These schools offer the best chance at a Big Four accounting job
By: Taylor Nichols | Published: January 5, 2022
Small East Coast schools offer the best shot at Big Four accounting firm recruitment
Wake Forest University in North Carolina ranks No. 1 with 26% of accounting grads employed in the Big Four
Brigham Young University, the University of Illinois, and other top accounting schools are notably missing from the list
For many future CPAs, landing an internship or job at the Big Four is the goal after graduation. These four top accounting firms — Deloitte, PwC, EY, and KPMG — are known for offering top-notch training and career development for fresh accounting graduates. An entry-level position at any Big Four firm can be a great opportunity to launch a strong career in public accounting.
Reports on the top feeder schools for a job at the Big Four often focus on large universities with strong accounting programs that draw recruiters. However, little research is available on which colleges actually offer the best chance at a job with a Big Four firm.
To find out which colleges send the highest rate of accounting students to the Big Four, we dug into LinkedIn alumni data on employment outcomes for nearly 100 colleges. Our study included more than 300,000 accounting alumni who graduated over the last 10 years.
Who are the Big Four accounting firms?
Major accounting firms Deloitte, PricewaterhouseCoopers, Ernst & Young, and KPMG, often referred to as the Big Four, are the highest-grossing firms in the world. All four are recognized for their prestige in the industry. All four firms have U.S. headquarters in New York City, with offices across the country and worldwide.
Deloitte - $50.2B in 2021
80+ offices throughout the U.S.
PricewaterhouseCoopers - $45B
90 offices throughout the U.S.
Ernst & Young - $40B
91 offices throughout the U.S.
KPMG - $32.1B
90 offices throughout the U.S.
Which colleges send the highest rate of graduates to the Big Four?
We were highly surprised by our findings. Our analysis of schools with the highest rate of accounting graduates at top firms was dramatically different from most accounting program rankings, including U.S. News and Niche.
We found that small, private East Coast colleges tended to have the best results for graduates. These schools may have done well due to strong accounting programs and proximity to the U.S. headquarters of all four firms in New York City.
Some big-name schools did make our list, including the University of Southern California and Texas A&M University. However, some of the top accounting schools known for Big Four recruitment didn't send graduates to these firms at the high rates we expected to see. These include:
Brigham Young University
The University of Texas at Austin
University of Notre Dame
University of Illinois - Urbana-Champaign
Colleges with the Highest Rate of Accounting Alumni at Big Four Firms
Wake Forest University
Best School for a Job at Ernst & Young26.43% of accounting alumni at the Big Four
Private school Wake Forest University in North Carolina sent the highest rate of accounting graduates to a Big Four firm at 26%. A total of 514 out of the 1,945 accounting alumni listed on LinkedIn went to work for a top firm. Wake Forest also sent 7.71% of accounting alumni to EY, the highest rate of any college in our dataset.
21.98% of accounting alumni at the Big Four
Connecticut-based private school Fairfield University sent the second highest rate of graduates to Big Four accounting firms at 21.98%. Fairfield isn't typically seen as a top feeder school for the Big Four. However, KPMG recently told the Hartford Business Journal they spend a lot of time on Connecticut campuses like Fairfield University in their recruitment process.
21.95% of accounting alumni at the Big Four
Lehigh University in Pennsylvania tied very closely with Fairfield, sending just under 22% of accounting graduates to a Big Four firm. Of the 1,453 accounting alumni listed on LinkedIn, 319 worked for a top firm. As all four companies are headquartered in New York, the university's close proximity likely facilitates a good relationship with Big Four recruiters.
University of Richmond
19.87% of accounting alumni at the Big Four
The University of Richmond in Virginia sent one in five accounting majors to a Big Four firm over the last decade. The university has 1,082 accounting alumni listed on LinkedIn, with 215 of those working for a top firm.
University of Southern California
18.90% of accounting alumni at the Big Four
The University of Southern California is the only West Coast school on this list, sending 19% of accounting majors to a top firm. It's also one of the larger schools on this list, with 5,899 total accounting alumni listed on LinkedIn. Of those graduates, 1,115 went to work for a top firm.
It isn't a surprise to see USC on this list — it's a big university known as a top feeder school for Big Four recruitment. USC also sent the second highest number of total graduates to a Big Four firm after the University of Illinois - Urbana Champaign.
Texas A&M University
18.22% of accounting alumni at the Big Four
It's well-known that Big Four accounting firms favor large schools like Texas A&M, so we expected to see it appear on this list. The university sent 1,000 of the 5,753 graduates listed on LinkedIn to a Big Four firm, or 18% of its accounting alumni base.
Binghamton University - SUNY
17.96% of accounting alumni at the Big Four
A total of 299 out of the 1,665 alumni listed on LinkedIn found a job at a Big Four firm, making up just under 18% of accounting graduates. Binghamton is the only New York school on this list, which came as a surprise given that all of the firms are headquartered in the state.
University of Missouri
17.75% of accounting alumni at the Big Four
Nearly 18% of Mizzou alumni landed a job in the Big Four, coming out to a total of 428 out of 2,411 accounting majors listed on LinkedIn. The Trulaske College of Business at Mizzou offers a Master of Accounting program in partnership with KPMG, which boosted its Big Four placement rate. Mizzou sent the second highest rate of grads to KPMG at 6.68%.
College of William & Mary
17.71% of accounting alumni at the Big Four
At 17.71%, William & Mary ranks neck and neck with Mizzou for Big Four employment. The small Virginia college sent 378 of 2,134 accounting alumni to a major firm. Again, a strong accounting program coupled with the East Coast location may have helped William & Mary graduates get into nearby internships in New York.
University of Wisconsin
17.70% of accounting alumni at the Big Four
The University of Wisconsin also had very similar Big Four employment odds to William & Mary and Mizzou. Just under 18% of Wisconsin accounting alumni landed a job with a top firm — a total of 572 of 2,232 graduates listed on LinkedIn.
Surprisingly, only one of the colleges with the highest Big Four employment rates offered the best chance at a specific company — Wake Forest sent the highest rate of graduates to EY. The colleges with the highest placement at Deloitte, KPMG, and PwC did not make the top 10 schools for Big Four employment rate.
Best school for a job at Deloitte
Gonzaga sent the highest rate of alumni to Deloitte, with 7.25% of graduates working for the firm. This is especially notable given their small alumni base and location in eastern Washington state. Big Four firms hired a total of 17.16% of Gonzaga graduates from a pool of 1,393 accounting majors listed on LinkedIn.
Best School for a Job at PricewaterhouseCoopers
Bryant University sent the highest rate of graduates to PwC — 9.42% of accounting majors found a job at the firm after college, the highest placement rate of any school at one single firm.
University of Mississippi
Best School for a Job at KPMG
The University of Mississippi landed 7.72% of accounting majors at KPMG, making it the best option for employment at the firm. The business college at Ole Miss also offers the KPMG accounting program, which funnels master's students to the firm after graduation.
University of Illinois - Urbana-Champaign
Highest Alumni Count at the Big Four
We were highly surprised UIUC didn't make the list of the top 10 colleges with the highest alumni rates at top firms. It's frequently mentioned as a top feeder school for the Big Four and, by the total number of alumni, it is. UIUC placed the highest number of alumni at each firm and the most at any top firm overall.
However, it also has one of the largest accounting alumni bases, with 9,545 graduates listed. The university's accounting programs had a Big Four placement rate of 14.39%.
Villanova University, Baylor University, and the University of Connecticut
Each of these schools had a placement rate within 17%, less than a percentage point away from career outcomes for the last four colleges on this list. Given the limitations of LinkedIn data, it's important to note that some colleges not ranked here had outcomes that differed by less than a percentage point.
Our study included alumni data for 316,922 graduates of 93 schools listed on accounting program rankings from GradReports, U.S. News, and Niche. Alumni data was gathered from each school's main campus LinkedIn page and business school LinkedIn page, if applicable. Data collection occurred from November 24 to December 13, 2021.
We looked at employment outcomes for alumni who graduated from 2011 through 2021 from the following bachelor's and master's programs: Accounting, Accounting and Finance, Accounting and Business Management, Accounting and Computer Science, Accounting Technology/Technician and Bookkeeping, and Accounting and Related Services.
Due to the nature of LinkedIn data, these numbers are not absolute. Some graduates may not use LinkedIn or keep their employment information updated. The data also may not capture graduates who worked for a top firm out of college but currently work for a different firm. However, LinkedIn is the best source of accessible information on these employment outcomes that allows for accurate and fair comparisons across schools.