Methodology: The 15 Best U.S. Cities for Millennial College Students

OnlineColleges.com created a list of the top city for Millennials in 15 states, based on several data points about the economy, cost of living and lifestyle.

We collected data for the 43 U.S. cities with a population of over 400,000, as defined by the Census. We used data on the metropolitan statistical area in which each of these cities are located. The data points collected include the following:

  • 2013 population estimate, U.S. Census Bureau
  • Primary city in the metro area, U.S. Census Bureau
  • 2013 population estimate for the primary city, U.S. Census Bureau
  • 2013 annual mean wage, Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Employment Statistics
  • November 2014 unemployment rate, BLS Local Area Unemployment Statistics
  • Percentage of the population aged 20-24 and 25-34, American Community Survey: Age & Sex, 2013 1-year estimates
  • Cost of Living Composite Index, First Quarter 2014, from the Council for Community and Economic Research
  • Percentage of the population aged 16 and over attending college or graduate school, ACS Selected Social Characteristics in the United States, 2013 1-year estimates
  • 2013 average in-state tuition for undergraduates (state data, not metro area), from the National Center for Education Statstics' Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System
  • Percentage of the population commuting to work via public transit, ACS Means of Transportation to Work by Selected Characteristics, 2013 1-year estimates
  • Average travel time to work in minutes, ACS Means of Transportation to Work by Selected Characteristics, 2013 1-year estimates
  • Number of establishments for the following NAICS codes, 2012 County Business Patterns:
    • 7224 - Drinking Places (Alcoholic Beverages)
    • 7225 - Restaurants
    • 7113 - Musical Groups & Artists
    • 7112 - Spectator Sports
    • 71211 - Museums
    • 2012 population estimate, U.S. Census Bureau (to align with the 2012 County Business Patterns)

We then ranked all the cities in our data set on the following factors:

  • Annual mean wage, ranked in descending order
  • Unemployment rate, ranked in ascending order
  • Percentage of the population aged 20-34, ranked in descending order
  • Cost of living index, ranked in ascending order
  • Percentage of the population in college or grad school, ranked in descending order
  • Average in-state tuition, ranked in ascending order
  • Percentage of the population commuting via public transit, ranking in descending order
  • Average travel time to work, ranked in ascending order
  • Entertainment factor, ranked in ascending order (since this was evaluating an existing composite score of rankings, a lower number was equivalent to a better ranking).

We added the final scores together, in an unweighted average, and the cities with the lowest total score (i.e. the best average of ranking well on all 9 categories listed above) were chosen as the best.

The list was limited to the top 15 cities, with a limit of 1 city per state.


  1. "15 Economic Facts About Millennials," http://www.whitehouse.gov/sites/default/files/docs/millennials_report.pdf
  2. "Access to Public Transportation a Top Criterion for Millennials When Deciding Where to Live, New Survey Shows," http://www.rockefellerfoundation.org/newsroom/access-public-transportation-top
  3. Alissa Nehe, marketing manager, Greater Omaha Chamber, interviewed by author, 2/24/2015
  4. American Community Survey, https://www.census.gov/acs/www/
  5. Annual mean wage from the BLS, http://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oessrcma.htm
  6. "Boston Millennials Beat Most National Averages, Census Shows," http://www.boston.com/jobs/news/2014/12/08/boston-millennials-beat-most-national-averages-census-shows/kUAGynwoB12FTVjN33wacI/story.html
  7. "City sees jump in young, college-educated residents", http://www.baltimoresun.com/business/bs-bz-millennials-20141025-story.html#page=1
  8. Colorado Springs, "Fast Facts", http://www.visitcos.com/colorado-springs/media/fast-facts
  9. Columbus, http://lifeincbus.com/#!/
  10. Cost of Living Index from the Council for Community and Economic Research, http://www.coli.org/default.asp
  11. County Business Patterns, http://www.census.gov/econ/cbp/
  12. Dr. Daniel J. Shipp, Vice Chancellor, University of Nebraska Omaha, interviewed by author, 2/25/2015
  13. Drew Dugan, vice president of Education and Workforce Development for the Greater Oklahoma City Chamber, interviewed by author, 2/25/2015
  14. Hans Hanson, owner of Total College Advisory, interviewed by author, 2/22/2015
  15. "Infographic: Best Purchase Markets for Millennial Homebuyers," http://www.realtor.org:8119/infographics/infographic-best-purchase-markets-for-millennial-homebuyers
  16. IPEDS, http://nces.ed.gov/ipeds/
  17. Metropolitan Area Employment and Unemployment - December 2014, http://www.bls.gov/news.release/pdf/metro.pdf
  18. "Millennials Prefer Cities to Suburbs, Subways to Driveways", http://www.nielsen.com/us/en/insights/news/2014/millennials-prefer-cities-to-suburbs-subways-to-driveways.html
  19. "Millennials Are Suburbanizing, While Big Cities Are Having a Baby Boom," http://www.trulia.com/trends/2014/06/millennials-suburbanizing/