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Advice on my path to become an actuary

  1. Mar 27, 2012 #1
    Due to various life circumstances, I've had to move around a bit for the past 8 years and haven't been able to attend the same university for long enough to earn a degree due to credits in residency requirements. I have earned 204 credits from a combination of: Harvard University, University of Miami, York College of Pennsylvania, Franklin and Marshal College, Carnegie Mellon, and University of Pittsburgh. I'm currently 26 and am considering taking the first three actuarial exams over the next 18 months.

    My plan is to take the P1 exam in September 2012, take the FM2 in April 2013, and the FME3 in August of 2013, giving me about six months to study for each of them. If all goes well, I plan to look for an actuarial position after I have finished those exams, so I can actually begin a real career.

    I currently work as a janitor (no Good Will Hunting jokes please) where I have access to a free course each semester at either U Pitt or CM. I have a pretty solid math background:

    Calc I, II, and III
    Differential Equations
    Linear Algebra
    Discrete Mathematics
    Probability (Calc III prerequisite)
    Graph Theory
    Algebra I
    General Topology
    Real Analysis
    Complex Analysis I
    Partial Differential Equations I and II

    For what it's worth, I took the math GRE last spring and got an 810. I took the GRE General too and got an 800 quantitative, 720 verbal. The departments asked me to take those when I started to enroll in courses that were only open to grad students. I have no desire to earn a graduate degree unless it simply happens. From their bulletins, you merely need to complete 24 graduate credits in applied math within 4 years start to finish, which is easily possible with my current 1 course per semester. Even then, I'm not sure if either of the schools would award it to me since I don't have a bachelors.

    Considering this is my first post, I have a few questions for anybody who is an actuary:

    1) Will I have a realistic chance to obtain a position even though I don't have a degree?

    2) Besides sites like beanactuary dot org and actuary dot com, are there any good resources available for studying for the exams? Are there any online lectures in the form of full courses like MIT's Open Course Ware that will prepare you for each exam?

    3) Pitt offers undergraduate courses titled Actuarial Mathematics I, II, (and III but that covers life contingencies). Would it be worth my time to take these as my free courses next fall and spring, or should I take the ones I was looking at from CM: Stochastic Calculus for Finance I and II? I do not believe the actuarial math classes would count towards "graduate credit" whereas the stochastic calculus for finance would. If I get a job as an actuary, I doubt I'd continue taking courses since they wouldn't be free anymore, and more than likely I will need to relocate for said job.

    4) After passing the exams, how should somebody like me, who has no degree, list this on their resume? All I really have as far as a resume is a history of my janitorial jobs; I haven't needed much else. Would getting a head hunter be a pragmatic move after I have the three exams under my belt?

    Thank you for any responses. I do appreciate the guidance and any advice you all will be able to give.

  2. jcsd
  3. Mar 27, 2012 #2
    Hey Triptolemus. I've been working as an actuarial analyst for about 3.5 years. My background was physics before changing careers. I've passed all the preliminary exams and will hopefully be an ASA soon (but I’ve been saying that for 6 months /sigh).

    This is a good plan. Given your math background, consider a more aggressive pace on the first two. I think I spent more like 4 months for each of those, the first four while at school and the second four while working. Of course, if you get into the thick of it and need the extra two months to pass, it’s better than failing. Six months for MFE while working is reasonable, IMHO.

    I don’t know, but I think it will be really challenging. Chiro was saying he knew of an example where someone had done just that. Actuarial departments will be less bothered by the lack of degree than HR, who will toss your resume on sight. The real problem you face isn’t that no one would consider hiring you; it’s that you’re more trouble than other applicants who might be just as good. You can’t just be hirable, you have to be better than the competition, and lacking a degree is a hard handicap to start with.

    You’ll want a study manual. I suggest ASM. There are others, and you’re encouraged to try them, but I passed every exam using ASM and think highly of their work.

    The exam forums at the actuarial outpost (get thee to Google!) can be very helpful. The Careers section may also have useful information. I will warn you though that the Career forum is something of a troll fest. The actuaries I meet and work with just aren’t represented by the kinds of cretins that post there.

    If it’s free, the Actuarial Math classes couldn’t hurt. They’re often designed with the tests in mind. The graduate math classes aren’t going to be useful becoming an actuary, but that shouldn’t stop you. If I were in your shoes I’d be focused on how to turn those free classes and your past credits into a degree, if at all possible.

    The general consensus is that recruiters are very little help to entry level actuaries. There is an excess supply of entry level people and companies can typically find new hires without paying a recruiter a five figure number. That being said, I got my first entry level job using DW Simpson, so it can be done! At the very least they may be willing to look at your resume and discuss possible opportunities with you. Do some research about appropriate recruiter etiquette and what the downsides might be.

    As for your resume, you have two separate problems: no degree and no office experience. There really isn’t a way to paper over this; make it honest, include what information you can, and hope your networking skills can overcome the challenge. When you begin looking, you could post your resume anonymously on the Outpost. Vjvj, for instance, is a poster who gives fantastic resume advice and appears every time a resume pops up. You may also get some good career advice from posters. Of course, you will also get some bad career advice. Discretion advised.

    Ultimately, you have two problems that need fixing:

    1) You have no degree. I wouldn’t mention this except with the large number of credits and available education, it seems it might be a problem you could solve
    2) You have no office experience. If you can get a job at an insurance company while you study that can be an excellent way to move into the actuarial department once you’ve passed some exams

    Best of luck to you,

  4. Mar 27, 2012 #3
    Thank you Locrian for the reply and all the advice. I'll be sure to reference this thread a lot over the next months. I'll definitely look into the actuarial outpost, the AMS books, and possibly the e-course if I can afford it.

    I'm glad to know that the pace I plan take the exams should be fine. On average, I have about 25 hours a week to devote to studying ~ 600 study hours per exam.

    The main problem with turning 200+ credits into a degree has been that all the universities have regulations where you must complete the final 45 or 60 credits there, as well as take most of the requirements for your major there. I'll do some looking into if I can make either a bachelors or masters happen. I have recently gotten more excited about actuarial work mainly because it wasn't a field I knew much about until recently. It's what I'd like to be doing as a career though. If you add up all my formal coursework, I have earned a double major in mathematics and business, with minors in accounting, computer science, economics, and French. I feel the field is right along the lines of what I have been studying for years, but has been hidden right below my nose.

    The only office experience I have is back in 2009-2010 when I worked for about 8 months for the 2010 Census. All you had to do to get hired was ace a test that proved you could read, do basic arithmetic, and decipher a street map. During the first day of training, the gentleman who ran the training session saw me working some problems out of my old PDE book, asked what I had been hired to do (answer phones), and upon hearing that, he said "That's no good; we'll figure something else out." I told him about my years at Harvard and UM, and he moved me into a desk job managing an office staff of about 15, and a two tiered field support staff of about 200 enumerators, crew leaders, and field-ops supervisors. That limited experience is about all I have in an office setting, but I did learn a lot and enjoyed the experience. After that job ended due to the census being finished, I needed to keep eating, so I went back to the same old janitorial / custodial / handyman stuff.

    I'll be sure to include that on a resume when I eventually type one up, and I guess I'll start looking for some sort of office job. I'd like to stay within the university system just for the perks of free courses though. I suppose I should check out more of the websites you suggested since I'll probably find answers there, but are there typically internships available for getting your foot in the door? I would definitely consider doing that, even if it meant little or no pay for a while.
  5. Mar 27, 2012 #4
    My advice is to skip any online e-courses or such for the first two exams – all you need is the ASM study manuals. Those first two tests just don’t need the extra instructions. Don’t get me wrong, they’re hard tests. They’re designed to fail the vast majority of people who take them each sitting. But the material is pretty easy. Just work a kabillion problems and do all the practice exams.

    It is common for college students to get paid internships, but I’m not sure you’ll look like a college student to most companies; that shouldn’t stop you from trying. I don’t think you’ll find unpaid internships and I’d be wary of anyone offering one. Sounds slimy.

    I wish you the very best. Drop in and let us know how the first exam goes.
  6. Jun 18, 2013 #5
    I know it's been a year, but I don't feel bad being a necromancer to my own thread.

    A random update: I've passed exam P (it took 2 attempts due to time management fail on the 1st sitting), FM (passed first try), and MFE (passed first sitting). I'm currently studying for exam C this October as well as the level 1 CFA exam in December.

    I am still working as a janitor due to not wanting to give up my benefits. I did interview at the public library and was offered a position as a library clerk, but it was part-time to start and offered no benefits, so I ended up turning it down ... plus I would have only been there for a few months, which I felt would look worse on my resume vs. staying at my stable job and racking up more consistent time block on my resume.

    This August I will be moving to Texas with my fiancee who just got an amazing job (she just finished her masters in computer science at CMU).

    I have been able to go slightly faster than my original plan (1 exam every 6 months) and with any luck, I should be done getting the CERA credential by the end of 2014. The CERA is the associate level credential that interests me the most. I like the idea of getting into corporate risk analysis and investment a little more than some of the other areas of actuarial science.

    I might have to save up for a bit to be able to afford the FAP module though. I didn't realize that costs over $2000. That's even worse than the CFA exams (at $1080 for the first one). I guess you are getting course material and lessons, so it would make sense that these on par with the cost of a college course.

    Maybe I'm just looking in the wrong places, but I haven't found much info on pricing for some of the later exams (like the ERM one I'll need to take for the CERA and other FSA level exams ... I seem to only have found the prices of the associate level exams anywhere). It would be nice to know the prices of all the exams so I can budget and plan for how quickly I'll be able to afford them.

    I've been thinking about continuing on with the SOA track, rather than the CAS, to get the FSA credential in either the "Finance / ERM" or "Investment" while I'm finishing the rest of the CFA exams. I figure I'll probably have a good shot at getting a job if I have both: CFA and FSA, maybe I'm wrong though.

    Things are going well overall and I'm enjoying learning all this finance stuff. I could definitely see myself settling into a career in risk management / investment / analysis ... definitely preferred over pushing around a broom and mopping floors, haha.
  7. Jun 18, 2013 #6
    That's great to hear Triptolemus! Your exam progression is very impressive.

    I'd probably focus more on getting related work than getting your ASA. As you noted, starting with the modules things get expensive. I also think they'll be less impressive; once you pass C/4 you'll have demonstrated you can finish the associateship path.

    Since you're moving to texas, it's time to look for some actuarial, risk or finance work there. For actuarial work, BCBS of Texas and KPMG come to mind, but to get a better list, do this:

    Go to the SOA website (www.soa.org).
    Look in the upper left and find the "Actuarial Directory" box.
    Do a search by city for whatever city you'll be living in.

    It will return a list of names. It may also provide the company they work at. In this way you can get an idea of what companies may be operating there and how many actuaries they employ.

    You can use that list to network, if you do so responsibly.

    Good luck, and thank you for updating us.
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