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Thinking of becoming an actuary

  1. May 25, 2012 #1
    Hey guys, I'm not really sure if this belongs here but I've been looking into the actuary field for a while and decided that I'm pretty interested in it. For some background:

    I just finished my freshman year at a decently reputable small liberal arts college. I was originally thinking about a physics and math double major but after doing some undergraduate research and taking a research based physics class, I've come to realize that physics isn't something I can see myself doing. And now, I'm thinking about just doing a math major with a couple of minors.

    So a few problems:

    1) My school is pretty limited classes offered because it's a really small school. It doesn't have an actuarial science department or a statistics one either. I just completed my freshman year but would it still be possible to transfer to another school this late? I've been working hard so my GPA is pretty nice at the moment. Was thinking maybe a place with an actuarial science department like Columbia, Cornell, or NYU Stern. What's your advice on this?

    2) I'm on summer break right now and I don't really have a job or anything else to do because I only applied to REU programs and got rejected from all of them. Do you know of any good practice exams for the preliminary Actuary exams?

    Thank you for taking the time to read this great wall of text. Your advice would be greatly appreciated!
  2. jcsd
  3. May 25, 2012 #2
    For the record, Cornell doesn't have an actuarial science program, though usually related majors (Biometry/Statistics, OR) go towards these fields.

    As someone who has an "in" in the industry, you should know that actuarial science departments are good if you want to be in actuarial science, but are by no means necessary. The place I worked at last year, very few people in my department actually started as actuaries (supervisors included). Their educations/previous careers ranged from masseuse to priest to Masters of Fine Arts in literature to a PhD in musicology, and other stuff. They mainly care that you can do the math, and that's evident from your exams. There's a reason why they have them. They're the equalizer of everything. If you can pass the exams, you can pick up the actual work, so, make sure you really want an actuarial science degree before going for it. It's nice, but is by no means necessary.

    As far as exams go, the SOA's website has a fair amount of past exam questions for the first two exams (P, FM), and some but fewer questions from other preliminary exams (MFE, MLC, C). The questions for P are fairly comprehensive in that if you can do them all, you'll pretty much pass the exam. FM you'll probably need a little more work because the practice questions aren't really exhaustive, especially the part on financial derivatives.

    The Infinite Actuary has some free practice exams available for P, and you can probably scrounge around and find one or two for FM, but it's best to just bite the bullet and buy an exam manual from ACTEX, ASM, etc given that they're basically comprehensive and geared towards passing the exam. Granted, they are fairly pricey, even for used...and large. My C manual is the whole of a 4" binder.

    Oh, and one other thing...while acing exams is nice, no one cares about your exact score so long as you pass. Shoot for a 10, sure, but if you get a 6...you'll still get hired.

    Try and find a summer job, anyway! The manuals are expensive, and it's really not worth spending your entire summer just studying for them.
  4. May 26, 2012 #3


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    I'd echo zombie_rb's advice in getting a copy of some the exams to know what to expect.

    If you can pass a couple of exams, I'm sure there would be someone out there that would look favorably on this.

    Also get any experience where you have to communicate, especially to non-technical audiences about technical things. Toastmasters is a good place and training ground which costs next to nothing for this and the right club should give you great experience and is relevant for this kind of thing, especially if you end up being a fully qualified actuary.
  5. May 30, 2012 #4
    The following assumes you're in the US and plan to stay in the US (it sounded that way from your post):

    Not a problem. You don't need a specific major or specific classes; you need to be generally employable and to have passed at least two exams.

    My advice is to not get an actuarial science degree. It has a very small improvement in your chance of getting actuarial work, but it has little value anywhere else. A degree in math, statistics or economics would still leave you with the opportunity to work as an actuary, but would also open other doors as well.


    Start with the SOA 153 practice questions. Get yourself the ASM manual 3-6 months before you plan to take the test and work through it.
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