The Best Metro Areas for Recent College Graduates to Find a Job

In two months, the COVID-19 pandemic cost over 36 million Americans their jobs. Luckily, unemployment declined in June, but some industries that were hit the hardest—like small businesses, tourism, and restaurants and bars—are still in survival mode. With a looming second wave of COVID approaching, many metro areas are in preparation mode again. 

Taking all of that into account, which metro areas should college graduates move to in order to increase their chances of snagging a job in the current economic climate? 

Frontier Business found the best (and most challenging) metro areas for college graduates to head once they flip their tassels to the left. Read on to see which metro areas college grads should run to and which they should carefully consider. 

Which Metro Areas are the Best and Most Challenging for Newly-Minted College Grads?

Idaho Falls, ID, Huntsville, AL, and Fargo, ND, are among the top metro areas for college graduates to snag a job. On the flip side, the Kahului-Wailuku-Lahaina, HI, metro area, Las Vegas-Henderson-Paradise, NV, metro area, and Atlantic City-Hammonton, NJ, lead the pack of metro areas college grads should carefully consider.

What Makes These Metro Areas Good Places for Jobs?

Several metro areas on our top twenty-five list depend largely on tourism. The difference between these areas and others having less economic success during the pandemic is that their economies are highly diversified and can bank on other sectors beyond tourism—sectors that have remained largely unscathed. 

Here are the primary industries in the metro areas that made our top twenty-five: 

  • Healthcare and social assistance 
  • Educational services 
  • Technical services
  • Public administration
  • Scientific 
  • Manufacturing 

Many of the metro areas best for jobs have healthcare and social assistance as their primary industries. Since the coronavirus pandemic has increased work for healthcare professionals, as well as professionals in the social assistance industry, it makes sense that these higher-ranked cities have more jobs to offer.

Other industries that have fared well during the pandemic include the healthcare and educational industries. Demand within the healthcare industry, of course, has increased because of COVID. The educational industry has adapted well to necessary changes, restructuring budgets and instructional methods.

Manufacturing, which also made the list, is a leading industry for both metro areas that fared well and poorly. Nearly 80% of manufacturers worldwide anticipate a negative financial impact from the pandemic, but manufacturers are hesitant to lay off employees because they may see a rebound if the federal government subsidizes the production of vital medical equipment. 

Which Metro Areas Should College Grads Carefully Consider? 

The metro areas that college grads should carefully consider thrive primarily on the following industries:

  • Tourism
  • Casinos and hotels 
  • Agriculture 
  • Restaurants and bars
  • Finance
  • Government
  • Business 

Pre-COVID, cities like Boston, DC, and San Francisco were among the best places to find work in 2019, with below-average unemployment rates and thriving businesses in tech, finance, business, government, and all things private sector. Although the tech industry has remained largely unchanged by COVID, the finance and business industries—plus the private sector—have been negatively impacted by the pandemic.  

Most of the cities most negatively affected by COVID credit tourism as one of their primary money makers. For metro areas where tourism is their bread and butter (like Honolulu, for example), job opportunities and sustainability in the current job climate are daunting. 

Case in point: Hawaii is currently dealing with Great Depression-level unemployment rates. Nevada also isn’t doing too hot, since, alongside casinos, Las Vegas thrives primarily on the tourism industry too. Atlantic City-Hammonton—another metro area run on tourism—suffered a $5.1 billion loss thanks to COVID, contributing to the Garden State’s record unemployment levels. 

The agriculture industry has also experienced a sudden downward spiral. Unlike tourism and restaurants and bars, the agriculture industry was already struggling before COVID-19 hit. Despite empty shelves in grocery stores, production is determined by need—and if more people become unemployed, fewer items will fly off the shelves.

In most instances, if the metro area’s flagship city isn’t doing well, its home state isn’t doing well either. 

How COVID has Changed the Job Market

It will take several years to see how COVID affects the US job market in the long term. In the short term, jobs in the healthcare , grocery, e-commerce, and delivery industry have surged due to increased demand. 

Travel, tourism, sports, performing arts, and restaurants and bars are among the industries that took the hardest hit from COVID. Of course, small businesses suffered massive losses too, no matter their niche. 

Social distancing as a result of COVID also brought mandatory remote work into play for industries that could accommodate it. Remote work raises the question: if companies should pay employees a salary based on cost of living, do companies need to structure their pay grades accordingly for remote work?

Other industries, like marketing, healthcare and social assistance, technical, and education mostly fared well—since, for the most part, social distancing didn’t have an immediate positive or negative impact.

By and large, COVID proved that industries that were deemed essential or that were able to operate digitally, fared the best. 


To find the best metro areas for college grads, we used data from the Census Bureau and U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics to analyze the following factors:

  • Percentage of those unemployed and percentage of change of employees on nonfarm payrolls (15% of final score) 
  • Percentage of population 20–34 (5% of final score) 
  • Percentage of population with a Bachelor’s degree or higher (5% of final score) 
  • Median rent (35% of final score) 
  • Median income (20% of score)
  • Job listings per 100 people aged 20–34 (20% of final score) 

From here, we ranked each metro area’s score from highest to lowest.

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