The 20 best college towns in America to start your career

David Wilson/FlickrAthens, Ohio, is home to Ohio University.
  • These days, you can start a career right in the town where you went to college.
  • According to a recent list compiled by Grand Canyon University, most of the best college towns for starting a career are east of the Mississippi River.
  • The top towns included Notre Dame, Indiana; Kingston, Rhode Island; and Morehead, Kentucky.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

If you’ve just graduated from college, why leave town? You might be able to start your career in the same place you called home while studying.

A recent list compiled by Grand Canyon University ranked the best college towns to start a career in, using data from the US Census, Yelp, Indeed, and US Climate Data. They based their findings on several factors, including job markets, local culture (museums, restaurants, events), and city infrastructure.

The top city was Notre Dame, Indiana, which is home to (you guessed it) Notre Dame University. In fact, all but three college towns on the list were east of the Mississippi River: Vermillion, South Dakota; Wayne, Nebraska; and Stillwater, Oklahoma.

Here are the top 20 college towns to start a career in.

20. Fairfax, Virginia — Overall score: 35.65

Colleges near Fairfax: George Mason University, Ivy Christian College

Fairfax’s biggest employer is G4S Secure Solutions, a security services company.

19. Highland Heights, Kentucky — Overall score: 35.65

Colleges near Highland Heights: Northern Kentucky University

Electrical cable company General Cable (a Fortune 500 company) calls Highland Heights home.

18. Columbia, South Carolina — Overall score: 35.75

Colleges near Columbia: University of South Carolina

Columbia’s biggest employers are the Palmetto Health hospital system and Blue Cross Blue Shield of South Carolina.

(T) 15. Vermillion, South Dakota — Overall score: 35.80

Colleges near Vermillion: University of South Dakota

Some of Vermillion’s biggest employers are the University of South Dakota (800 employees), its public school system (170 employees), and Walmart (around 100 employees).

(T) 15. Wayne, Nebraska — Overall score: 35.80

Colleges near Wayne: Wayne State College

Some of Wayne’s biggest economic industries (besides Wayne State College) are government, agribusiness, the wholesale/retail industry, and the service industry, according to its site.

(T) 15. Athens, Ohio — Overall score: 35.80

Colleges near Athens: Ohio University

Ohio University is Athens’s largest employer. Other big businesses in the area include healthcare company Quidel Corporation and solar energy company SunPower.

14. Carbondale, Illinois — Overall score: 35.95


Colleges near Carbondale: Southern Illinois University

Southern Illinois University (SIU) enrolls 12,817 students, which is almost half of Carbondale’s population.

13. Blacksburg, Virginia — Overall score: 36.05

Rui Serra Maia/Shutterstock

Colleges near Blacksburg: Virginia Tech, Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine

In 2011, Businessweek named Blacksburg the best US town to raise children. That same year, Southern Living named it the best college town in the South.

(T) 11. Oxford, Mississippi — Overall score: 36.15

Bryan Pollard/Shutterstock

Colleges near Oxford: University of Mississippi

Oxford markets itself as a popular tourist destination on its site, and it’s clear why: writers like William Faulkner and John Grisham have called the town home. And its university, dubbed “Ole Miss,” enrolled 23,258 students in the fall of 2017.

(T) 11. Auburn, Alabama — Overall score: 36.15

Rob Hainer/Shutterstock

Colleges near Auburn: Auburn University

About a quarter of Auburn’s workforce is employed by Auburn University (around 4,300 employees).

10. Morgantown, West Virginia — Overall score: 36.20

Aspen Photo/

Colleges near Morgantown: West Virginia University

Morgantown offers a number of incentives for small-business owners, including its own Economic Restructuring Committee and the West Virginia University School of Business and Economics.

9. Stillwater, Oklahoma — Overall score: 36.55

Ken Wolter/Shutterstock

Colleges near Stillwater: Northern Oklahoma College, Oklahoma State University

Stillwater‘s two largest employers are Oklahoma State University (6,069 employees) and Stillwater Medical Center (1,200 employees).

8. West Lafayette, Indiana — Overall score: 36.80

Colleges near West Lafayette: Purdue University

Purdue’s current enrollment is 40,000, almost as much as the city’s population. The university itself employs some 12,000 people, making it the single biggest employer in West Lafayette. There’s also Purdue Research Park, which hosts around 140 companies.

7. Newark, Delaware — Overall score: 36.90

Colleges near Newark: University of Delaware

The University of Delaware prides itself on its business, chemistry, and biochemistry studies, which go hand in hand with Delaware’s growing chemical and pharmaceutical industries.

6. Harrisburg, Pennsylvania — Overall score: 36.95

Shutterstock/Jon Bilous

Colleges near Harrisburg: Harrisburg University of Science and Technology, Penn State Harrisburg, Harrisburg Area Community College

Harrisburg’s top employers are: Commonwealth of Pennsylvania (state government, 21,885 employees) United States Federal government (including military, 18,000 employees), Giant Food Stores (grocery store chain, 8,902 employees), and Penn State Hershey Medical Center (8,849 employees). The Hershey Company alone employs over 13,000 people (including manufacturing and Hersheypark).

5. Oxford, Ohio — Overall score: 37.15

Colleges near Oxford: Miami University

In 2015, Forbes listed Oxford as the best college town in the country, thanks to its high percentage of part-time jobs and low brain-drain rate (the rate at which college students leave town upon graduating).

4. College Park, Maryland — Overall score: 37.40

Steven Frame/Shutterstock

Colleges near College Park: University of Maryland, Washington Adventist University

In 2017, College Park released a Comprehensive Annual Financial Report, where it listed its top employers. Here are the top three: University of Maryland, College Park (17,072 employees), University of Maryland University College (2,000 employees), National Archives and Records Administration (1,700 employees).

3. Morehead, Kentucky — Overall score: 38.50

Colleges near Morehead: Morehead State University

Morehead isn’t a big town (population 7,000, according to its website), but its largest employer is Morehead State University. Other employers include Cave Run Lake, a local tourist attraction, Rowan County Senior High School, and St. Claire Regional Medical Center.

2. Kingston, Rhode Island — overall score: 38.60

Colleges near Kingston: University of Rhode Island

Kingston’s biggest employers are the University of Rhode Island, power supply manufacturer APC Schneider Electric, and Arnold Lumber Company.

1. Notre Dame, Indiana — Overall score: 42.50

Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

Colleges near Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame

According to City-Data, Notre Dame, Indiana, has the highest percentage of college students in town, and 50% of all workers are in the educational services industry. 79.2% of residents are also college graduates, compared to Indiana’s average, 20.9%.

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