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5 U.S. cities where college grads can thrive

State Capitol building in Austin, Texas, in the spring CrackerClips

Ah, spring -- the weather warms, the future brightens and an army of freshly minted college graduates fans out across America to apply their dreams and degrees to the working world. Whether those dreams take flight or crash to the ground depends, of course, on the individual. But the location where that person chooses to live can play a significant role.

To that end, Bankrate analyzed the 50 largest metropolitan areas in the U.S. to see how conducive they are to launching young careers.

"It's important to remember your job isn't your life. You want to be happy where you are, and you want to be able to afford where you're living," said Sarah Berger, who writes about finance and budgeting for Bankrate under the moniker The Cashlorette.

Read on to find the best-ranked cities to start your career, according to Bankrate.

Houston and Dallas, Texas

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Texas' largest metropolises have heat, humidity and cheap gas to spare, but that's not all that recommends Houston (No. 1) or Dallas (No. 5) to young adults just starting their career.

The benefits of being in the workforce stretch very far in Houston. The region's GDP has grown a healthy 4.5 percent every year since 2011, according to Bureau of Economic Analysis estimates -- nearly double the rate of the country as a whole. The median full-time salary for 22- to 26-year-olds with a college degree is $43,000 -- among the highest of the cities Bankrate surveyed.

And housing is cheap, to boot: On average, median rent takes up just 22 percent of a young graduate's income. (Housing experts consider a rate of 35 percent of income and lower as the threshold of affordability.)

In Dallas, the numbers are nearly as high. Median full-time pay for recent grads is $40,000, the local economy is growing at over 4 percent and rent takes up but a quarter of one's income. Dallas' rank could have been even higher, if not for cultural factors. The number of bars and cultural institutions per 1,000 residents were both on the low end.

"The lifestyle pulled [the ranking] down a bit, but the other three factors kind of offset that," said Bankrate's Berger.

Minneapolis - St. Paul, Minnesota

Image of Minneapolis downtown skyline at sunset. RudyBalasko

The Twin Cities boast an inordinately high density of bars and drinking establishments as well as entertainment venues, which makes their high youth employment ratio even more impressive.

"What really stood out to me is that 88 percent of people ages 22 to 26 are employed," said Berger. Nationwide, the figure is 81 percent. In these cities, rent takes up less than 30 percent of a young grad's income. And there are plenty of young grads to take advantage because the area has a large number of colleges and universities.

Minneapolis-St. Paul also ranked high on another metric, the Gallup-Healthways well-being index, which measures the physical and emotional health of communities.

Washington, D.C. (including Arlington and Alexandria, Virginia)

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The district that houses the nation's capital region isn't known for its affordability, but it has more than enough work to make up for it, Bankrate found.

"For recent graduates' job market rank, it actually scored first -- that's what pulled it up into the top five," Berger said. The median starting pay of $45,000 tied with San Francisco for the highest in Bankrate's list. Washington's GDP per capita of $80,500 was also near the top.

The city has artistic offerings to spare, many of which -- such as its renowned art museums -- are free. But the high costs of nearly everything else kept D.C. from being ranked higher. Still, said Berger, "It's a pricier city, but definitely more affordable than New York City or Los Angeles."

Milwaukee, Wisconsin

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With a metro population of 1.5 million, the city of Milwaukee has been described as a "mini-Chicago" -- but much more affordable. Median rent here, according to figures from Trulia, is $780 for a one-bedroom, while the median home sells for $135,000 -- about half the national average.

Strong rankings for both the college grad job market and lifestyle landed it at No. 4 overall in Bankrate's list.

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