School has only> just started, but high school juniors are already planning college visits and seniors are winnowing their lists. To narrow the field, they ll consider important factors like class size, research opportunities, and the relative quality of the dining hall food. They ll think about what s in the surrounding town, too maybe not in the way they should.
Big city schools might be in proximity to all-night Thai food, but schools in small cities can give students a huge advantage in preparing for a career. Small cities tend to have lower unemployment rates relative to major metropolitan areas. (The top 15 small cities in the American Institute for Economic Research s 2010-11 College Destinations Index had an average unemployment rate of 7.5% in 2009, while those in major metro areas had an average rate of 8.8%.) What s more, many of the so-called small metros have become tightly concentrated hubs of industry, with the companies in the surrounding area often leaning heavily on the university for talent and labor. Smaller towns don t offer the same opportunities, and in bigger cities, it s easy to get lost in the shuffle.
SmartMoney looked at the top five small metropolitan areas for college students, as ranked by the AIER s index. Some of them have above-average unemployment rates but offer other professional advantages. Of course, not every college-bound student knows what he or she wants to do after graduation and plenty who do know will change their minds. But the industries and businesses clustered in these small cities offer plenty of networking and internship opportunities, as well as part-time and summer jobs. And if there s one thing almost every college student needs, it s a little more income.
Unemployment rate: 6.4% as of July 2010
Average salary: $50,058
Tech, biotech and environmental companies turn to the University of Colorado at Boulder for interns and new employees on an annual basis, says Lisa Severy, director of the university s career services. Boulder County (population 303,000) is one of the five biggest tech centers in the country; it's home to Sun Microsystems, Seagate Technologies, and one of IBM regional centers. In October, the university will host a career fair where prospective employers will include Microsoft, Level 3, Qualcomm and Abound Solar.
Ann Arbor, Mich.
Unemployment rate: 10.0%
Average salary: $39,107
Ann Arbor is a true college town. The University of Michigan dominates the economy, employing around 39,000 people in a county with a total employment of 190,000, says a university spokesman. That could be a big draw for students interested in post-baccalaureate research jobs. In 2009, the university purchased a former Pfizer pharmaceutical research facility next to its campus, which it expects will create up to 3,000 new jobs within the decade, including positions for scientists and research teams.
Unemployment rate: 8.7%
Average salary: $79,108
College-bound students interested in working in the financial sector could benefit by attending a school near the Bridgeport metropolitan area, including the University of Bridgeport, Fairfield University and Quinnipiac University. Ward Thrasher, assistant dean at the University of Bridgeport s School of Business and director of the Master s of Business Administration program, says students land internships and jobs after graduation at companies such as PricewaterhouseCoopers and UBS (UBS)
At Quinnipiac University, accounting firms and financial-advisory companies are among the most active recruiters for internships and job placement, says Jill Ferrall, assistant dean for career services at the university s School of Business. She says recent recruiters have included UBS and ING. In addition, General Electric recruits students into finance-related positions, she says. The university will host an accounting career fair on Sept. 29 where recruiters will include Deloitte & Touche and Ernst & Young, both of which have offices nearby. On Nov. 3, it will host a university-wide career fair where employers will include TD Bank, Prudential, and Northwestern Mutual Financial Network.
Unemployment rate: 8.8%
Average salary: $55,170
College-bound kids interested in a career in biological research should consider going to school in central New Jersey. Princeton University, just 10 miles from Trenton, is a major hub for students interested in the sciences. The university ranks in the U.S. News & World Report top ten graduate schools for biological sciences, earth sciences, genetics and molecular biology, and it serves as a feeder for major pharmaceutical employers in the area. Bristol-Myers Squibb, one of the largest private sector employers in Mercer County with around 3,600 full-time employees, actively recruits from Princeton and other nearby universities, a company spokesman says, adding that some employees attended The College of New Jersey and Rider University, as well. In addition, as the state capital, the local government employs about 67,000 local workers, and proximity to Philadelphia and New York by commuter rail expands the pool of available jobs.
Unemployment rate: 9%
Average salary: $34,277
Gainesville attracts young adults in part because of the growing medical and biotechnology fields, according to AIER. The University of Florida s medical school is affiliated with Shands Hospital, which is among the area s largest employers. The university itself serves as a pillar of Gainesville s economy, employing around 12,000 full time workers, about 9% of the region s payroll. Yes, the average salary is lower here than in the some of the other small cities, but so is the cost of living: a two-bedroom apartment rents for just $833 on average.