I saw this article about 10 best places for new grads. I beg to differ and I’ll tell you why. The article puts a lot of emphasis on housing cost, certainly not a minor consideration, but in the long run not one that will be that important. And it places a lot of emphasis on locations with lots of young people, sure, somewhat important but you’re going to be growing up soon and which people are around, of all ages, will soon be more important. So here’s my criteria, partly learned from (sometimes painful) experience:
1. Jobs. Yep, you got a job after college but that’s not the one I’m talking about. I’m talking about your next job and the one after that. It’s pretty clear that very few people have lifetime jobs so chances are you’ll be looking for a job after the one you just got. And how is the area going to be for that!
My first “real” job was with the old HP in Palo Alto. During my ten years there I got a chance to visit many of HP’s locations in more remote locations, often nice places. But guess what, in many of those smaller towns HP was it, the only job for your skill set. No matter how good your job is sooner or later there will be a reorganization (or at least a new boss, or even co-workers) or your product will be cancelled or whatever – things change. And a great job can become a lousy one fairly easily. The HP people stuck in small towns were stuck, put up with the job or move. OTOH, in the Bay Area there were many HP sites, so if the one you’re at isn’t working, you can probably transfer to another site within your commuting range. Or, if the company isn’t working for you, there are tons of other companies looking for your skills within a new commute, maybe even a shorter one.
And in a job-rich location sooner or later you’ll know people at other companies, either refugees from your company or other people you meet. And even without building and working a network those acquaintances are invaluable. In the Bay Area, at least for some skills, jobs are looking for you and having those choices is way more important than rents.
Sure maybe not all of you are techies or sufficiently specialized it’s hard to find jobs in your field, but having a robust job environment will make life a lot easier. Now if you just want to goof off and have fun for a few years and then settle down, fine, go to a party town, but you will most likely have a good social life in the same location as you have good job opportunity.
2. Social connection: Yes, for the first few years adult life may be approximately the same as college life, but you’ll grow up. Then you’ll be looking for other people than just a party crowd. And it’s a lot easier to forge those social connections if the entire area is a magnet for the work you do. Sure, work doesn’t define you, but a) you’ll spend more time on that than anything else and b) hopefully you can have a job you like (I hate saying “be passionate”, but yeah, that too) and the area encourages your interest, not isolates. Omaha is a fine town, but a backwater for the tech stuff I did. Most of my social life involves people from the medical area and I have nothing to do with that so I don’t have the kinds of contacts I had in the Bay Area, people with whom I could share. And, right, shop talk gets boring and there is more to life but being around people who know what you do and you knowing what they do probably creates a better social life.
3. Diversity: This wasn’t an issue when I got my first job but over time did I learn to appreciate it. I mean diversity in all senses, certainly multiculturism (I didn’t realize how used to it I’d gotten until I left to a more homogeneous culture), but also all the things there are to do. As you grow up your interests will change. Sure, surfing is fun now, but something else will probably take its place in a few years. And a wide range of socioeconomic classes presents all sorts of positive ways to enjoy the area. Plus a diverse area is probably more tolerant and even if you’re in majority status, sooner or later you’ll discover that tolerance works for you too. As a wild-eyed liberal atheist living in a very red and religious state I have to constantly guard what I say and do. Plus many areas will try to regiment your lifestyle – don’t let ’em, be yourself, be different, be independent, and that’s a lot easier where everyone else is different too.
4. Environment: And I mean both natural and cultural. You may not be that inclined for outdoors stuff, but in a beautiful and rich environment (like California) there is a huge amount to do and again who knows what you’ll like in 10, 20 years. Where I am now I can drive for hours and still be in cornfields – fine, if you’re a farmer, but in Bay Area I could drive a short distance (although with all the traffic not such a short time) and be in wildly different environments and I liked them all. Even if you’re not into mountains or coasts or plains, you’ll appreciate a change of scenery and the activities. And the man-made environment is just as important, find a place with lots of things to do, even ones you don’t do now as your interests will change. One type of music may be your thing now but someday you may want the symphony or opera or ballet. The richer your environment is the more likely you’ll love where you chose to live.
5. Blue State: I’m sorry to all you conservatives, a Blue State is going to be the best place to live. Not only is it more likely to have the rest of the attributes on this list, blue states are just more progressive and sooner or later that will matter to you. You’re going to live in the future, not the past, and the Red States are the ones who resist change not who make it. Your world will be much different when you’re my age so go somewhere that is not afraid of change, that is open-minded (esp. in terms of multiculturism since that too is your future, not homogeneous white male-dominated). Guess what – living in one of the reddest states my taxes are way higher than they were in California. You want to know why – simple, there is more money in California so the state doesn’t have to take such a large cut. In California property taxes are capped, in Nebraska, with a house having half the valuation of the one I had in California I pay 5X more taxes. The highest state income tax rate I ever paid was in a red state, not a blue one. Plus in a blue state you’ll have a choice on politics. Republicans still get elected in California, Nebraska is a one party state where the Repugs try to outdo each other on who can be the more primitive. Politics may not much matter to you, fine, but Blue States are tolerant and diverse states – Red States, not so much. You can do conservative things in a Blue State, since they’re tolerant; you can’t do liberal things in a Red State since they enforce their views on you.
6. Get away from family: That’s why we have broadband and mobile and Facebook. You don’t have to live 10 miles from your family to still be connected. And chances are you are too connected, even though college probably developed a bit of independence in you. I see young people here who have never lived more than 50 miles from where they are born – wow, are they missing out. Don’t let your parents choice of location dictate your choice of location, choose your own. It will probably have an airport and certainly the Net, you’ll have lots of chance to see family. And besides when your folks get old, these days the pattern is they’ll move in with you or at least nearby. You’re at an age, and given this is aimed at college grads who’ve just gained some independence, where you need to develop your life by your agenda. Sure, it may be scary at times, even lonely, but those are motivators to develop your own life with people you chose. Again, I didn’t say reject your family, stay in touch, enjoy them, but move somewhere else.
7. Ignore lists: I’ve been to most of the cities on the list from the article, even lived in a couple of them. No one else can tell you what is best for you (provide candidates, perhaps, but not the final answer). I’m amazed San Francisco or the Bay Area aren’t on the list (presumably the high rents) because they’re amazing, even if they are already crowded. New York is not a place where I’m comfortable, but for urban types it’s amazing, off the scale on the issues in my list. A few of the towns on the list are fine, but Houston, give me a break (and I was born in Texas). Maybe for medical or if you’re an oil guy, but sorry, all of Texas has way too much (and the wrong) attitude. Even Austin sucks and San Antonio is barely reasonable, primarily due to diversity. And hot – Houston even makes Omaha look good. Since I’m not telling you specifics (hint, Portland, Palo Alto, Pleasanton, San Francisco, Santa Cruz, Boston, Chicago, Seattle, San Diego, Denver, even Des Moines (kinda hits a few of my categories, Minneapolis (if you really can stand cold, but with global warming who knows, might be like Palo Alto in three more decades), and, sorry, you can mostly forget the south as it meets almost none of my criteria (and I’ve spent plenty of time in the south, some enjoyable, but I wouldn’t want to live there).
Wherever you go, think hard about it (like whatever you do don’t pick your first job on pay, that will be irrelevant over time as quite possibly you’ll make more in your next job somewhere else). Don’t just drift. Moving can be a pain and once you own property a waste to move a lot. Go somewhere that after 10 years you still won’t have explored all of it. Do some research and don’t let little things like rents or %young people or average salaries or even outdoor recreation (ski areas in Colorado are wonderful for vacations, hint, don’t live there). Sure, you’re young enough it’s easy to change if you don’t like where you end up, but bit by bit you’ll start setting down roots and moving gets harder.
When I was kid I was actually lucky. My parents moved a lot and I had little choice but to tag along. So I was in Texas and Montana and Nebraska and Massachusetts before I settled in Palo Alto. So I had some perspective, but also I thought moving was easy. Guess what, after 30 years in Bay Area it almost killed me to come to Omaha. I had no idea how much I’d already found the best place for me and how much I would miss it when I lost it.
I hope you find the right place and really get into it. Location is more important than you might think – pick the right one for you.