One popular narrative in the American imagination is landing a job in the big city after college -- the dream of many small-town students in search of new beginnings.

But what if moving to the big city isn't your dream? Densely populated areas offer some benefits, but they also come with significant drawbacks: a higher cost of living, a more competitive job landscape, even cultural differences that may prove difficult to navigate. If urban living isn't the right fit for you, that's okay; there are plenty of job opportunities in less populous parts of the country. Read on to learn how you can maximize your career potential in a small town without the resources of a major metropolitan area.

The advantage of choosing a career in fields like accounting, nursing, or teaching is flexibility. You can live comfortably in your small hometown, move across state lines with relative ease, or even move to a major city without needing additional education or experience.

Finding In-Demand Jobs Outside Major Urban Areas

When choosing a major, prepare for a career that you can pursue anywhere. While some jobs are location-dependent -- marine biologists must live near water, petroleum engineers in oil-rich regions -- others are in demand throughout the country. Teachers, for example, are needed in every state. The National Education Association reports that for many districts, especially poorer ones, teacher shortages are even worse than industry experts had anticipated earlier this decade. The Learning Policy Institute projects that there will be about 100,000 vacant teacher jobs in the U.S. over the next 10 years.

The Guardian revealed that only eight states -- Arizona, Florida, Illinois, Missouri, Nebraska, Oklahoma, South Carolina, and Virginia -- keep track of statewide employment data for teachers, which they use to make decisions about which educational subfields require most urgent attention. Three other states -- Colorado, Alaska, and Maryland -- have only begun tracking this data in the last year and have all declared teacher shortages. The remaining 39 states do not maintain statewide data about educational vacancies.

Majoring in STEM fields, including healthcare-related disciplines, is also likely to provide job stability for those looking to work outside big cities. Urban and rural communities alike need more nurses to help treat the country's aging population. Many rural counties suffer from chronic staffing shortages: In one extreme example, Macon's Navicent Health regularly operates 150 nurses short of capacity.

Rural nurses make a pretty good living. Hospitals with shortages sometimes offer signing bonuses to attract new employees, and salaries for nurses generally outpace median incomes overall. While salaries in states like Montana and Vermont are generally lower than in denser urban pockets, the comparatively low cost of living means those paychecks provide a comfortable income in even the least wealthy states. As one example, consider Mississippi: According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the median salary for a nurse in the state is $58,490, almost $20,000 higher than the overall median of $39,420.

Another popular career, regardless of location, is accounting. Like teaching and nursing, experts project the industry will grow substantially over the next decade, due in part to a widespread talent shortage. This is another field where you can earn a healthy salary. Even sparsely populated states like North Dakota and West Virginia offer accountants median salaries above $60,000.

The advantage of choosing a career in fields like accounting, nursing, or teaching is flexibility. You can live comfortably in your small hometown, move across state lines with relative ease, or even move to a major city without needing additional education or experience.

In-Demand Careers in Rural and Urban Areas

Career Median Salary Projected Growth (2016-2026) BestColleges Program Rankings
High School Teacher $60,320 8% Bachelor's in Secondary Education
Registered Nurse $71,730 15% Bachelor's in Nursing
Accountant or Auditor $70,500 10% Bachelor's in Accounting
Source: BLS

You can also consider a variety of location-specific career opportunities. Prominent corporations like Cessna, Oshkosh, and Skullcandy have production facilities in smaller cities like Wichita, Kansas; Oshkosh, Wisconsin; and Park City, Utah. In researching companies with headquarters near you, you may find jobs that require at least a bachelor's degree, including positions as supply chain managers, market analysts, and in human resources.

Work-From-Home Jobs Are on the Rise

Technology has reshaped the workplace in much the same way it remade higher education. In many industries, employees can now work from home part or full time, which has sparked an increase in remote workers throughout the country. The New York Times, citing a 2017 Gallup study, reported that 43% of American workers telecommute at least occasionally, up 4% from 2013. This trend is likely to accelerate in the coming years; a study from IWG found that 70% of their survey's respondents from 96 countries reported that they telecommuted at least once a week, with 53% responding they worked at least half the week from home.

Before committing to a job you can do from anywhere, make sure you can afford an adequate computer and a fast internet connection; students who have studied online will be familiar with these expenses. Some states have rigorous laws about reimbursing employees for the costs of remote work. The California Labor Code, for example, stipulates that employers are obligated to cover all of their employees' "necessary expenditures or losses," including costs incurred by remote workers.

Since not all jobs are computer-based, not all industries offer work-from-home opportunities. You're most likely to find full-time work in technology-driven fields such as web development and social media management, since they rely on the internet. Fields like translation, where the American Translators' Association reports an increase in remote freelance work, also thrive in the online space, as the resources required for accurate, thorough translation have all been digitized.

You're most likely to find full-time work in technology-driven fields such as web development and social media management, since they rely on the internet.

Graduates interested in establishing their own schedules and workloads may also consider freelancing. While freelance jobs generally do not offer benefits -- leaving workers to secure their own healthcare and retirement plans -- NPR reported in 2018 that contract workers account for 20% of the American workforce. The report also predicted this number could rise to 50% of all workers by 2028. Though freelancing does not offer conventional job security, it is a reliable option for recent graduates who do not wish to move for work.

Creative industries are flush with opportunities for freelance employment. Given the constant need for fresh content in the online media landscape, freelance writing and editing jobs are especially prevalent across a variety of genres, including think pieces, listicles, and reportage. Even large outlets like Buzzfeed and Forbes routinely employ freelancers to generate new material.

Graphic design also offers a slew of freelance opportunities. Students who majored in fields like art or graphic design can use the internet to highlight their abilities and attract clients who may need to contract graphic design work for their businesses, websites, or social media campaigns.

In-Demand Freelance Careers

Career Median Salary Projected Growth (2016-2026) BestColleges Program Rankings
Writer or Author $62,170 8% Bachelor's in Writing
Editor $59,480 -1% Bachelor's in English
Graphic Designer $50,370 4% Bachelor's in Graphic Design
Source: BLS

Jobs Outside Big Cities Require Ingenuity

Finding remote jobs, especially freelancing, can prove challenging at first. The Writing Cooperative suggests the marketplace for freelance writing jobs has become oversaturated and thus competitive; their advice for workers seeking to break into the field is to find a niche and become an expert in it. While it might seem like demonstrating versatility as a writer would allow you to land more jobs -- and make more money -- gigs that require less expertise generally do not pay as well.

Those who secure full-time work-from-home jobs may be required to travel. Employers can require on-site orientations or periodic in-person workdays, so prepare to spend some time away from home. They may also ask their staff to commute to shared office spaces like WeWork.

Though a 2018 report from the University of Minnesota's Rural Health Research Center found that a lower percentage of rural workers commute 30 minutes or more than employees in big cities, you should be aware that some rural workers are not so lucky. Given the small populations in many rural communities, job applicants who want to work in-person jobs without moving may have to commit to a longer commute.

While these opportunities may not align with the typical American work week, they do exist. Finding a career that allows you to live in small towns and rural areas is possible -- it may just require ingenuity, creativity, and perhaps a few sacrifices along the way.