Traditionally, college students held odd jobs in the summer to help offset costs throughout the school year. In most cases students simply looked for work in the city in which they attended school. But now with the economy causing the job market to be more erratic than a baby buffalo with hiccups, college students are going to where the jobs are. In fact, many college students who attend school online make permanent moves to more economically robust areas, before they graduate, with the anticipation of being poised to snatch up permanent, secure employment immediately upon finishing school.

But even if you have the unencumbered luxury of moving anywhere you want (while still in college), the question remains, where do you go? You want some place that’s stable now AND where you know there will be career-based jobs available once you graduate. But how do you know where that lovely place is?

Fortunately, there is a barometer to determine if a location strikes your fancy, however, you have to decide which factors are most important to you. So if you have the itch to get a jump on your career and move WHILE you’re still in school, consider these five things before you pack up and head out.

  1. Unemployment Rate
  2. Let’s just cut to the chase and find out which states are keeping their residents employed. As of March 2011 the Bureau of Labor Statistics concludes that Nebraska, North Dakota, and South Dakota all have unemployment rates under 5 percent. However, New Hampshire and Vermont are close with rates of 5.2 and 5.4 percent, respectively. But keep in mind, just because the overall unemployment rates in those states are low, there is no guarantee of a job for you. And even if you do get a job, you have to consider your…

  3. Personal Income
  4. Of course, your earning potential depends on your career choice, level of education, years of experience, etc., however, Education Today has compiled data that shows what men and women earn collectively state-by-state, across all careers. The results are surprising. For example, Connecticut is the top state for male wage earners, while Washington, D.C., is the place women should go if they want top pay. The most startling statistic this chart shows, however, is that women still only make about $0.62 on the dollar to men. (But that’s a whole other topic for another blog later.)

  5. Housing Market
  6. Just this week the real estate website Zillow came out with their top five cities in which to purchase a home in 2011. They based their study on a median home’s affordability (and value retention), the overall unemployment rate (locally), the housing market foreclosure rate, and real estate appreciation for the average median home. Zillow then churned this data within their own algorithms and came up with these top five cities as the best places in which to buy a home this year and maintain your investment: 5) Tulsa, OK; 4) Pittsburgh, PA; 3) Rochester, NY; 2) Oklahoma City, OK; and Utica, NY.

    Even though you may have no plans to buy a home this year, this data is still something to consider. True, the list changes from year-to-year, however the cities on the list typically trade spots. Sometimes a new city will crack the top five, bt if you’re anticipating buying a home in the next few years, the property values in these cities will probably stay relatively strong.

  7. Good Public Schools
  8. If you plan to eventually have a family (or even if you already have kids) then public schools are probably a big consideration. For 2011 Forbes magazine picked the best school district bang for your real estate buck (since public school is paid out of your property taxes) based on criteria of per pupil spending (meaning how much the state pays for each child in the school district), teacher turnover rate, and student standardized test scores. Given all that (along with data from GreatSchools and the National Assessment for Educational Progress) Forbes determines that the best school district in the country right now is in Falmouth, Maine, which is not (by any means) the most expensive. Proving, once again, that throwing money at schools doesn’t necessarily make them better.

Not any one of these factors determines the best place for you to live. To figure that out, you have to decide what’s most important for you. And when the time comes for you to choose among your (hopefully) many job offers after college, don’t be too quick to take the highest paying one. Sometimes a lower cost of living beats a higher paycheck because it equals less stress. You can’t forget the “happiness” factor (which is probably the most important one of all).

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