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The New Westward Migration Is Real

Note: This data also appeared in number of national publications including Inc., Crain’s New York Business, and Silicon Valley Business Journal.

Graduate from school, move to the big city. It’s a well-worn path. For years, that destination was synonymous with New York City.

Today, it’s cities closer to the Pacific, not the Atlantic, that are attracting an increasing number recent graduates, particularly from top schools.

Nearly a quarter of all graduates who attended a top 25 school outside the West Coast moved to the West Coast within five years of finishing school, according to new analysis from Earnest. [Tweet this]

These migrants join other top-school grads who are staying on the left coast after finishing school. Earnest data also showed that 81 percent of those who earned a degree from a top school on the West Coast remain in the region for at least five years after finishing their degree.

Earnest’s latest findings underscore the population and economic booms that have taken place in Silicon Valley, Portland, and Seattle in recent years.

westward migration millennials (1) 

Earnest’s Key Findings

  • Graduates from top-rated schools are much more likely to move to the West Coast (Washington, Oregon, and California). According to Earnest data, 23 percent of people who graduated from a top 25 school outside the West Coast, as ranked by U.S. News and World Report, move to the West Coast within five years of graduating. Overall, 11 percent of recent of graduates in regions other than the West Coast moved to the West Coast within five years of graduation.
  • People are also staying on the West Coast. Eighty-one percent of grads from top 25 schools on the West Coast stay on the West Coast. [Tweet this] For all schools in the West Coast, this number is 88 percent.
  • The second most prominent migration of recent graduates is from the South to the Northeast, with 43 percent of graduates from top schools in the South moving to the Northeast.
  • Across all regions, graduates from top-rated universities are more geographically mobile than people who did not go to a top 25 school.
  • The majority of Silicon Valley residents who are new graduates come from another metro area in the United States. Cities in the Northeast have fewer new-graduate residents who come from another metro area.
metros recent grads (1)

Education and Mobility

Kira Gaza, 32, is one of the many newcomers in the Bay Area. The native Chicagoan earned her MPA degree in environmental science and policy at Columbia University in 2010. But she migrated west soon after graduating for personal and economic reasons, she says.

She’s not alone. Nearly 60 percent of the recent graduates from top schools living in Silicon Valley went to school in a different metro region before moving west.

In the Seattle metro area, home to tech giants like Amazon and Microsoft, 47 percent of new graduates come from other cities. In Portland, where there is a concentration of semiconductor companies, that number is 49 percent.

One thing that is fueling the migration is the rise of the technology industry and its demand for the most highly educated workers.

Earnest data showed that graduates from top schools are more likely to move within five years of graduating, compared to graduates from schools that are not ranked in the top 25.

college graduates moving metros (1)

The result is that even destinations like Wall Street have been losing ground to technology companies, and it has fueled a kind of talent war between New York City and Silicon Valley in recent years.

To be sure, Kira’s geographic relocation from New York City to San Francisco has not been without tradeoffs. Her current career path in technology and analytics is unrelated to her degree in environmental policy and economics. “My skills didn’t match the market,” says Kira. “I had to shift as a result of that.”

However, despite a compromise with her career, Kira makes another point about why she’s staying in her new home state: Weather and lifestyle.

“That’s huge,” Kira says. “That and the natural scenery.”


For this study, we looked at more than 30,000 anonymized Earnest loan applicants, and our analysis focused on those who graduated from a college or university within the previous three months to five years.

Graphic 1: “Graduates of Top 25 Schools Move to West Coast”

  • This map highlights the most prominent migration patterns of graduates from schools ranked in the top 25 by U.S. News and World Report. We compared the region of each graduate’s school to the region where they now live. The map shows data wherever 13 percent or more people from a region were living in a different region within five years of graduation. For more context on these trends, see Graphic 3: “Graduates of Top Schools More Likely to Move.”

Graphic 2: “New in Town: Metros that Attract Recent Grads”

  • Here, we looked at recent graduates living in several major metropolitan statistical areas and asked whether these people went to school in that metro or elsewhere.

Graphic 3: “Graduates of Top Schools More Likely to Move”

  • This graphic provides more context for Graphic 1: “Graduates of Top 25 Schools Move to West Coast” by adding data on the reverse direction for each major migration, as well as the numbers for graduates of schools not in the top 25. For example, you can see that while 15 percent of graduates from top 25 schools on the West Coast moved to the West, a more substantial 33 percent of graduates moved from the West to the West Coast. You can also see that in any region, graduates of schools outside the top 25 are less likely to move.
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Earnest is a technology company using software automation, smart design, and exceptional service to restore trust in the lending industry and help clients take control of their finances.