The class of 2015 is leaving college as the most indebted group of new grads ever, thanks to an average student debt load of $35,000.
With that much debt to pay off, the first few years out of school can prove to be a make-or-break time for new graduates. Many will plan on moving to big cities in search of job opportunities in metropolises such as New York or San Francisco. But the high cost of housing there will likely reduce their ability to pay down student debt quickly.
While jobs are often plentiful in those major cities, young grads may not be able to earn enough to afford their own apartment, and even with roommates, rent can still be expensive. While some young Americans may have their sights set on the bright lights, considering a smaller, up-and-coming city where rents are affordable and jobs are proliferating could prove to pay dividends.
And some big corporations are opening satellite offices in these smaller towns for the same reason: finding more space at a lower cost.
"On average it takes 10 to 15 years for a grad to pay off their student loans," said Allan Jones, chief marketing officer of recruitment site ZipRecruiter. Moving to a smaller city with a lower cost of living can free cash and help "reduce the amount of time it takes to pay off the loans by as much as half the time," he noted.
Many such cities are located in a region that's not known as a byword for jobs growth: the Midwest. According to ZipRecruiter's analysis of data, the area is currently showing strong growth for hiring, as well as relatively affordable housing costs.
The point, Jones noted, is that young grads shouldn't feel compelled to search for jobs only in major cities. He added: "You don't have to follow the cookie-cutter step of moving to a big city."
Read on to learn about the top 9 up-and-coming cities for young graduates.
9. Ogden-Clearfield, Utah
Only 40 miles north of Salt Lake City, Ogden City combines the benefits of a walkable downtown and access to the outdoors, such as skiing, climbing and biking. It's been cited as one of the best towns in America by Outside magazine, as well as one of the most affordable cities for buying a home.
Its biggest employer is the IRS, while financial and government industries also play a big role in local hiring. Right now, some of the local companies posting jobs in the Ogden area include Fresenius Medical Care and ResourceMFG, a manufacturing staffing company.
The median rent in Ogden is $704 per month, compared with about $3,460 for a one-bedroom apartment in San Francisco.
8. Albuquerque, New Mexico
The largest city in New Mexico often draws tourists for its arts, music and film festivals, as well as its outdoor activities and unique mix of cultures. But it's also a growing technology hub, home to the national research and development lab Sandia National Laboratories and Technology Ventures Corp., which commercializes federally funded technologies.
The average one-bedroom apartment rents for about $633, or far below the national average of $975 per month. Current companies that are hiring include marketing firm Joined Elements and medical staffing company Maxim Healthcare Services.
7. Toledo, Ohio
This Rust Belt city has revitalized itself through developing solar energy and other green technologies, ZipRecruiter notes. Companies in the health care and financial service sectors are currently hiring, such as transaction-processing service company Central Payment.
The average rent for a one-bedroom apartment in Toledo is about $515 per month, far below the national average of $975 per month. On an entry-level salary, Toledo is especially affordable, ZipRecruiter notes.
6. Des Moines-West Des Moines, Iowa
With a large insurance industry located in Des Moines, the city offers a higher-than-average number of jobs that require a college degree, ZipRecruiter noted. The city doesn't only have jobs, but a hipster scene that may be attractive to young grads. The National Journal recently noted that Des Moines is "the real place to be" for hipsters -- not Brooklyn.
One-bedroom apartments rent for about $689 per month on average, which also makes this city far more affordable than bigger rivals such as San Francisco or New York.
5. Fort Wayne, Indiana
Like Toledo, Fort Wayne is another Rust Belt city undergoing a revitalization. The town was nicknamed "the city that saved itself" after diversifying from its manufacturing base following massive layoffs from employers such as General Electric in the 1970s and 1980s.
The health care and insurance industries are among those that have grown to fill the gap, helping to attract college graduates to the city. The average rent in Fort Wayne is $664, well below the national average of $975 for a one-bedroom apartment.
4. Lincoln, Nebraska
This Midwestern city of 250,000 residents offers a low unemployment rate and a diversified economy, with companies in fields such as marketing to info tech hiring entry-level workers. Lincoln also holds the highest percentage of residents in their early 20s, making it a mecca for Millennials.
The biggest employers include the state of Nebraska, the public school system and the University of Nebraska at Lincoln, as well as Bryan Health, which operates a hospital and outpatient clinics.
The average rent for a one-bedroom apartment in Lincoln is just $546 per month, providing a highly affordable cost of living for recent college grads.
3. Dayton, Ohio
The aerospace industry remains important to this Ohio city, home to the inventors of the world's first airplane, the Wright brothers. The biggest employer is Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, while the health care industry has become a major force in Dayton.
One-bedroom apartments rent for $527 per month, on average, making the city one of the more affordable towns on this list.
It also receives high marks for its cultural amenities: Dayton's arts scene led American Style magazine in 2012 to rank the city second on its list of midsize cities, just after St. Petersburg, Florida.
2. Boise-Nampa, Idaho
Boise's employers are hiring in a number of fields, ranging from government to tech, according to ZipRecruiter. About half the positions in the city require college experience. It's also drawing a large population of people in their early 20s, which is making Boise a vibrant place for young grads.
The average rent for a one-bedroom apartment is $752 per month, somewhat higher than many other towns on this list, but still below the national average of $975 per month.
1. Sioux Falls, South Dakota
Sioux Falls is a great place to start a career, ZipRecruiter noted. It offers a diversified economy and growing financial and health care industries. Aside from a strong economy, Sioux Falls also features a growing culinary scene and arts festivals such as the Sioux Falls Jazz and Blues Festival.
The average rent is $701 per month, less than the national average of $975, and far below market prices in bigger cities such as San Francisco or New York.
"It's up and coming," said ZipRecruiter's Jones. "It's turning into a hipster mecca."