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Does anyone know the path towards becoming an actuary?

  1. Aug 26, 2009 #1
    Does anyone know the path towards becoming an actuary? How does an actuary become an actuary: graduate school, experience, etc.? Thanks for any answers.
  2. jcsd
  3. Aug 26, 2009 #2
    Re: Actuary

    See the requirements on:

    * Undergraduate or graduate degree with a preferred GPA of 3.2 or greater and the successful completion
    with a passing score of at least one CAS/SOA actuarial exam
    * An actuarial internship or prior work-related experience
    * Strong analytical and communication skills
    * Leadership potential
    * Participation and initiative in campus or community organizations and activities\
    * Legally eligible to work in the United States

    Suggested Majors
    * Actuarial Science
    * Mathematics/Economics
    * Statistics

    Typically it's undergrad > corporate training and exam sponsorship > pass all exams and become an actuary
  4. Aug 26, 2009 #3


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    Re: Actuary

    A maths degree (a PhD doesn't hurt) then a few years qualifying in an actuary job and a lot of exams. In most countries it is well paid and so pretty competitive to get into.

    ps. It's usually said that being an actuary is for accountants that can't take the surge of adrenalin.
  5. Aug 26, 2009 #4
    Re: Actuary

    That's funny :rofl:, are you suggesting that being an actuary is boring? I would think that a Ph.D might be a little overkill in order to become an actuary, but I've got no great reason to think that. My school doesn't offer an actuarial science degree, unfortunately. I'm a mathematics major. I feel like it would be difficult to enter directly into some actuarial firm for exam sponsorship.
  6. Aug 26, 2009 #5
    Re: Actuary

    See the BLS page: http://www.bls.gov/oco/ocos041.htm

    According to the National Association of Colleges and Employers, annual starting salaries for graduates with a bachelor’s degree in actuarial science averaged $53,754 in 2007.

    Compare this to accounting: http://www.bls.gov/oco/ocos001.htm

    According to a salary survey conducted by the National Association of Colleges and Employers, bachelor’s degree candidates in accounting received starting offers averaging $46,718 a year in 2006; master’s degree candidates in accounting were offered $49,277 initially.

    Stats are similar for median salaries etc. I would say that accountants are actuaries who couldn't handle real math :smile:.

    Edit: See above for actuarial requirements in the US. I have friends in that program who went directly from undergrad. Try to get an internship, and the fact that you don't have a specialized major won't matter at all.
    Last edited by a moderator: Apr 24, 2017
  7. Aug 26, 2009 #6
    Re: Actuary

    Heh. I actually had some interviews for these kinds of positions this last year at Progressive and Watson Wyatt. Ultimately I missed out, but I can shed some light.

    I have a math degree and passing scores on the first two actuarial exams. I have no internships in the field, but obtaining those as an undergrad would help. At both Progressive and Watson wyatt they seemed really interested in the kinds of "quantitative projects" I've done. They wanted me to describe some kind of substantial project I undertook either on the job or in classes where I took a set of data, analyzed it, and obtained a result/ made some kind of recommendation. This is because as an actuary you'd start in the pricing department, basically reviewing data and helping to determine insurance rates for a given state, actually filing that data with the state's insurance offices, then ultimately presenting your results to the marketing managers for a given region.

    Applied statistics (like regression) and computer science skills (like database (mainly SQL), excel, and maybe some VBA) are absolutely essential, in addition to a math degree.
  8. Aug 26, 2009 #7
    Re: Actuary

    So it sounds like an internship is very important for this field. Are we talking like a summer internship? Or like, a semester internship?
  9. Aug 26, 2009 #8
    Re: Actuary

    Either one. Summer internships are more common, especially if your school doesn't have a working relationship with an insurance company. See the summer internship I linked above, for example. You may need to do a bit of networking and commit some serious time to your resume and cover letters to compete with the connected applicants.

    Internships are very important for many entry level positions actually. I know the leadership programs that I am familiar with at GE take at least 80% of their members from GE's intern pool each year. With the economy how it is, 100% of new hires this year were previous interns.

    In general it helps a lot to just show some experience (and hopefully accomplishment) within your chosen field. Employers want to see this before they commit resources and a slot in their organization to training you.
  10. Aug 26, 2009 #9
    Re: Actuary

    Yes, internships are critical.

    Make sure you pass an exam or two before you go apply to the internships though. In practice, everyone who applies and gets an interview for an internships has at least one or two exams passed to list on their resume. Edit: In the US and Canada you take them from the society of actuaries, the casualty actuarial society, or the Canadian institute of actuaries. The first 4 are nearly identical (with a slight difference in the life contingencies exam). 3 of those first 4 are jointly administered by the 3 organizations.
    Last edited: Aug 26, 2009
  11. Aug 26, 2009 #10


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    Re: Actuary

    Boring ? The swinging on a rope across chasms, the deadly traps, the poison darts of natives ? Oh sorry that's archealogy ;-)

    A maths major is fine. The PhD isn't needed for the work but if you are calling a Wall St firm with 1000 applicants for 10 places it might help you get an interview (in the same way as .mit or .stanford email address)

    The starting salary isn't bad - and remember thats while you are training, compare it to what junior lawyers get while they are still doing articles (or whatever).

    Check out the actuary professional body in your country
  12. Aug 26, 2009 #11
    Re: Actuary

    How does one prepare for these exams? Are they like the MCAT where you can study independently/take a training course, or do they require some serious instruction?
  13. Aug 26, 2009 #12
    Re: Actuary

    What does a junior lawyer earn in the United States (my country of origin)?
  14. Aug 26, 2009 #13
    Re: Actuary

    Table 1. Median salaries of lawyers 9 months after graduation, 2005 Type of work
    All graduates
    Private practice
    Academic/judicial clerkships

    (NOTE) Source: National Association of Law Placement


    It's all on BLS.
    Last edited by a moderator: Apr 24, 2017
  15. Aug 27, 2009 #14
    Re: Actuary

    I've been mulling the idea of a career as an actuary for about six months or so. Since my school doesn't offer many classes (we offer General Mathematical Statistics, Probability, ANOVA, Mathematics of Risk, and Econometrics, and Mathematical Methods in Economics) that would help prepare me for the examinations, I've been considering the idea of obtaining a master's degree in statistics from my local state university, while doing an internship during the summer and what not. Can anyone offer me any advice on this path?
  16. Aug 28, 2009 #15
    Re: Actuary

    They're like the MCAT. You can buy study guides and things like that too and do fine. There's a set of study manuals a lot of people use from a company called actext/mad river.
  17. Aug 30, 2009 #16


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    Re: Actuary

    At a stage in the past I became interested in becoming an actuary and although that has passed I am still interested in mathematics but not so much in insurance.

    In australia and the UK you do eight level 1 exams. The exams are basically in statistics but you also do other business type subjects such as accounting, financial mathematics (annuities interest rate calculations that kinda thing), and economics. The stat exams are your standard intro to probability and statistics (1 exam) then with markovian statistics and then later insurance mathematics.

    You can qualify in a few ways. The first is by going to an accredited university and getting a credit minimum in that particular accredited course or by setting the exam externally while you're either studying or working at some firm.

    Note that the level of math is not as high as that of say a quantitative analyst would use but its still pretty demanding. You end up having to know about derivative pricing anyway but not at the level that say a trader or quant would know.

    After you complete the base level exams in australia you do a part II which is essentially risk management and a course in studying the actuarial control cycle. You need a distinction in these courses.

    Part III is the final set of exams and its where you specialize as an actuary. The main areas of insurance are GI (General), Life, and Superannuation. You do a compulsory exam of investments and then the specific specialty exams. It's kind of like what doctors, Engineers and Chartered accountants go through.

    Then once you've passed the exams and done some compulsory work experience you are basically an actuary.

    Its something that requires a fair bit of commitment and I would say that if you like that sort of thing it would be very rewarding kind of work. My head is in information theory and data compression so I ended up losing interest but the math involved is still applicable to what i'm heading towards studying.

    Hopefully you can find out one way or another whether its for you.

    Also I recommend if you want to become an actuary view it in the same sort of light as becoming a doctor. While you need to be somewhat technically proficient, you need to be a good communicator because you will be working with people. Actuaries aren't you're typical mathematicians so to speak but moreso like applied mathematicians that make proposals and give advice to people that are not mathematically (or at a minimum level) inclined so its important that you can get your point across and understand your target audience.

    In the above sense public speaking is a good skill to have. I know the American academy of actuaries has a public speaking guide and the australian group have a communications toolbox guide. Toastmasters might be helpful in getting you familiar with public speaking.

    My advice if you want to become an actuary is to do a maths course and soak up all the understanding you can. I've found that actuaries don't focus too much on digesting math deeply, but moreso in a way that engineers do: that is they get the math, they learn to apply it and thats it. Sometimes however it would be more beneficial to know how you derived a theorem, or transformation or whatever so that you know straight away how you got to a result and more importantly why you have that result that you need.

    Another thing is you have to become familiar with a lot of different symbolic notation that they use to represent various probabilities and so forth of life tables and other stuff.

    Anyway thats my rant. Good luck with your choice and i hope it all works out for you.
  18. Aug 30, 2009 #17
    Re: Actuary

    I switched from Physics to Actuarial work. Everything I discuss applies to the US, and sometimes Canada. I have little idea how to get into actuarial work elsewhere in the world, except that it is often different.

    Some comments on the comments:

    I disagree about the higher degrees: In the US, avoid a PhD. I actually think PhD can be a negative. A masters in anything but Actuarial Science will have minimal value (but won't hurt, either). In Canada a masters in actuarial science might help a bit.

    I don't know what that means, but I think they're fightin words. I'll pit actuarial work against accounting in a battle of who's-less-boring and expect to win. Doesn't give much in the way of bragging rights though :D

    A PhD comes with a number of problems:

    1) It has absolutely no value to almost anyone in actuarial work
    2) It takes time to get that you could be passing exams instead
    3) I've found that people in the actuarial field often have (just as most of society does) hugely inflated expectations of PhD salaries. Many potential employers will look at those letters and assume they can't pay you enough.

    Actuarial work has a long history of adding career changers whose only qualifications are passed exams. Note though that entry level is really tough right now.

    Sounds reasonable to me. Wonder if they're including bonus in that number though - I would think it's a bit high if they aren't.

    For an extrapolation into more exams and experience, interested parties could check http://www.dwsimpson.com/salary.html" [Broken].

    I think it is right now. Well actually, I think it would be better to say that relevant work experience is really helpful; some things that aren't internships apply, and some internships might not if you can't demonstrate you learned something in it.

    I dunno, it depends. Overall, a masters in statistics will do little to get you a job as an actuary. I'd actually say that working an office job (especially in insurance) and taking exams would have a lot more value to becoming an actuary.

    However, a Masters in stats might open other doors that would be fun as well. I love being an actuary, but the reality is that "Actuary" is a professional designation and there are tons of jobs that aren't actuarial that still have many of the positives. Salary is not usually one of them - Actuaries are well paid in part because they must become credentialed and many can't finish.

    I thought what Chiro wrote was very helpful.
    Last edited by a moderator: May 4, 2017
  19. Aug 30, 2009 #18
    Re: Actuary

    The best advice I can give to becoming an actuary is to go to


    then the Careers - Employment forum. There is a FAQ thread and an entry level advice thread -read them. Everything in them. Don't make another "I wanna become an actuary" post, there's already a kabillion of those and yours isn't different.

    Those forums are a huge source of valuable information. Every question you have has been answered in it already. Get to searchin.
  20. Aug 30, 2009 #19
    Re: Actuary

    Some where on the Actuarial Outpost there's a thread where one of the long time posters there admits to not having considered someone because they had a PhD in astronomy. He said he couldn't imagine paying them enough. If you don't get the joke, you don't know what most fresh PhD's in astronomy actually end up making.

    Getting an entry level job is something of a numbers game. There are lots, and lots, and lots of entry level people, and only so many jobs. You need to apply everywhere, and you need to be considered at all of them.
  21. Aug 30, 2009 #20
    Re: Actuary

    :smile: Thanks. And thanks for the link.

    Also, thanks to everyone who has taken the time to respond to my thread! I really appreciate it.
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