Actuarial science degree programs are growing in popularity. Many college students are starting to notice the numerous benefits of this multidisciplinary math-related major. Those benefits include excellent career prospects in an occupation that commands a high salary and is experiencing rapid growth. An actuarial science degree also offers the intellectual challenge of a job role that involves applying complex math principles and statistical techniques to complicated real-world situations in the finance and insurance industries.
What Are the Actuary Sciences?
Actuarial science is the term for the discipline that involves the systematic application of mathematical and statistical principles and methods of analysis to risk, insurance and finance. The actuarial science major is an interdisciplinary field of study in that it combines the concepts and methods of mathematics and statistics with studies in business, finance and insurance. The major coursework in an actuarial science program often encompasses studies in financial mathematics, probability and statistics, theory of mathematical interest and the use and evaluation of actuarial models for calculating risk and financial effects.
An important distinction between studying math and studying actuarial science is the focus of the degree program. Actuarial science as a degree program tends to be more career-focused – and it prepares students for one specific career, that of an actuary. Mathematics, on the other hand, may not emphasize career preparation Math students may go on to work in many different fields, which may or may not relate directly to their degree. Many math programs emphasize exploring and expanding the discipline of mathematical sciences, and some prepare students for graduate school.
While actuarial science emphasizes math and statistics more so than what most students think of as science coursework, students in this major are often expected to take at least one class in biology, chemistry, physics or some combination of these fields.
Is Actuarial Science a Good Major?
For those with an aptitude for mathematics, actuarial science is a fantastic major to choose. The extensive math involved in the profession will keep the work challenging enough that you won’t get bored. The business and insurance applications found in actuarial science make this occupation more interesting to many students than a job in academia or research where the focus is on theoretical or abstract mathematics. Actuaries make good money, with a six-figure median salary, and the job is experiencing rapid growth.
Of course, there are downsides to all programs of study, and actuarial science is no exception. Because the field of actuarial science is directly focused on the actuary profession, this degree isn’t as versatile as a degree in math or science. No matter how much you like the job outlook and earning potential, this major won’t be a good option for you if you aren’t strong in math. You also need strong computer skills, analytical skills and problem-solving skills to succeed in this major and the career for which it prepares you.
One fact to consider before choosing this major is that your career options with an actuarial science degree may limit where you’ll work. The insurance industry, which employs the majority of actuaries, is concentrated in certain regions, including the East Coast, the Midwest, California and Texas.
Jobs With Actuarial Science Degrees
When you study actuarial science, you are preparing for a career as an actuary. The lucrative and fast-growing career opportunities actuarial science programs prepare students for are part of what makes this degree program so advantageous. When it comes to preparing for an actuary career, the specialized curriculum means that actuarial science programs outperform other programs of study because they start equipping students with the knowledge they need to attain professional certification.
Although actuaries generally perform the same basic job function – using mathematical and statistical analysis techniques to calculate and quantify financial risk – they can work in different areas. Actuaries commonly work in areas like life insurance, health insurance and property and casualty insurance, which includes homeowner’s insurance and auto insurance. Some actuaries work in financial investments, pricing, valuation, retirement and pensions or enterprise risk management. Actuaries can even focus on forensic work, providing actuarial analysis for matters involving civil or criminal legal proceedings and serving as expert witnesses in court cases.
Rapidly Growing Career Opportunities with an Actuarial Science Degree
You don’t want to invest your time, effort and tuition dollars into earning a degree only to find out that there are no jobs out there for that major. Though it primarily prepares students for a single career path, actuarial science is definitely a marketable degree. Career opportunities for actuaries, the math whizzes behind the calculations of risk and its financial implications, are growing quickly. The United States Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) expects jobs for actuaries to see a 24 percent increase over just a decade. Though actuary is a comparably small career field, currently employing just 27,700 Americans, this much faster than average rate of job growth should translate to another 6,800 opportunities.
Though jobs for actuaries are on the increase, competition for entry-level positions is fierce, with more students pursuing the major and beginning to take their exams early on in their career preparation. Students who pass two or more of the actuarial exams and complete two or more internships during their studies will have a better chance of landing a desirable actuary job right out of college. If that isn’t an option for you – say, because you switched majors or started your education at a community college, and you’re too far into your studies to have time for multiple exams or internships – make sure you complete at least one exam and one internship. Round out your resume with extracurricular activities, especially relevant activities that involve business, math and leadership.
High Wages With an Actuarial Science Degree
Money isn’t everything, but for students who really enjoy the challenge of advanced math and data analysis, the six-figure median wage makes actuary an especially compelling career option. Starting salaries for actuaries usually fall into the $45,000 to $55,000 range, with candidates who have internship experience and multiple certification exams passed prior to graduation seeing the highest wages. As new actuaries continue working toward full professional certification, they often see pay boosts that accompany each exam they pass.
As a whole, the actuary profession has a median wage of $111,030, the BLS reported. The highest-paying top employer, the professional, scientific and technical services industry, employs 11 percent of actuaries. The finance and insurance industry, which is a close second in terms of high-paying employment fields, is where 76 percent of the profession works. The five percent of actuaries who work company management and the four percent working for the government are the lowest paid, earning median wages of $99,550 and $110,430.
As you continue to advance your career through passing a series of actuarial exams, you put yourself in a position to earn a higher salary and improve your marketability for more senior-level roles in the field.
Is a Master’s in Actuarial Science Worth It?
In terms of the value of graduate study, actuarial science differs strongly from both mathematics and science. The BLS [link – Should I get a master’s degree?] reported that mathematicians saw a 33 percent wage premium for earning a master’s degree, translating to $20,000 of additional income per year, on average. The combined fields of business, finance and sales saw some of the highest wage premiums, with different occupations reporting salary increases of between 36 and 89 percent, according to the BLS.
However, master’s degrees are rare among actuaries. O*NET reported that 63 percent of the occupation has only a bachelor’s degree. A quarter of actuaries reported having a post-baccalaureate certificate, and the remaining actuaries reporting their highest level of education had a professional degree.
Of course, if master’s degrees in actuarial science were never worth pursuing, people wouldn’t apply to these programs—and that’s not the case. Highly regarded schools all over the United States offer graduate programs in actuarial science. The value of a master’s in actuarial science degree depends a lot on your background and your future goals. For current actuaries, your time is better spent studying for the actuarial exams to advance your career.
However, for career-changers who already have a bachelor’s degree in another subject, it may make sense to pursue a master’s in actuarial science. The curriculum of a master’s degree program is likely to be more comprehensive than that of a post-baccalaureate certificate, which will provide you with more extensive knowledge of the field. Having a master’s degree can also help you if you aspire to move into management roles like actuarial manager or senior management positions in insurance companies.
Graduate programs in actuarial science typically don’t require students to have an undergraduate degree in the field, but they may include prerequisite coursework in math, statistics, finance, business or economics.
How to Choose the Best Schools for Actuarial Science
Even if you’ve decided to become an actuary, you might not have committed to majoring in actuarial science. After all, you can be an actuary with a degree in math, statistics or another analytical program of study, and these more general majors are much more prevalent than specialized actuarial science degree programs are. The Society of Actuaries (SOA) recognized more than 200 degree programs in actuarial science as of 2021, while most of the more than 2,800 four-year colleges in the United States offer more general degrees in mathematics.
The best schools for aspiring actuaries are the ones that offer degree programs in actuarial science specifically. You can become an actuary with a background in mathematics or statistics more generally, but specialized actuarial science coursework offers excellent preparation for certification exams. Actuarial science programs may also offer more resources for students pursuing this career, including networking events, guest speaker presentations and recruitment activities to help students find internships and full-time positions.
Getting into a school with an actuarial science degree program may require a little more research, but for students who really want to work as an actuary, the extra effort is well worth it. One benefit of this specialized program over a general math curriculum is that it prepares students for certification.
Professional certification is mandatory for actuaries. Depending on your field of employment, you might work toward certification from the SOA or the Casualty Actuary Society (CAS). Both professional societies award certification based primarily on the passing of notoriously difficult exams. Most actuaries spend hundreds of hours over the course of several months studying for each exam, the BLS reported. It can take four to seven years to attain associate-level certification and an additional two to three years to reach fellowship-level certification. The better prepared you are for these challenging certification exams, the more efficiently you will be able to progress through the process of professional actuarial certification.
Actuaries who are working toward certification often study independently from exam preparation materials. However, passing these difficult tests is much easier when you have taken specific coursework in the subject. The Probability and Financial Mathematics courses you take in an actuarial science program are meant to begin preparing you for the first two certification exams, which students should take before they graduate. In fact, certain actuarial science degree programs go even farther, preparing students for the first four exams.
The economics, finance and applied mathematical statistics classes students take while pursuing an actuarial science degree also meet another certification requirement, the education experience (VEE) credit. Students in other majors might study these subjects, as well, but their courses may not be approved options for meeting the VEE requirement.
When you’re comparing actuarial science programs at different schools, some factors to look at may include job placement rates and starting salaries for recent graduates, extracurricular opportunities, and resources for preparing for exams and finding internships. Prospective students should also look at logistics like class sizes, school reputation and admissions criteria. If you’re able to start working on your major coursework early in your studies and begin taking exams as early as your second year of college, you will be in an excellent position to attain sought-after internships and set yourself up for a successful job search when graduation approaches.
The multidisciplinary curriculum of an actuarial science program means that students develop specialized technical and analytical skills that they will apply to mathematical calculations, business and computer science in their daily work as actuaries.