As actuarial science degrees or concentrations within mathematics degrees growing in popularity, students interested in this major might wonder how long it will take to get out in the workforce. While a bachelor’s degree is often enough formal education to become an actuary, graduates still have a long way to go before they can attain full professional status.
Understanding Actuarial Science
Before diving into an explanation about the time it takes to get an actuarial science degree, it’s important to understand what the degree and career path entail. Actuarial science is the branch of mathematical science that focuses on the application of math concepts and methods to finance and risk. The path from this degree program to the workforce is straightforward in that students who graduate from an actuarial science degree program generally go on to work as actuaries. However, some actuarial science majors may end up working in related occupations such as financial analyst, business analyst, underwriter or accountant.
Actuarial science programs can be difficult to find. As a result, many actuaries come to the field from a slightly different educational background, such as an undergraduate degree in general mathematics, statistics and other analytical programs of study, the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported. However, there are benefits of choosing a more specialized actuarial science program over a general math degree program for students who are sure of their career choice. Actuarial science programs are interdisciplinary, incorporating studies in economics, finance, applied statistics and computer science and programming, whereas a math major might not take classes in each of these relevant subjects of study. Actuarial science programs also prepare students for the first few certification exams as well as satisfying another requirement, the need for VEE (Validation by Educational Experience) credit.
About 70 percent of actuaries in America work in the field of finance and insurance, the BLS reported.
A Four-Year Degree
You can become an actuary with a bachelor’s degree. In this undergraduate program, your coursework will likely include actuarial modeling, actuarial analytics and advanced theory of interest in addition to studies in math and business. Even though a bachelor’s degree is also known as a four-year degree, completing your undergraduate education could take longer than four years. Research shows that just 60 percent of students seeking a bachelor’s degree actually attain that degree within six years. An actuarial science major’s curriculum is full of quantitative coursework in challenging subjects such as math and computer science, and students who fall behind in these difficult courses may end up needing extra time to complete their degrees.
Another important factor in the length of your education is the opportunity to gain hands-on experience as an actuary. Internships are both important and competitive in the field of actuarial science. It’s not unusual for students to start seeking summer internship opportunities – or for recruiting businesses to start seeking interns – early on in the fall semester. Students should strive to find an internship in the actuarial field, and those who don’t attain an internship early on may need to stay in school longer as they look for an internship opportunity.
For other math careers, such as mathematician, a graduate degree is often required to work in the field. While there are master’s degree programs in actuarial science, working toward full certification is a more typical path to advancement than going back to school.
A Certification Process Lasting Up to a Decade
Graduating with your bachelor’s degree in actuarial science is an important milestone to hit on your path to an actuary career. However, the certification process for actuaries is lengthy and often challenging. It requires candidates to take a series of difficult professional exams. Each exam requires hundreds of hours of study and months of preparation, the BLS reported. As a result, reaching their first level of certification, associate, takes as long or longer than earning your bachelor’s degree, usually between four and seven years. Reaching the next and final level of professional certification, fellowship, takes an additional two or even three years. All in all, taking your actuary exams to become fully certified can take a full decade.
Students in an actuarial science degree program often begin taking their exams early on, completing the first one or two before they graduate. Fortunately, actuaries don’t have to wait until they have full certification to start working in the field. In fact, many employers hire new graduates who have passed their first exams for entry-level actuary roles and pay for them to prepare for and take their remaining exams.
Another benefit of earning your degree in actuarial science rather than a more general subject of study is that actuarial science programs are narrower in focus and often emphasize preparation for the first certification exams.