These schools offer the best chance at a Big Four accounting job

Taylor Nichols By: Taylor Nichols | Published: January 5, 2022
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Key Insights:

  • 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
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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.

Graph of colleges with the highest rate of Big Four Employment

Source: LinkedIn

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
  • Indiana University
  • University of Notre Dame
  • University of Illinois - Urbana-Champaign

Colleges with the Highest Rate of Accounting Alumni at Big Four Firms

Honorable Mentions

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.

Gonzaga

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.

Bryant University

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.


Methodology

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.

Data Limitations

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.

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