Big 4 vs mid-tier accounting firms: Which path is right for your career?

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Starting a career in public accounting comes with a myriad of decisions, starting with choosing the right job. Since accountants and CPAs are in high demand, you'll find numerous job opportunities and employers seeking resumes. But if you’ve spent any time investigating, you know that you'll need to ask yourself: should I start my career with one of the Big 4 or choose one of the mid-tier accounting firms?

The decision comes down to what’s right for you and your working style, interests, and long-term career goals. We’ll help you unpack these details and guide you to making an informed decision as you start your accounting career. 

What are the Big 4 accounting firms? 

Four accounting firms audit nearly 80 percent of all public US companies: 

  • Deloitte 
  • PricewaterhouseCoopers (PWC) 
  • Ernst & Young (EY) 
  • KPMG 

These organizations, also four of the largest firms in revenue, offer a wide range of accounting, management, and assurance services, with an impact so extensive that they’re internationally known as simply the “Big 4.”

With a total employee count topping 1,300,000 between all four Big 4 accounting firms, these giants hire many new graduates each year. However, they receive even more applications, and you’ll need a competitive resume and impressive transcripts to get a Big 4 position immediately after graduation. 

What are the Big 4 accounting firms? Let's take a closer look. 


Deloitte employs a staggering 457,000 people in over 150 countries of operation. Their teams work in areas covering auditing, consulting, financial advisory, risk advisory, tax, and legal services, and generated nearly $65 billion in revenue in 2023.1 


Founded in 1998 in London, PWC is now a completely global firm that brings together around 295,000 employees to provide accounting services in audit and assurance, cloud and digital, consulting, legal, tax, and other areas. The firm represents huge brand-name clients like Chipotle, Hershey’s Chocolate, Hyatt, and others.2 


With nearly 300,000 employees, EY extends its services globally. Like the other Big 4 names, it offers specializations in accounting, auditing, tax, and transactions. The firm has led AI development in the finance world, with its EYQ technology recognized as a winner in the Artificial Intelligence Excellence Award 2024.3 


KPMG offers accounting and financial services for asset management, banking, energy, government, sciences, and insurance industries. With over 270,000 team members across 143 countries, the firm seeks to build public trust and empower growth in an ever-changing world. KPMG also has a public commitment to incorporating environmental, social, and governance (ESG) into business to create a more sustainable future.4 

What is a mid-tier accounting firm? 

Mid-tier firms are those that are not part of the Big 4 but are larger than your small local firms. They generally employ anywhere from 1,000 - 10,000 team members. 

Some mid-tier firms have name recognition throughout the industry, but many don’t. Some are boutique firms that focus on a specific niche, and others are general service firms that perform the same kind of work as the Big 4, just on a smaller scale. 

A few of the biggest mid-tier firms include: 

  • RSM 
  • Grant Thornton 
  • BDO 
  • Crowe


Pros and cons of working at a Big 4 accounting firm 

When you're debating Big 4 vs. mid-tier accounting firms, you need to know the pros and cons. Let's start with the Big 4. 


  1. Prestige

Working at a Big 4 accounting firm gives you instant credibility. Even if you stay for only a couple of years, having a Big 4 name on your resume can lead to more career opportunities for you down the road. 

  1. Networking

Working in a Big 4 firm may also allow you to network with a diverse group of accountants, including both entry level and partnership track colleagues. 

  1. Travel

You’ll have more opportunities to travel. With offices all over the world, Big 4 firms have the resources to send you to conferences and events in big cities and exciting locations. 

  1. Work with global brands

Big 4 firms also work with a broad range of clients. You’ll get the opportunity to work with some of the largest and most recognizable businesses in the world and perhaps even collaborate with their CFOs or CEOs. You also may work with smaller clients and individuals or a mix of both. 

  1. Employee perks and benefits

Big 4 firms have the resources to treat their employees well—and they do. Generally, employees start with 5 weeks PTO per year, high above the average for an entry-level position. Likewise, team members enjoy perks like flexible hours, 401(k) matching, extremely generous maternity/paternity leave policies, and more.5 

  1. Opportunities in consultation

You may also have more opportunity to concentrate on a specialty area like consultancy at the Big 4. Big 4 firms already have a strong presence in the consulting space, and they are constantly expanding into new territories to provide more holistic services to their clients.  

  1. Salary

Big 4 firms typically offer larger salaries than mid-tier firms. And if you become a partner, you can often earn much more than you would at a mid-tier firm. 



  1. High stress and pressure  

Life at a Big 4 form moves quickly. With aggressive targets in the fees you earn and number of clients you serve, you need to be able to work under heat and perform at your peak when the pressure is on. 

  1. Long hours 

You’ll be expected to work long, hard hours to meet the high work demand. This typically means working nights and weekends, which could substantially impact your personal life. Work/life balance may be incredibly difficult to maintain while working at a Big 4 firm. 

  1. Focus on a single client

If you enjoy working on many projects at once, starting your career at a Big 4 firm may not afford you this luxury. Especially in an entry-level position, you could spend much of your time grinding numbers for just a single client.  

  1. Corporate environment

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the Big 4 working environment tends to be very corporate, with strict processes and systems. There won’t be a ton of room for innovation, and you will likely spend a lot of time and effort learning new processes and systems as the firm rolls them out or makes changes to existing workflows. 

  1. Relocation

Big 4 accounting firms typically prefer employees to work on-site at least some of the time and may even ask you to relocate. While more adventurous types may enjoy this, for most it’s a burden. On the plus side, they will likely reimburse you for relocation costs. 

Start your career off right! 

Check out our course, Survive and Thrive to Start Your Accounting Career and get tips, insight, and guidance from hundreds of experienced CPAs!

Pros and cons of working at a mid-tier public accounting firm 

Are mid-tier accounting firms a better option than the Big 4? Let's look at the pros and cons of this option. 


  1. Opportunities to specialize

Mid-tier firms offer more opportunities for specialization, if you already know what interests you and where you want to hone your accounting skills. You can find firms that focus on specific industries, like technology, healthcare, or the nonprofit sector. 

  1. Gain broader experience

Because you’ll likely have more versatility in your day-to-day tasks as a mid-tier firm employee, you’ll have the chance to expand your skillset. This prepares you for greater opportunities in your career, as well as exposing you to new potential interest areas or specializations that you’d like to pursue. 

  1. Better work-life balance

You’ll almost certainly have more freedom for a personal and social life at a mid-tier firm than you would at the Big 4. These firms have fewer clients and usually have less strict targets you’ll need to hit. If you value a healthy work/life balance, a mid-tier firm may be the better choice to start your career. 

  1. Stronger client relationships

You also may find that you forge stronger, more personal relationships with your clients who value your services more. Rather than being just another member of a large team, you could become the go-to person for your clients’ accounting needs. 

  1. Teamwork and employer relationships

You’ll also likely feel valued by your firm. Mid-tier accounting firms often go to greater lengths to keep their employees happy, as they don’t have the broad recruiting capabilities of the Big 4 accounting firms.  


  1. Less networking and prestige

Quite simply, the sheer size, resources, and status of the Big 4 accounting firms open opportunities that you won’t find at mid-tier firms. 

  1. Fewer opportunities for advancement

There is less opportunity for advancement at a mid-tier firm, as there are fewer positions to fill and fewer opportunities to become a partner. 

  1. Less mobility

Because mid-tier firms have fewer offices than the Big 4, you may need to relocate, and you’ll have fewer opportunities to travel. 

  1. Salary

Starting pay at a mid-tier firm will likely be lower than at a Big 4 firm; smaller firms don’t have the same resources as the bigger ones. 


Advance your career with a CPA license 

Whether you pursue a job at one of the Big 4 accounting firms or decide on a mid-tier firm, there’s no right or wrong choice. But one decision that will definitely boost your career and help open limitless opportunities is earning your CPA license. 

One of the hardest steps of becoming a CPA is passing the CPA Exam. Becker put together a free CPA Exam guide to help you understand the process, plan your preparation, and set yourself up for success. Start your CPA journey and unlock your career advancement.

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