These Are the Smartest Cities in America

You don't have to be educated to live in a smart city, but we are the company we keep

You don’t have to be educated to live in a smart city, but we are the company we keep. | BBC

Do you live in a smart city? One walk around the block or to your local grocery store might have you thinking otherwise. But the term “smart” can mean any number of things. People can be streetwise, for example, but have absolutely no clue how to do basic math problems. Or the inverse can be true: An egghead could solve quadratic equations in his or her head but not be able to use the self-checkout lane. Being educated, at a college level, is only a part of what makes a city “smart.”

You might live among geniuses, yet somehow still be surrounded by idiots. We’ve all felt that way at one time or another. But if we use educational attainment as our main focus, can we tell which cities are actually the smartest? As it turns out we can.

A new report from WalletHub ranks the country’s 150 largest metropolitan areas from most to least educated. Using nine key metrics to develop its rankings, WalletHub’s team was able to figure out which cities contain the smartest people. So if you’ve ever felt like you were surrounded by idiots, a quick cross-check of the rankings might prove you correct.

Here are the top 15 smartest cities in the country.

15. Raleigh, North Carolina

  • Raleigh’s biggest industries include aerospace, biotech, and IT — all requiring an educated workforce.

North Carolina is home to some large and prestigious universities. Among them are the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Duke University, and Wake Forest — and all are relatively close to Raleigh. As a result, the city is rife with college grads, many who work in the city’s rather selective industries. Raleigh ranks ninth, per WalletHub, in “educational attainment.”

Another smart city? The capital of Michigan.

14. Lansing, Michigan

Lansing, Michigan

In the report, Lansing ranks well in quality of education. | iStock.com/Henryk Sadura

  • Lansing is home to Michigan State University, with an enrollment of more than 50,000.

You’ll see a theme emerge on this list — many state capitals show up. It makes sense, as governments — both federal and state — need educated employees to keep things running. Lansing is a prime example, and it’s also home to one of the country’s largest universities, Michigan State. On WalletHub’s report, Lansing ranked seventh in “quality of education & attainment gap.”

We go from one state capital to another.

13. Minneapolis, Minnesota

Minneapolis downtown skyline at sunset

Minneapolis is known for being educated. | iStock.com/RudyBalasko

  • The Twin Cities are home to roughly three dozen private, public, and for-profit colleges.

St. Paul, the other Twin City, is included with Minneapolis in WalletHub’s report. And, as we mentioned, this is another example of a state capital being listed as one of the most educated cities in the country. Minneapolis has, for a long time, ranked among America’s smartest cities, so it’s no surprise to see it land near the top of the 150 ranked by WalletHub.

Next up is a trip to New England.

12. Bridgeport, Connecticut

highway traffic

Many residents might commute to New York City for work. | Spencer Platt/Getty Images

  • The median per capita income in Bridgeport is around $10,000 more than in Connecticut as a whole.

The WalletHub team lumps Bridgeport together with two other Connecticut cities, Stamford and Norwalk, to get a single metro area. And that metro area amounts to one smart city. All of these cities are located in close proximity to New York City, and many residents live in Connecticut while commuting to the city. This, as a result, might skew the results. Regardless, it’s an area teeming with brainiacs.

Now we go from one seaport city to another — and on another coast.

11. Seattle, Washington

Seattle Cityscape

Tech is booming in Seattle. | iStock.com/welcomia

The largest city in the state of Washington, and in the Northwest at large, Seattle is adding people left and right. Many of them are highly educated, coming to work in the city’s booming tech industry for companies, such as Microsoft and Amazon. Like many other cities on the list, Seattle is home to several colleges and universities, including the University of Washington.

Let’s beeline across the country — from the Northwest to the Southeast.

10. Tallahassee, Florida

Tallahassee, Florida

Tallahassee ranks well in education quality. | iStock.com/Sean Pavone

  • Financial services, life sciences, and aerospace are among Florida’s fastest-growing industries.

Hey, look, another state capital — and one with another large state university. Tallahassee might not be the first place that comes to mind when you think “smart city,” but the data bears it out. Florida State University is located in Tallahassee, and the city ranks fifth among the 150 cities in the report in “quality of education & attainment gap,” per WalletHub.

Strap in because we’re not done with state capitals brimming with smarties.

9. Austin, Texas

Austin and Lady Bird Lake

Austin is rife with startups — and the smarties who run them. | iStock.com/RoschetzkyIstockPhoto

The Texan capital is curiously different, in numerous ways, from the rest of Texas. It’s a liberal hub, with a large university (the University of Texas) and a ton of startup activity attracting more and more educated people. Then, of course, there are all of the smart folks involved in the arts and culture scenes adding to it all. It all leads to Austin being named one of the smartest cities in the country.

Speaking of startup activity, this next city is known for it.

8. San Francisco, California

San Francisco Panorama

San Francisco’s tech industry demands smart people. | iStock.com/kropic

You knew you weren’t going to get through this list without seeing San Francisco. The city has become the hub for the tech industry — along with the cities surrounding it — and is attracting smart people from all over the world. The weather’s pretty nice, it’s beautiful, and the jobs pay well. For those reasons and more, San Francisco is like a magnet for the educated.

Our next city, however, is one you probably wouldn’t expect.

7. Provo, Utah

Provo, Utah

Provo is attracting major companies. | iStock.com

Provo isn’t Silicon Valley, but it’s getting there. It’s become something of a Silicon Valley “lite,” attracting all kinds of entrepreneurs, startups, and new businesses. Smart, educated workers are following. Add in the presence of some large universities — Brigham Young University and the University of Utah to the north — and you have a recipe for a smart city.

Harvard, MIT, and a slew of others make this next city one of the most educated in the nation.

6. Boston, Massachusetts

Boston Massachusetts Institute of Technology

The Massachusetts Institute of Technology brings smart people to Boston. | iStock.com/rabbit75_ist

If there’s one thing Boston is easily associated with, it’s the American Revolution. If there are two things, the second is probably higher education. The city (and its surrounding areas) are home to some of the country’s most prestigious institutions, including Harvard and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. There are also dozens of other universities in the area.

Next is yet another capital city — this time in the Midwest.

5. Madison, Wisconsin

Madison, Wisconsin, skyline

Madison is home both to the University of Wisconsin and the state capital. | iStock.com/RudyBalasko

Few cities can claim geography as unique as Madison’s. The city, situated on a narrow strip of land between two large lakes, can claim both the state’s capital and the University of Wisconsin as its own. Naturally, the residents of Madison are among the most highly educated in the country. On WalletHub’s report, Madison ranks fourth in “educational attainment.”

No. 4 sees us return to North Carolina.

4. Durham, North Carolina

Durham, North Carolina

As Raleigh’s neighbor, Durham also is home to the highly educated because of area schools. | iStock.com/Sean Pavone

  • Duke University is located in Durham and is 10 miles from the University of North Carolina.

Earlier on our list, we discussed Raleigh and its proximity to numerous large colleges. Durham, a neighboring city, is home to one of them: Duke University. Just as Raleigh benefits from a resident pool that is highly educated, so does Durham. Both have feeder schools and are attracting new and established companies to take advantage of the skilled workforce.

Landing in the top three, we have the heart of Silicon Valley.

3. San Jose, California

view of the historic Plaza de Cesar Chavez in San Jose, CA.

San Jose is in the thick of the Silicon Valley tech boom. | iStock.com/GerardoBrucker

If you’re smart and you want to make money, where do you go? The answer, at this point in time, is probably Silicon Valley — or close to it at least. San Jose, located to the south of San Francisco, is in the thick of it all. As such, it’s filled with smart, talented people who are reshaping just about every business sector and industry you can think of. Oh, and Stanford and Cal Berkeley are nearby, too.

Now, we go from state capitals to the nation’s capital: Washington, D.C.

2. Washington, D.C.

Washington DC, USA skyline

Washington, D.C., is home to several prestigious universities. | iStock.com/Sean Pavone

  • Nearly 50% of Washingtonians holds a college degree.

You need smart people to run a government. That’s what attracts so many educated people to Washington, D.C., and it’s what keeps them there — often for long stretches. Not only is D.C. the seat of the federal government, but it’s also home to several large and prestigious universities, including Georgetown, George Washington, and more.

Can you guess which city came in at No. 1? Here’s a hint: Go blue.

1. Ann Arbor, Michigan

Campus of the University of Michigan

Ann Arbor is home to the University of Michigan. | iStock.com/tiny-al

  • Michigan’s flagship university in Ann Arbor has a student enrollment of nearly 45,000.

Ann Arbor is located a short distance from both Detroit and Lansing. It is also the current smartest city in the country, per WalletHub’s report. Home to the University of Michigan, one of the nation’s largest and more prestigious public schools, Ann Arbor has an enormous student population. Add in all of the professors and support staff, and you have a city that’s filled with highly educated people.

See WalletHub’s complete report here.

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