Mar 14, 2022 - Economy

Exclusive poll: Where college students want to move

Where college students most want to live after graduation
Data: Generation Lab/Axios research; Map: Kavya Beheraj/Axios

Seattle is America's most desired post-graduation destination for college students, according to the new Axios-Generation Lab Next Cities Index, which tracks rising U.S. work and culture trends through geographic preferences.

Why it matters: The Emerald City, with its superstar tech-hub status, cool climate, green-energy embrace and music and art scene, eclipsed two top-dollar coastal destinations — New York and Los Angeles — among young adults looking to move. Seattle also drew a more bipartisan appeal.

  • “It feels like a young-person city," says Riley Harbick, a computer science major in his senior year at James Madison University in Harrisonburg, Virginia, who aspires to move to Seattle.

The big picture: Half of the survey's 2,109 respondents said they want to live outside of their home states after graduation; about one in four want to live back in their hometowns.

  • Denver and Boston filled out the top five wish list, after Seattle, NYC and L.A.
  • Health care was the top industry choice for careers (29%), followed by education and research (15%) and tech (12%).

Between the lines: Party identification correlated with students' preferences. Austin, Texas, was the top choice for young Republicans who want to leave their home state after graduation. New York topped the list for young Democrats. Seattle won big with independents.

  • Austin didn't appear among the top 15 cities for Democrats, and New York didn't appear among the top 15 cities for Republicans.
  • Democrats (54%) were more likely to want to leave their home state than Republican students (41%).

Be smart: The pandemic didn't dictate the destination calculus for any of the students interviewed by Axios. But the resulting explosion of remote work did shape some students' thinking about how far from family they choose to move — and whether work from home is all it was cracked up to be.

  • Henry Ballard, a native of Birmingham, Alabama, and a graduate student at UAB, told Axios, "I'm a family-focused person, and this is where my family is." The greater chances of finding remote work in his field of IT means more job possibilities closer to home, he said.
  • University of Arkansas student Morgan Wilson, who wants to be a therapist, concluded some interactions are simply more effective in person. "I used to think it would be amazing to do everything from home, but it is not that great, as it turns out."
  • The ability to do more jobs now from virtually anywhere is also adjusting calculations on the importance of moving to established centers for specific professions — or whether that can take a back seat to preferences about a city's cultural, natural or ideological offerings.

Yes, but: Reality and dreams don't always align; 45% said they want to live somewhere different than they think they will live.

  • Aubree Rodriguez, 19, a student at Blinn College in Texas, told Axios that while she wants to be in Seattle, she's unlikely to go without her family and that "my family has lived in Texas for decades, and the majority of them are not the biggest fans of cold weather."
  • Harbick, the JMU student with sights on Seattle, says he expects it will be his second post-college move. His first is about a two-hour drive from school — to Virginia's capital, Richmond, where he's already accepted a job that starts after graduation.

Methodology: This study was conducted in two waves from Nov. 18, 2021, through Feb. 14, 2022, from a representative sample of 2,109 students nationwide from 2-year and 4-year schools.

  • The margin of error is +/- 2.1 percentage points. The Generation Lab conducts polling using a demographically representative sample frame of college students at community colleges, technical colleges, trade schools and public and private four-year institutions.
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