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    Where are the best places for a college graduate to find a job? LinkedIn’s answers might surprise you.

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    As the class of 2021 prepares to enter a job market rebounding from the COVID-19 pandemic, the first thought might be to head to a big coastal city like Los Angeles or New York to land an entry-level position.

    But depending on the industry, the odds may be just as good further off the beaten path, in smaller cities like Waco, Texas; Burlington, Vermont; or Sarasota, Florida, according to research by job site LinkedIn given exclusively to USA TODAY.  

    Those cities are in regions that are among the fastest-growing for entry-level positions, spurred by the need to fill jobs in industries like health care, IT, transportation and retail. 

    “For those just starting a career, finding a job opportunity with potential for career growth in a place like Waco, Texas, or Sarasota, Florida will allow them to get experience and develop their skills while maintaining a lower cost of living,” says Dan Roth, Editor in Chief of LinkedIn News. “This is a big advantage for recent graduates, especially those with student loans.”

    The drawback? “The smaller, fast-growing regions could have more limited employment options overall depending on your industry,” says Roth, adding that major cities like New York, Los Angeles and Washington D.C. remain the places with the largest number of entry-level positions.

    Finding a job in the middle of a pandemic was no easy task, says Audrey Brown, 21, a psychology major who recently graduated from the University of Michigan. But after three rounds of interviews, she got a position working for a health care and technical recruiting firm in Chicago, near her hometown. She starts this summer. Brown is one of the lucky ones.

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    “I know a lot of my friends are still very apprehensive about the job market and are still actively searching for jobs,’’ says Brown, adding that a key challenge for the Class of 2021 is that it’s competing with the Class of 2020, whose job searches were similarly upended by the pandemic.   

    Many of her peers want to go to bigger cities. “A lot of people are attracted to New York, to Los Angeles, and Chicago is also a big one,’’ she says.

    But Brown hasn’t ruled out living in a smaller city down the line.

    “Because of the pandemic, it made things easier to move closer to home and stay within my comfort zone at least for the time being,’’ she says. But “I would have loved to move somewhere new and maybe I still will in the future.’’

    Here are the fastest-growing areas for entry-level jobs in the U.S. according to LinkedIn.

    Greater Morgantown Area, West Virginia

    Hottest sectors: Retail, Health Care, Transportation and Logistics.

    Greater Watertown-Fort Drum Area, New York

    Hottest sectors: Software and IT Services, Health Care, Transportation and Logistics.

    San Angelo Area, Texas

    Hottest sectors: Health Care, Retail, Transportation and Logistics

    Greater Tampa Bay Area, Florida

    Hottest sectors: Finance, Software and IT Services, Health Care

    Greater Burlington Area, Vermont

    Hottest sectors: Health Care, Public Administration, Transportation and Logistics

    Greater Wheeling Area, Ohio

    Hottest sectors: Transportation and Logistics, Health Care, Retail

    Waco Area, Texas

    Hottest sectors: Manufacturing, Retail, Transportation and Logistics

    North Port Sarasota Area, Florida

    Hottest sectors: Consumer Goods, Retail,  Health Care

    Austin Metropolitan Area, Texas

    Hottest sectors: Retail, Software and IT Services, Health Care

    Cape Coral Metropolitan Area, Florida

    Hottest sectors: Recreation and travel, Health Care, Consumer Goods

    Follow Charisse Jones on Twitter @charissejones

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