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Where Can College Graduates Afford to Rent in the U.S.?

Editorial Staff

Where Can College Graduates Afford to Rent in the U.S.?

In your student years, you might happily live in your corner of an eight-person shoebox,
waiting your turn for a weekly shower and learning to stack tall piles of dirty dishes in the
smallest possible footprint.

As a graduate, both your professional lifestyle and your dignity call for a little bit more. But
burdened with student debt and up against a national housing crisis, graduates are making
some tough choices. “A lot of people are just trying to catch up,” Orlando renter Daniel
Levine told WESH. “You know, they just got into their profession. I have a friend that is an
attorney, and it’s just like, ‘I’m drowning in debt, and I can’t really afford to live downtown.’
So he moved back in with his parents, and he’s saving money.”

Across the U.S., rent levels are 22% higher than pre-pandemic levels, and half of renters
have been stuck with rents they can’t afford. But neither rent costs, wages nor housing
availability are the same all over, so new entrants to the job market must balance potential
earnings against the number and cost of local rental listings when figuring out where to

To help you find the right direction, has found which cities have the most and least
rentals available at an affordable rate, given the local average graduate wage — and the
cities where you’ll get the most square footage for your graduate paycheck.

Methodology Behind Study

This project explores what college graduates could realistically afford to rent in major cities
across the United States, based on the logic from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban
Development that rent affordability is calculated at 30% of gross income.

To start, pulled the median bachelor’s degree-level annual earnings for the 100
most populated cities across America from the U.S. Census. They then converted this to a
monthly figure and calculated the 30% rent affordability value for each city.

Next, scraped all rental listings available for each city on Zillow, retrieving the price
and size in square feet for each. In all, data for 54,327 properties was collected.

This allowed the team to calculate two metrics for each city:

  1. The % of rentals that could be afforded (based on the 30% value) for locals earning
    the median graduate salary.
  2. The average size (square foot) of these affordable rentals in each city.


This data analysis was completed in March 2024.

SEE ALSO: What is the Wage Gap Between College and High School Graduates in Each State?

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