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Somewhere between tossing your graduation cap and officially making your way into the workforce, your first major life choice will be deciding where to live. In the not too distant past, eager entry-levelers would flock to media capitals like New York City or tech hubs like San Francisco, but a recent report from Zillow has revealed the best areas for people fresh out of college, and neither metro made the cut. When considering the average starting salary, price of rent, presence of other young people, and potential job growth, the best city for recent grads is Colorado Springs. Spokane, Washington; Des Moines, Iowa; Phoenix; and Buffalo, New York (where rent is a full $2,000 cheaper than the Big Apple’s average) round out the top five. 

With more control, more money, and more square footage to flex than in your college days, the next big move will be snagging your first apartment and making it your own. Here are some of our best tips for getting a grown-up space right. 

Shop Elevated (But Budget-Friendly) Big-Box Brands

Say goodbye to flimsy futons and wobbly desks and get familiar with the best affordable furniture that’s made to last longer than a semester. We stan Target, Amazon, and IKEA at any age, but a few pieces from Hay, Burrow, and CB2 will add a touch more polish without breaking the bank.

Don’t Make Rushed Decisions 

When we previously asked seasoned design celebs like Nate Berkus, Justina Blakeney, and Sarah Sherman Samuel what mistakes they made in their very first apartments, it became clear that patience is key. Samuel’s sage advice? Test-drive paints before taking the plunge (our style editor recently went through 20 swatches before settling on the perfect hue for her studio). 

Learn How to DIY 

Nothing makes a space your own like putting a little hands-on work into it. (Not to mention, it’s are a lot easier on the wallet.) Unsure where to start? Create your own custom curtains with this no-sew IKEA hack, upgrade a basic headboard with a few yards of fabric and an iron, and turn a $6 plate from Target into a chic wall sconce in three steps. Graduating to power tools should be your next endeavor.