduate the opportunity to live with others and re-create – to some degree – the college experience where friends were just down the hall.

What should recent graduates look for in an industry?

While it is important to consider the future prospects of an industry it is equally important to consider one’s passion displayed through his or her interests, skills, and personality temperament. The most successful careers are launched when an individual’s likes and dislikes are well-matched with the particular job function and also with the industry. When all three of these areas match the individual has a myriad number of ways to thrive and succeed.

What should recent graduates look for in an employer?

One of the most important areas for a recent graduate is the relationship with his or her director supervisor. A recent graduate should seek to work for someone who is a great leader, established in his or her field, and who will have and take the time to mentor and train. A supervisor who supports a recent graduate’s career growth, involvement in professional associations, provides them with a variety of projects, and introduces them to other individuals who are centers-of-influence within the profession are key factors. Beyond the direct supervisor a recent graduate will want to seek an employer who shares common core values and interests. For example, if a recent graduate is very passionate about the environment, social causes, etc. and the employer allows flex-time or the opportunity to do pro-bono work then this could be a great match.

What is the biggest career mistake that recent graduates make?

The biggest mistake a recent graduate can make is selecting a position simply based on salary. This does not mean that this should not be a consideration, but it should be weighted with a whole host of other criteria. Chief among the criteria, at this early point in one’s career, are the opportunities to learn and to advance.

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Joe Downs

Founder and Principal, Reality Financial Planning Services, LLC

What is the biggest financial mistake made by young people?

Lack of savings for ‘emergency funds’ and unrealistic expectations for income/job prospects. Need to establish a personal spending plan (aka Budget) to know what expenses they have. Taking on debt without thinking of ability to repay it.

What’s the best financial advice you would give to recent grads?

Same advice as I give everyone: Spend less than you earn, pay yourself first, and monitor credit (reports and debt).
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Andrea Gutierrez

Assistant Director, Career Center, Bowling Green State University

What is the biggest financial mistake made by young people?

They seem to not realize how long a purchase takes to pay off if being charged to a credit card. The immediate gratification from a purchase is gratified but I think the time frame to pay for the item/service is not realized!

What’s the best financial advice you would give to recent grads?

Pay cash for everything you can, keep credit card purchases to a minimum or emergency situation and try to stay on a budget as hard as that may be. Also, working a second job or finding additional opportunities to make an income can help them cover expenses.
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Erin Botsford

Author, The Big Retirement Risk: Running Out of Money Before You Run Out of Time

What is the biggest financial mistake made by young people?

They don’t start saving immediately; they put off saving until later…and they don’t develop the critical habit of saving.

What’s the best financial advice you would give to recent grads?

Start the saving habit immediately; take 10% of every dollar you make and set it aside, not in a ‘revolving’ account, but in something you won’t touch...


WalletHub analyzed and ranked the 150 most populous cities in the United States based on the following 18 metrics, which were designed to collectively represent most of the issues that young people have in mind when looking for a place to set down roots - from professional opportunities to the odds of finding a mate. With that said, the two overall categories listed below were intended for organizational purposes only. In other words, they were used to group the metrics but were not taken into account when deciding the weight assigned to each metric.

More information, along with the sources we used to conduct this report are below.

Quality of Life

Average Annual Income, Adjusted for Cost of Living: 1

Arts, Leisure & Recreation Establishments Per 100,000 Inhabitants: 1

Percentage of the Population Ages 25-34: 1

Mating Opportunities (share of population that has never been married): 1

Strength of Social Ties: 1

Percentage of the Population with a Bachelor’s Degree or Higher: 1

Population Growth: 0.5

Average 2-Bedroom Rent: 0.5

Housing Costs: 0.5

Professional Opportunities

Number of Entry-Level Jobs Per 100,000 Inhabitants: 1

Monthly Median Starting Salary: 1

Technology Jobs as a Percentage of Total City Employment: 1

Annual Job Growth, Adjusted for Population Growth: 1

Median Income Growth Rate: 1

Economic Mobility: 1

Workforce Diversity: 1

Current Unemployment Rate: 0.5

Entrepreneurial Activity: 0.5

Sources: The information used to construct this report is courtesy of the U.S. Census Bureau, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, Sharecare,, the Equality of Opportunity Project and WalletHub research.

John Kiernan is Senior Writer & Editor at Evolution Finance. He graduated from the University of Maryland with a BA in Journalism, a minor in Sport Commerce & Culture,…
1221 Wallet Points
Good study, but how do we see the actual results for a specific city on the 18 metrics used in your methodology? Just showing averages in Quality of Life and Professional Opportunities does not show the metrics that a city is strong or weak in. Are the individual city metrics results available? Thanks.
May 8, 2014  •  Reply  •  Flag