If you’re one of the lucky many graduating this season, you’re going to hear a lot of the beautiful-sounding “Congratulations!” and a ton of something that might start to sound like an emergency siren: “What’s next?”

If you’re not yet certain of your answer, the screeching doesn’t feel like it’s going to quiet down anytime soon.

That dreaded question brings to mind what can seem like an overwhelming set of choices you need to make, one of which is “Where to?” You put a lot of time, effort and possibly quite a bit of money into your education. One way to figure out where to put it to good use is to consider where it will be handsomely rewarded.

To help you answer that question, we identified the places where you’ll get the most bang for your education buck. The 12 Metropolitan Statistical Areas (MSAs) topping our Higher Pay for Higher Education list are the places where people with post-high school educations earn the most money compared to the local median incomes.

Degrees in Demand

High-profile destinations like New York, San Francisco or Chicago didn’t make our list. Consider our ranking a way to widen your options.

It turns out that most of the highest-ranking metros are places where people with degrees are relatively scarce. On average, about 15 percent of people 25 and over in our top 12 places have a bachelor’s degree, and about 8 percent have a graduate or professional degree. Compare that to the averages for the other 88 metros in the top 100: almost 20 percent of people have a bachelor’s degree, and nearly 12 percent have a graduate or professional degree.

Many of our top-ranking metros are places where education is somewhat rare and therefore more valuable. (This fact will come as no surprise to readers who majored in econ.) If you degree holders are applying for a job that requires a college education in one of these MSAs, you have less competition and can demand higher pay.

Methodology

For our analysis, we looked at the MSA population age 25 and over. Specifically, we examined the median earnings:

  • For everyone in the MSA, regardless of education.
  • For people with at least some college or an associate’s degree.
  • For people with a bachelor’s degree.
  • For people with a graduate or professional degree.

By comparing the first item on our list to the other three, we determined the premium (in percentage terms) for higher education. In calculating the premium, we put more emphasis on the earnings of those with a bachelor’s degree than those with some college/an associate’s degree or those with a graduate/professional degree. Then we compared these premiums across the 100 most-populous MSAs to bring you our winners.

12. Palm Bay, FL

If you’re a science or technology grad, you might feel right at home in Palm Bay. The MSA is home to the John F. Kennedy Space Center, Cape Canaveral Air Force Station and Harris Corporation, a communications, IT and defense company. If you haven’t finished a four-year degree, though, you’re likely to actually make less than the overall median income here.

    • Metro population: 548,891

 

  • Median earnings for people 25 and over: $32,083

 

 

  • Median earnings for those with some college or an associate’s degree: $29,932

 

 

  • Median earnings for those with a bachelor’s degree: $46,477

 

 

  • Median earnings for those with a graduate or professional degree: $66,817

 

 

  • Percentage premium for higher education: 47.2 percent

 

 

 

11. Houston, TX

 

Like the economies of several of our top 12 MSAs, the economy of Houston relies on oil. But, if you’re looking for a job in financial services, higher education, aerospace or health care, you won’t be disappointed. Each of those industries also has a major presence in the area.

  • Metro population: 6,204,141
  • Median earnings for people 25 and over: $38,315
  • Median earnings for those with some college or an associate’s degree: $37,472
  • Median earnings for those with a bachelor’s degree: $57,366
  • Median earnings for those with a graduate or professional degree: $75,700
  • Percentage premium for higher education: 48.9 percent

10. San Antonio, TX

Interested in working in financial services, energy or media? San Antonio just might have what you’re looking for. It’s home to USAA, iHeartMedia and multiple oil and gas companies. And, if you’re a basketball fan, you can take in Spurs games.

    • Metro population: 2,239,222

 

  • Median earnings for people 25 and over: $33,151

 

 

  • Median earnings for those with some college or an associate’s degree: $32,941

 

 

  • Median earnings for those with a bachelor’s degree: $50,279

 

 

  • Median earnings for those with a graduate or professional degree: $65,114

 

 

  • Percentage premium for higher education: 50.2 percent

 

 

 

9. Augusta, GA

 

The public sector, including the military, healthcare and higher education, dominates Augusta’s economy. Army base Fort Gordon, home of the Cyber Center of Excellence, is one of the largest local employers. It’s also a great place for golf lovers: every year, the Augusta National Golf Club hosts the annual Masters Tournament.

  • Metro population: 575,669
  • Median earnings for people 25 and over: $32,586
  • Median earnings for those with some college or an associate’s degree: $31,312
  • Median earnings for those with a bachelor’s degree: $51,340
  • Median earnings for those with a graduate or professional degree: $60,335
  • Percentage premium for higher education: 50.8 percent

8. Los Angeles, CA

By far the biggest MSA to make our list, L.A. isn’t just for people who want to work in the entertainment industry. The City of Angels is also home to American headquarters for Isuzu, Toyota, Honda and Makita, a power tool manufacturer, as well as Trader Joe’s and Princess Cruises.

    • Metro population: 13,060,534

 

  • Median earnings for people 25 and over: $35,310

 

 

  • Median earnings for those with some college or an associate’s degree: $36,244

 

 

  • Median earnings for those with a bachelor’s degree: $53,069

 

 

  • Median earnings for those with a graduate or professional degree: $76,545

 

 

  • Percentage premium for higher education: 54.1 percent

 

 

 

7. Riverside, CA

 

Manufacturing is also an important part of the economy in Riverside, which lies about an hour east of Los Angeles. The area also houses a campus of the famed University of California system. U.C. Riverside employs more than 5,000 people.

  • Metro population: 4,345,485
  • Median earnings for people 25 and over: $33,838
  • Median earnings for those with some college or an associate’s degree: $36,676
  • Median earnings for those with a bachelor’s degree: $51,703
  • Median earnings for those with a graduate or professional degree: $71,172
  • Percentage premium for higher education: 55.4 percent

6. Oxnard, CA

About 30 miles north of Malibu, Oxnard just might be for you if you have an engineering or management degree: it’s home to multiple manufacturing firms. If you studied education or health care, you’ll have opportunities in this coastal area, too. Among the largest employers are the local school district and medical center.

    • Metro population: 835,790

 

  • Median earnings for people 25 and over: $39,641

 

 

  • Median earnings for those with some college or an associate’s degree: $40,160

 

 

  • Median earnings for those with a bachelor’s degree: $61,938

 

 

  • Median earnings for those with a graduate or professional degree: $83,888

 

 

  • Percentage premium for higher education: 56.3 percent

 

 

 

5. Stockton, CA

 

About two hours east of San Francisco, Stockton is home to the University of the Pacific, which is also one of the biggest local employers. The area has weathered some difficult times lately, but well educated residents continue to do well financially.

  • Metro population: 701,050
  • Median earnings for people 25 and over: $32,916
  • Median earnings for those with some college or an associate’s degree: $36,108
  • Median earnings for those with a bachelor’s degree: $52,092
  • Median earnings for those with a graduate or professional degree: $71,684
  • Percentage premium for higher education: 60.4 percent

4. El Paso, TX

Not sure which industry you’re interested in working in? El Paso gives you plenty of options, from tourism and education to trade to oil and gas and health care. The military and federal government also employ a fair share of residents. With a four-year degree, you’ll make nearly $20,000 more a year than the local median income. If you go in for an advanced degree, you’ll make about $33,000 a year more.

    • Metro population: 827,206

 

  • Median earnings for people 25 and over: $26,662

 

 

  • Median earnings for those with some college or an associate’s degree: $27,979

 

 

  • Median earnings for those with a bachelor’s degree: $45,514

 

 

  • Median earnings for those with a graduate or professional degree: $59,478

 

 

  • Percentage premium for higher education: 68 percent

 

 

 

3. Fresno, CA

 

About 100 miles north of Bakersfield, Fresno also has an economy that relies heavily on agriculture and health care. Certainly, highly educated residents make much more than the local median income, but not as much more as those in McAllen or Bakersfield.

  • Metro population: 948,844
  • Median earnings for people 25 and over: $29,048
  • Median earnings for those with some college or an associate’s degree: $31,805
  • Median earnings for those with a bachelor’s degree: $52,020
  • Median earnings for those with a graduate or professional degree: $67,392
  • Percentage premium for higher education: 75.7 percent

2. Bakersfield, CA

Like McAllen, Bakersfield has added new industries to its agricultural base. Today, Chevron and State Farm Insurance are two of the largest local employers. Here, people with bachelor’s degrees come close to earning twice the local median income, but—percentage wise—don’t do quite as well as college grads in McAllen.

    • Metro population: 857,730

 

  • Median earnings for people 25 and over: $30,127

 

 

  • Median earnings for those with some college or an associate’s degree: $35,040

 

 

  • Median earnings for those with a bachelor’s degree: $59,053

 

 

  • Median earnings for those with a graduate or professional degree: $71,143

 

 

  • Premium for higher education: 88.1 percent

 

 

 

1. McAllen, TX

 

McAllen, once primarily agricultural, is now a hub for international trade, retail and tourism. Residents with bachelor’s degrees earn more than twice the local median income, and nearly $20,000 a year more than their neighbors who are just short of four years of college. On top of that, McAllen offers a low cost of living—median rent is $658—leaving room for travel to nearby Mexico, South Padre Island, or any number of destinations.

  • Metro population: 806,447
  • Median earnings for people 25 and over: $22,506
  • Median earnings for those with some college or an associate’s degree: $26,159
  • Median earnings for those with a bachelor’s degree: $45,180
  • Median earnings for those with a graduate or professional degree: $56,105
  • Premium for higher education: 93.6 percent

Other Cities

So, what about those popular destinations like New York, Miami or Chicago? Here’s how they ranked:

16. San Jose, CA
17. Miami, FL
22. Las Vegas, NV
28. San Diego, CA
39: New York, NY
56. Chicago, IL
58. San Francisco, CA
88. Denver, CO
95. Washington, D.C.
97. Honolulu, HI
99. Boston, MA

Of course, money isn’t everything. You may want to be near family, the ocean, mountains or to live in a specific climate. Those are all important to consider. Like we said, you have lots of choices to make.

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