In the globalized world, the competition of territories for obtaining and efficiently using different resources is on the rise. Now it is human capital that is reasonably considered to be one of the most valuable sources. Besides, the presence of young, promising and highly-qualified personnel in the region can be regarded as a key competitive advantage of any territory. The article analyses the issues of attracting and retaining young people, which is one of the essential conditions for sustainable regional development. Creating and maintaining an image of the city as the preferred destination for youth migration, in particular for studying, is seen as one of the most promising trends. The regions with this image have strong points, namely: students are integrated into the urban environment, socialized and, ultimately, tied to the city much more easily. Today's students are tomorrow's taxpayers; they are skilled and socially adapted, unlike most migrants staying here. Moreover, the availability of higher education institutions is one of the necessary requirements for the formation of a full-fledged urban environment. Furthermore, universities may become a working place for the city's population. So students make a great contribution to the city economy as a whole. In the course of the study, we have generalized and analyzed the theoretical material and examined the results of sociological and marketing research conducted earlier. In addition, in order to determine the main factors of competitive attractiveness of a metropolitan area such as St. Petersburg, which is a destination for youth migration, primary marketing information was collected through a survey of students from three universities in the city. We have identified the most significant factors that influence the decision of migrating to certain area. An assessment was made of how each factor is represented in St. Petersburg. The problems and opportunities of the city in creating the image of Russia’s largest educational center have been examined. Recommendations are proposed for improving St. Petersburg’s positions in this sphere. We see the directions for further research in defining the role of St. Petersburg’s leading universities in shaping innovative educational clusters.