Personal Finance

These states have the most opportunities for college students and recent grads

Key Points
  • A recent report by WalletHub ranked states by opportunities for college students and recent graduates.
  • Location is something college students should consider before and after graduation, experts say.
Students walk on the College of the Ozarks campus.

There is a laundry list of considerations students should keep in mind when selecting a college. After you're accepted, it's important to look at both cost and class offerings for the degree or career you hope to pursue, as well as the overall fit of the school.

Turns out, not all states are equal in terms of opportunities for students, according to a recent report by WalletHub, a personal finance website. WalletHub looked at the availability of paid internships and student jobs as part of its ranking.

To assess student opportunity, WalletHub used data from sources such as the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the U.S. Census Bureau and the Institute for College Access & Success. The site also considered the unemployment rate for new grads — ages 25 to 35 — as well as the rate of underemployment. It measured the availability of student jobs and paid internships.

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"It's sort of like shopping — some people do well in large malls with tons of options, others do well in tiny boutiques," said Barmak Nassirian, director of federal policy with the American Association of State Colleges and Universities. "The same goes for learning."

Location, location, location

Location can be a big part of the fit of the school and the experience a student will have. If a student has the luxury of moving away, it's something they should consider, Nassirian said.

"Location has all kinds of consequences for any co-curricular activities," Nassirian said. WalletHub's report measured opportunity for those in college by looking at the availability of student jobs and paid internships.

Many of the states on the Top 10 list, such as New York and Massachusetts, are home to large cities with opportunities for students and grads. But other states with smaller cities, such as Minnesota, Colorado, Virginia and Maine, rounded out the list.

These are the top states for college students and recent grads

State Grant & Student Work Opportunities Rank
Maine1
Massachusetts2
Minnesota3
New York4
Colorado5
Hawaii6
Missouri7
Maryland8
New Hampshire9
Virginia10
Connecticut11
North Dakota12
New Jersey13
Vermont14
Illinois15
California16
South Dakota17
District of Columbia18
Wyoming19
Arizona20
New Mexico21
Rhode Island22
Utah23
Iowa24
Nebraska25
Washington26
Idaho27
Oregon28
Georgia29
Texas30
Tennessee31
Indiana32
Montana33
Kansas34
Wisconsin35
South Carolina36
Florida37
Arkansas38
Louisiana39
Michigan40
Pennsylvania41
Ohio42
Mississippi43
Oklahoma44
North Carolina45
Alabama46
Delaware47
Nevada48
West Virginia49
Kentucky50
Alaska51

"It's not always favorable to the cities," Nassirian said. "If you want to become a marine biologist, a rural setting on a coast is where you'll have the greatest opportunities for experiences."

Beyond thinking about location, Nassirian advised weighing the output of each school you're considering. Looking at graduation statistics is a good place to start assessing a school's track record. If the graduation rate is high, there's a good chance that the school has a solid program and environment for learning. If the rate is low, that could be a potential red flag, Nassirian said.

In the end, students are pursuing a college degree to put what they learn to use, said Nassirian, and so graduating with a degree of value should be a top priority.

Opportunities for recent grads

For those thinking about where they should end up after graduation, it's also important to look at opportunity.

The unemployment and underemployment rates for recent graduates ages 25 to 34 was an important measure to assess how students would fair paying back loans, said Jill Gonzalez, a senior analyst for WalletHub.

Student loan debt now tops $1.5 trillion and more than 42 million Americans are still paying back the cost of college, according to the office of Federal Student Aid.

New graduates looking to move should "consider the cost of living," said Gonzalez. In a bigger city, "even if salary is higher, cost of living is higher, too."

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That might mean there is less money available to pay back loans or save for other financial goals, such as owning a house.

Where one attends college has always been a personal choice. With the cost of education skyrocketing, the return on investment of a degree is important to keep in mind.

"Everybody shouldn't aspire to the same college, very often it's superficially reduced into getting into the best college," Nassirian said. "But best for who?"

"It's very important that people go to the place where they feel comfortable," said Nassirian. That means academically and socially, as well as financially.