Graduation season approaches, which means soon a whole new crop of educated, ambitious young people will be released on the country. Where should they settle down to start their adult lives? 

Cheap, fun, and filled with opportunity

That question is, of course, largely personal. What suits a laid-back surfer will be different than the dream home of an inveterate urbanite. And a young person eyeing a career in tech will have different priorities than a would-be filmmaker or politician. But despite this, there are a few criteria most young people probably share when picking a place to put down roots. 

One, it has to be affordable for those with big dreams but as-of-yet small bank accounts. Second, it has to be fun. Just because you're out of college doesn't mean you want to suddenly stop socializing with (and possibly dating) other interesting people your age. And, three, it has to have jobs because, well, rent is due on the first and every career has to start somewhere.  

So which cities and towns meet these essential criteria? MoveBuddha recently attempted to find out. The moving company comparison site crunched data on the cost of a one-bedroom apartment, the cost of living generally, and the relative availability of jobs in sectors most often targeted by Gen-Z grads (such as business and health care). The site also factored in the proportion of the population that is young and educated in a given place, as well as how it performed in rankings of most dating friendly cities

The surprising (and snowy) top 10

The results will probably surprise you. 

While the complete ranking contains most of the usual coastal hubs like Boston and San Francisco, the top 10 is dominated by lower profile spots that many non-natives probably fail to consider. You can check out the complete results and methodology on moveBuddha's blog post announcing the results, but to get you started here's its top 10: 

  1. Madison, Wisconsin 

  2. Fargo, North Dakota

  3. Columbus, Ohio

  4. Lincoln, Nebraska 

  5. Missoula, Montana

  6. San Francisco-Oakland, California 

  7. Denver

  8. Burlington, Vermont 

  9. Minneapolis-St. Paul

  10. Washington, D.C. 

Obviously, a lot of cities on this list were chosen for their cost of living, not their weather. But moveBuddha insists that snowy, undercelebrated locales like Madison and Lincoln actually have a lot to offer Gen-Z. 

Madison "has more young people compared to the national average. What's more, nearly half of Madison's young population have a bachelor's degree. Young, educated people comprise a whopping 12 percent of Madisonians. Therefore, making the Wisconsin capital a veritable hot spot for academically minded members of Gen-Z," declares the post. 

Which may be why other real estate data also shows that cities like Madison, Columbus, and Minneapolis have actually seen some of the biggest influxes of educated new workers because of the pandemic and remote work-related relocations. 

So if you're not averse to investing in a good pair of snow boots and you're looking for a fun, cheap, and opportunity-filled city to start your career, maybe give these less celebrated cities a serious look.