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Most Popular Employers for College Students

Francesca Di Meglio and Louis Lavelle

Buried in debt and scrambling for jobs, college students can’t be blamed for gravitating toward employers that offer the security of big names, decent salaries, and promising career prospects. And in Universum USA’s latest ranking of favored employers they did just that—particularly business students, who elevated white-shoe strategy consulting firms such as McKinsey and Bain and such financial powerhouses as Goldman Sachs (GS) and JPMorgan Chase (JPM), and brought Apple (AAPL) to within a stone’s throw of first-ranked Google (GOOG).

But the real surprise this year has nothing to do with jet-setting consultants, investment bankers, or the new iPhone. It has to do with cars. After being all but left for dead by college graduates during the recession, Detroit is back, with all Big Three American carmakers surging in the ranking. Among business students, Ford Motor (F) and General Motors (GM) both scored double-digit gains to reach No. 84 and No. 100, respectively, while Chrysler Group—unranked in 2011—landed at No. 74 among engineering students. Volkswagen (VOW) and BMW (BMW) also had sizable gains among business students.

Damian Zikakis, director of career services at the University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business, says students are responding to the auto companies’ ramped-up recruiting efforts and desire to innovate. Chrysler and GM returned to Ross last year, and all Big Three automakers hired Ross students this year—13 in all—for the first time since the recession.

“It seems like the auto companies are making good decisions, and they’re making money and listening to their young customers,” says Zikakis. “They have effective marketing, which helps on the recruiting side because students are more familiar with the product and therefore relate more to the company.”

In its annual survey of U.S. college students, Universum USA asked 59,643 students, including 20,269 business majors, to identify the five employers they would most like to work for. Among business students, the top five remained virtually unchanged from the 2011 ranking. Google once again took the top spot, with Apple a close second. Nearly 19 percent of students surveyed wanted to work for the maker of iPads and iPhones, an extraordinary 3.2 percent gain that brought the company to within 2 percent of overtaking Google. Apple was followed by Walt Disney (DIS), Ernst & Young, and Deloitte.

Universum also grouped business students into seven “personality types” based on what they’re looking for in an employer. Google was No. 1 with every personality type except careerists, who chose Goldman Sachs, JPMorgan Chase, and Ernst & Young (in that order) ahead of the online giant, and idealists, who put Ernst & Young on top. There was little movement from the 2011 ranking by personality type.

Among business students, the the Big Three automakers didn’t crack the top 50 for any of the personality categories. But among engineering students, Ford had the biggest gain with leaders, who ranked the company No. 14, up from 26 in 2011, while GM fared best with “harmonizers,” who Universum says value work-life balance. Kortney Kutsop, employer branding consultant for Universum USA in Los Angeles, says the improvement is the result of the industry’s efforts to personalize its approach to recruiting and to tailor its message.

[Related: Best Companies to Work for in the Fortune 500]

At GM, for example, recruiters answer questions from interested students in real time on its website. And Zikakis says he holds Ford up as a model to other recruiters for its mini career fairs, which allow students to attend specialized on-campus information sessions hosted by different departments. It doesn’t hurt that the companies give students a chance to work on solutions to problems involving energy, sustainability, and the environment.

“Contributing to a better world is something to which young people respond,” says Tiffani Orange, manager of U.S. recruiting strategy and programs for Ford. “Young people are going to have the chance to make a difference here.”

Allowing students to hit the ground running is beneficial for employers, as well. “Our product programs are planned five to seven years ahead, so we’re designing products for the Millennial Generation,” says Mark McKeen, talent acquisition, employment branding, and social media manager for GM. “Who better to get into the company than the consumers who will buy the product?”

Below, you can see how popular employers are with students in different majors, as well as among those with different personality types. Careerists are attracted to the employers they perceive as most prestigious. Entrepreneurs seek fast-growing employers with creative and dynamic work environments. Explorers want challenging work and a variety of assignments. Work-life balance is a priority for Harmonizers, while high salaries and future prospects matter most to Hunters. Idealists want employers with high ethical standards and a friendly work environment. Leaders are seeking opportunities to direct and manage teams.

1. Google
2011 Rank: 1
Total Employees: 32,467
Business: Internet search and online advertising
Estimated Annual Pay: $75,300

Rank by Field of Study
Engineering: 4 (-2)
IT: 1 (NC)
Natural Sciences: 8(+1)
Humanities: 4 (+1)

Rank by Personality Type
Careerist: 4 (+2)
Entrepreneur: 1 (NC)
Explorer: 1 (NC)
Harmonizer: 1 (NC)
Hunter: 1 (NC)
Idealist: 2 (NC)
Leader: 1 (NC)

2. Apple
2011 Rank: 2
Total Employees: 60,400
Business: Technology and computers
Estimated Annual Pay: $50,400 (excluding retail)

Rank by Field of Study
Engineering: 6 (-1)
IT: 3 (NC)
Natural Sciences: 10 (+1)
Humanities: 6 (+2)

Rank by Personality Type
Careerist: 8 (+1)
Entrepreneur: 2 (NC)
Explorer: 2 (+2)
Harmonizer: 2 (NC)
Hunter: 3 (+1)
Idealist: 6 (+1)
Leader: 2 (NC)

3. Walt Disney
2011 Rank: 3
Total Employees: 156,000
Business: Media and entertainment
Estimated Annual Pay: $42,000

Rank by Field of Study
Engineering: 9 (NC)
IT: 9 (-2)
Natural Sciences: 5 (NC)
Humanities: 1 (NC)

Rank by Personality Type
Careerist: 11 (+2)
Entrepreneur: 3 (NC)
Explorer: 3 (+5)
Harmonizer: 3 (+1)
Hunter: 8 (+1)
Idealist: 3 (+2)
Leader: 4 (+3)

4. Ernst & Young
2011 Rank: 4
Total Employees: 27,000
Business: Advisory, audit, tax, transaction services
Estimated Annual Pay: $58,200

Rank by Field of Study
Engineering: NR
IT: 48 (NC)
Natural Sciences: NR
Humanities: 86 (+10)

Rank by Personality Type
Careerist: 3 (NC)
Entrepreneur: 8 (+1)
Explorer: 4 (-1)
Harmonizer: 4 (-1)
Hunter: 5 (-3)
Idealist: 1 (NC)
Leader: 3 (NC)

5. Deloitte
2011 Rank: 6
Total Employees: 45,730
Business: Audit, tax, consulting, and financial advisory services
Estimated Annual Pay: $63,800

Rank by Field of Study
Engineering: 82 (+2)
IT: 28 (-2)
Natural Sciences: NR
Humanities: 63 (+23)

Rank by Personality Type
Careerist: 5 (-1)
Entrepreneur: 9 (-1)
Explorer: 8 (-2)
Harmonizer: 5 (+1)
Hunter: 6 (+1)
Idealist: 4 (NC)
Leader: 5 (-1)

6. J.P. Morgan
2011 Rank: 7
Total Employees: 261,453
Business: Financial services
Estimated Annual Pay: $46,700

Rank by Field of Study
Engineering: 87 (-1)
IT: 33 (-4)
Natural Sciences: 54 (+7)
Humanities: 42 (+12)

Rank by Personality Type
Careerist: 2 (NC)
Entrepreneur: 5 (+1)
Explorer: 4 (+1)
Harmonizer: 9 (NC)
Hunter: 4 (+2)
Idealist: 8 (NC)
Leader: 6 (+2)

7. Nike
2011 Rank: 8
Total Employees: 38,000
Business: Footwear, apparel, sports equipment
Estimated Annual Pay: $33,900

Rank by Field of Study
Engineering: 30 (+4)
IT: 35 (-7)
Natural Sciences: 12 (+6)
Humanities: 14 (NC)

Rank by Personality Type
Careerist: 16 (+6)
Entrepreneur: 4 (+3)
Explorer: 7 (+3)
Harmonizer: 7 (+1)
Hunter: 10 (NC)
Idealist: 9 (NC)
Leader: 9 (NC)

8. PricewaterhouseCoopers
2011 Rank: 5
Total Employees: 168,710
Business: Accounting, tax, and advisory services
Estimated Annual Pay: $58,600

Rank by Field of Study
Engineering: NR
IT: 42 (-7)
Natural Sciences: NR
Humanities: NR

Rank by Personality Type
Careerist: 6 (-1)
Entrepreneur: 11 (-1)
Explorer: 9 (-2)
Harmonizer: 6 (-1)
Hunter: 7 (-2)
Idealist: 5 (-2)
Leader: 7 (-2)

9. Goldman Sachs
2011 Rank: 10
Total Employees: 32,400
Business: Financial services
Estimated Annual Pay: $81,600

Rank by Field of Study
Engineering: 79 (-6)
IT: 38 (-11)
Natural Sciences: 92 (NC)
Humanities: 50 (+9)

Rank by Personality Type
Careerist: 1 (NC)
Entrepreneur: 7 (-3)
Explorer: 6 (-4)
Harmonizer: 12 (-2)
Hunter: 2 (+1)
Idealist: 11 (NC)
Leader: 8 (-2)

10. KPMG
2011 Rank: 9
Total Employees: 145,000
Business: Audit, tax, and advisory services
Estimated Annual Pay: $57,700

Rank by Field of Study
Engineering: NR
IT: 56 (-4)
Natural Sciences: NR
Humanities: NR

Rank by Personality Type
Careerist: 9 (-1)
Entrepreneur: 16 (-2)
Explorer: 10 (+2)
Harmonizer: 8 (-1)
Hunter: 9 (-1)
Idealist: 7 (-1)
Leader: 10 (NC)

Note: Rankings are based on a survey of 59,643 U.S. college students conducted by Universum from December 2011 to March 2012. The slide order was determined by 20,269 business student responses. Figure in parenthesis following ranks indicates change from 2011; positive numbers indicate a move up the ranking while negative numbers denote a move down the ranking. Ranks include ties.Rank by personality type is for business students only. Estimated annual pay, provided by PayScale, is for employees with bachelors degrees only and fewer than five years of work experience. Employee headcount provided by Bloomberg or the employers. NA=not available. NC=no change. NR=not ranked in the top 100 (fields of study) or top 50 (personality types). Data: Universum

Click here for the full list of Fifty Most Popular Employers for College Students.