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Where People Have the Most Graduate Degrees – 2023 Study


Despite the rising cost of higher education, a larger percentage of Americans are earning advanced degrees when compared with previous years. In fact, Census Bureau data indicates that the number of adults with a master’s degree jumped by more than 50% between 2011 and 2021. 

With these figures in mind, SmartAsset set out to identify which cities have the most graduate degrees. We examined data for 281 metropolitan areas with at least 100,000 residents and calculated the percentage of adult residents with graduate degrees. 

Key Findings

  • Three in ten adults have a graduate degree in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Ann Arbor has the highest rate of residents with a graduate degree at 29.7%. The median pay for these graduates was just over $76,000 annually. 
  • Boulder, Colorado, dominates both graduate and undergraduate ranks. Boulder ranks second, with 28.9% of adults – or 64,474 people – holding a graduate degree. At the same time, Boulder also ranks No. 1 across all 281 metro areas for its rate of adults with an undergraduate degree (33.6%).
  • San Francisco and New York both rank in the top 10% of metro areas. Over 22% of adults across the San Francisco metro area have graduate degrees, ranking 11th-highest. In the New York metro area, which extends into New Jersey and Pennsylvania, just under 19% of adults have attained the same level of education – 26th-highest. 
  • These Texas and California cities have the lowest rates of graduates. El Centro, CA (4.1%), Merced, CA (4.8%), McAllen-Edinburg-Mission, TX (5.8%), and Beaumont-Port Arthur, TX (5.8%) have the nation’s lowest percentages of adult residents with graduate degrees. 

10 Cities With the Most Graduate Degrees Among the Population

1. Ann Arbor, MI

Home to the University of Michigan, the Ann Arbor metro area takes the No. 1 spot with 29.7% of adult residents holding graduate degrees. In total, 70,047 people have attained this level of higher education and they earn a median income of $76,349. Additionally, 27.6% of the population hold bachelor's degrees.

2. Boulder, CO

Just under 29% of adults in Boulder – or 64,474 people – have a graduate degree. Meanwhile, the median income of adults with graduate degrees is $81,275. Additionally, people with bachelor’s degrees account for 33.6% of the adult population in Boulder, which is home to the University of Colorado.

3. Washington D.C. 

In this large region, which stretches into Maryland, Virginia and West Virginia, 26.8% of adults have graduate degrees. In total, 1,171,625 people hold a graduate degree – more than any other area in the top 10. The median income of people with graduate degrees in Washington D.C. and the surrounding areas is $104,627. Concurrently, 26.6% of the population have bachelor's degrees.

4. San Jose, CA

In the San Jose metro area, which is home to Stanford University, 26.3% of adults have earned graduate degrees. Over 362,000 people in total have achieved this level of education and they report median earnings of $150,281 – more than any other metro area in the nation. Meanwhile, 27.7% of the population has earned bachelor's degrees.

5. Champaign-Urbana, IL

Home of the University of Illinois flagship campus, the Champaign-Urbana metro area has 33,664 residents with graduate degrees. That means 25.6% of adults who live in the area have graduate degrees. Their median earnings stand at $61,468. Additionally, 21% of adults have secured a bachelor's degree.

6. Santa Fe, NM

Just under 30,000 people in Santa Fe – or 24.6% of the adult population – have graduate degrees. These degree holders earn a median income of $69,473. Furthermore, 21.7% of Santa Fe residents have graduated with bachelor's degrees.

7. Charlottesville, VA

In the Charlottesville metro area, 24.5% of adults – or 37,176 people – have earned graduate degrees. Home to the University of Virginia, Charlottesville’s median income for residents with graduate degrees is $80,276. Moreover, 26.3% of the population holds a bachelor's degree.

8. Durham-Chapel Hill, NC

It’s no surprise that the Durham-Chapel Hill metro area is among the 10 places with the highest percentage of graduate degrees, since both Duke University and the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill are located there. Over 107,000 residents have at least one graduate degree, which equates to 23.8% of the adult population. The median earnings of residents with graduate degrees is $71,349. Concurrently, 26.9% of its adults have bachelor's degrees.

9. Boston, MA

In this metro area that extends north into New Hampshire, 23.7% of adults – 821,281 people – have secured a graduate degree. They report median earnings of $94,677. At the same time, 27.4% of the population hold bachelor's degrees.

10. Athens-Clarke County, GA 

More than 23% of adults have graduate degrees in the Athens-Clarke County metro area, which is home to the University of Georgia. In total, 30,989 residents have earned at least one graduate degree, while 22.2%  hold a bachelor’s degree. Residents with graduate degrees have median earnings of $63,636 per year. 

Data and Methodology

SmartAsset used data from the Census Bureau’s 1-Year American Communities Survey from 2021. Specifically, we examined the percentage of adults 25 and older in each metro area with a graduate degree, their median earnings in 2021 and the percentage of adults with a bachelor’s degree. 

Tips for Education Planning

  • Consider a 529 plan. These tax-advantaged savings vehicles can help you put away money for your children’s future education needs. Contributions grow tax-free and can be withdrawn tax-free, as long as they are used on qualified education expenses, like college tuition. Here’s a look at the 529 plans offered by each state
  • Create a financial plan. A comprehensive financial plan can help you set goals – like saving for a child’s college education – and build a roadmap for reaching them. 
  • Work with a professional. A financial advisor can help you plan and save for your children’s future education needs. Finding a financial advisor doesn’t have to be hard. SmartAsset’s free tool matches you with up to three vetted financial advisors who serve your area, and you can have a free introductory call with your advisor matches to decide which one you feel is right for you. If you’re ready to find an advisor who can help you achieve your financial goals, get started now.

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