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5 Surprising Cities to Start Your Career


New York City, D.C., Los Angeles — we all know the hottest cities to flock to after graduation.

The pressure to relocate to one of these classic places can be overwhelming, but many of us —whether it’s because of a lack of funds or an aversion to densely populated areas — might feel a bit apprehensive about making the move.

Rest easy! These aren’t the only places you can go to jump-start your post-college career. There are a host of smaller cities that offer just as many great opportunities that you might not have thought to consider. We did our research and spoke to some graduettes to bring you a list of cities to keep on your radar as you begin the infamous job hunt.

1. Birmingham, Alabama

Population: 200,000

Average rent (one-bedroom apartment): $660

Prominent industries: health care, education, finance

Livability, an online resource that researches American communities, lists Birmingham in its ranking of the top 10 best downtowns. The area is continuing to progress: Several projects involving renovation and housing — like the development of new residential spaces surrounding Regions Field — are helping to bring people downtown.

Jaime Ritter, a graduate from the University of Alabama at Birmingham who currently lives and works in Birmingham as a journalist, says this is her favorite part about the city.

“I love watching it constantly grow and evolve,” she says. “It’s come such a long way in the five years I’ve lived here, and I can’t wait to see what else it has in store!”

Health care is a major industry, thanks to UAB and its attached hospital, one of the area’s largest employers; as of May 2013, almost 40,000 people were employed in the health care industry and related occupations in Birmingham. Education and finance are also highly popular, with around 20 percent of the female population of Birmingham employed in both of these industries.

Move here if: You’re looking to ease into the post-college lifestyle.

According to Area Vibes, Birmingham has a cost of living that’s about 17.2 percent lower than the national average. This is great for recent grads trying to establish a career.

“Every place was completely affordable and inclusive,” says HC alumna Elana. “I never had to worry about not getting a reservation at a restaurant or being priced out of a place.”

Compared to more expensive cities, Birmingham could be the perfect place for those of you stepping out on your own for the first time!

2. Columbus, Ohio

Population: 800,000

Average rent (one-bedroom apartment): $698

Prominent industries: education, health care, arts/entertainment

Columbus stands as the 15th most populated city in the U.S., ahead of other metropolitan areas like Seattle, Miami and Boston, making it the perfect place for collegiettes looking to mingle.

“Most people wouldn’t think of this city in Ohio as a place to start their career or life, but it is actually a super fun and exciting place to be,” says Malone Ryan, a sophomore at John Carroll University in Ohio. “There is always something new to do in Columbus, no matter what type of person you are. From art museums to cultural festivals and more, you will never get bored here.”

Move here if: You have a passion for fashion.

“Columbus is an up-and-coming major fashion hot spot,” Malone says. “The city embraces all kinds of styles, people and walks of life and is a great place to start your career.”

Columbus is home to over 500 fashion designers, and the headquarters of many popular brands are located in the city or close nearby, including Abercrombie & Fitch, Victoria’s Secret and Express — the perfect hub for any fashion-forward professional. The city ranks third in fashion employment, right behind New York and San Francisco, making it one of America’s leading boutique districts. As a result, many companies are looking to expand in the area: ELOQUII Design, Inc., is currently taking steps to complete a sevenfold increase in the number of jobs added to its Columbus branch by 2017.

3. Nashville, Tennessee

Population: 620,000

Average rent (one-bedroom apartment): $1,048

Prominent industries: education, music/entertainment

This Southern music hotspot ranked in the top five cities in the nation for the highest levels of job creation. Nashville has a growth rate expected to outpace the national average by 2017, with an estimated 140,000 new jobs to be created by 2018.

“It is such a fun city and growing so fast,” says Erica Barrett, an alumna of the University of Massachusetts Amherst who has lived in Nashville. “There are so many opportunities, and not just in music. The nightlife is a blast, they have tons of sporting leagues and clubs for young singles, there are lots of networking opportunities in the community and I found it to be a true melting pot — my friends were from everywhere!”

Move here if: You’re looking to break in to the music industry.

While other opportunities are available, Nashville is the perfect city for collegiettes interested in a career in music. Erica cites this as the reason for her move to the city after she graduated: “I knew I wanted to work in [the music industry], but didn’t want the fast-paced life of NYC or LA. It was an amazing place to begin my career, and I was able to do everything they did in the larger hubs career-wise.”

Music in Nashville is a billion-dollar industry that has led to a host of opportunities in several related fields, such as recording studios, booking agencies and publishing companies. As of 2013, Nashville has 27,000 jobs in the music industry, so the musically inclined who are looking to make it big should pack a bag and head down south.

4. Atlanta, Georgia

Population: 450,000

Average rent (one-bedroom apartment): $962

Prominent industries: business/finance, arts/entertainment

Metro Atlanta saw an increase of 64,000 jobs in 2013. Home to Delta Air Lines, UPS, Coca-Cola and the media conglomerate Turner Broadcasting, the city ranks fourth in the nation in hosting the most Fortune 500 companies.

This major transportation hub is home to the world’s busiest airport, making Atlanta one of America’s premiere international cities, as well as a global business and trade center. Over 1,300 foreign-based businesses have operations in the area, employing over 81,000 people.

Move here if: You want to be a star of the silver screen.

Move over, Hollywood. With hits like The Walking Dead and The Hunger Games: Catching Fire shutting down city streets, Atlanta is a booming market for film and television production.

In 2013 alone, the city invested in 142 film and TV projects, spending almost $940 million in the process. The reason? Tax breaks. The state of Georgia offers tax credits to companies spending at least $500,000 on production. In addition, the state’s official Film, Music & Digital Entertainment Office lists cast and crew jobs on its website, as well as Facebook and Twitter.

These incentives draw companies to the area: Pinewood Studios, which is based in the UK, recently opened an Atlanta branch in 2014 (and is already set to begin filming Marvel’s ANT-MAN). Moreover, this increase also brings job opportunities in related fields, such as catering, equipment supply and transportation.

“Atlanta has the talents and the resources to become the next major movie hub,” says Marisa Tontaveetong, an alumna of the Savannah College of Art and Design. “It’s heading that way right now.” If you’re looking for your next big break, then Atlanta is definitely the place to be.

5. Research Triangle Park (Raleigh, Durham, Chapel Hill), North Carolina

Population: 2,700,000

Average rent (one-bedroom apartment): $750

Prominent industries: research and development, technology, medicine

This region gets its name from the three universities that mark its boundaries: Duke University, North Carolina State University and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. The Triangle surrounds the cities of Raleigh, Durham and Chapel Hill.

Research Triangle Park (RTP) was founded in 1959 and is now one of the largest research parks in the world. RTP is home to over 170 companies, including Cisco, United Therapeutics and the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences. Current development plans hope to add up to 100,000 jobs to the area.

Move here if: You want to make a major scientific discovery.

The Triangle is a leading center of research and development in America. Almost $300 million is invested each year for research and development at the Triangle’s universities, in fields as diverse as biotechnology, pharmaceuticals, innovative technologies and advanced medical care.

Ashley Xu, an alumna of the Ohio State University, had an invaluable opportunity working in the Triangle. “I had a great experience at Duke Hospital because it’s one of the nation’s best trauma centers,” she says. “It provided me with a variety of educational opportunities involving rare diseases and first-rate technological advances.”

If you want to be on the cutting edge of science and technology, the Triangle should definitely be on your list.

You don’t have to move to the classic big cities to succeed in your career, collegiettes! A lot of amazing opportunities can be found in places that fly just under the radar. They may not have the historic glamour of New York or Los Angeles, but if you want to save money, are interested in a niche field or simply prefer a more laid-back lifestyle, then these cities definitely have something to offer. Keep these surprising places in mind as you begin your post-collegiette job search!

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