If you’re considering earning a degree in actuarial science, you probably already know that the high salary is one of several perks of the math-focused actuary career. While the occupation as a whole has an appealing median wage in the six-figure range, the opportunity to earn even more money is there for actuaries who attain the highest levels of professional certification. In fact, actuary salaries in the range of $300,000, $400,000 or even $500,000 aren’t out of the question with the right experience and level of professional certification.
From entry-level to senior-level, actuaries have significant earning potential throughout their careers. Generally, the highest-paying job with a degree in actuarial science is actuarial fellow in the area of property and casualty insurance, followed by actuarial science roles in other areas of the field, like life, health and pension.
Ready to learn more about the highest-paying jobs with an actuarial science degree? Let’s dive in and do the math on how much money different types of actuaries earn.
What Can You Expect From an Actuarial Science Salary?
When you major in actuarial science, you can generally count on earning a high salary for as long as you stick with this challenging career. Not only does the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) report a six-figure median annual salary for this career, but wages below the midpoint for this occupation are still well above the median salary across all careers. As of 2020, actuaries in the 25th percentile still earned $83,550 despite making less money than the majority of the field, and even those in the 10th percentile still reported earning $66,030 per year.
Something else aspiring actuaries should expect is to have to work hard to keep their earning potential rising throughout their careers. While work experience alone can contribute to a higher earning potential as actuaries progress through their careers, you will see a much bigger increase in earnings if you consistently work toward passing the series of exams that leads to actuarial certification. Earning passing scores on these exams isn’t easy, but the payoff is worth the challenge.
In addition to their base salary, actuaries may have the opportunity to earn bonuses that further contribute to their total income potential.
Entry-Level Actuarial Sciences Degree Salary Prospects
You probably realize that you can’t expect to earn $100,000 a year right off the bat. However, even new actuaries earn high wages. The Society for Human Resource Management reported that the average starting salary for all majors in 2017 was $49,785. Entry-level actuaries earn at least a few thousand dollars more – and potentially, tens of thousands of dollars more – than this average, with a starting salary of $45,000 to $65,000 as of 2017.
Even accounting for differences in school reputation, actuary science salaries are significantly more lucrative than salaries for many other areas of business. Pennsylvania State University reported that its actuarial science majors earned an average starting salary of $75,000, compared to a $60,093 average starting salary across all majors in the Smeal College of Business.
If you want to maximize your earnings from your first actuary job, make studying a priority. Prospective employers look at the grades you earned in college and give preference to candidates who have begun taking – and passing – their certification exams before they finished college. It’s also important to gain hands-on work experience as an intern. Many interns go on to receive permanent full-time job offers from the company with which they interned, and even if there are no permanent positions available, internships can offer excellent opportunities for networking.
Actuarial science graduates rarely have to worry about looking for their first job. Those who maintain a high grade point average throughout their studies, complete an internship and pass one or two certification exams during college often receive multiple job offers.
Earning Potential by Level of Actuarial Certification
If there is one factor that affects earning potential for actuaries more than any other, it’s progress toward full professional certification. Certification for actuaries isn’t a quick process by any means. It requires passing a sequence of challenging exams, each of which requires hundreds of hours of study spread out over months. In fact, reaching full fellowship-level certification can take up to a decade or longer, the BLS reported.
Because certification is such a long and difficult process, actuaries receive higher salaries the further they progress in that process. Typically, each new passing score on an exam qualifies the actuary for a raise, often adding a few thousand dollars to the employee’s total income.
Among actuaries who achieve the associate level of certification, annual salaries range from $71,000 to $356,000, depending on years of experience and area of employment, the 2019 EzraPenland.com United States Actuarial Salary Survey reported. For experienced actuaries who have passed the required certification exams to become a fellow, it’s not unusual to earn $150,000 to $250,000 per year or more, according to Be An Actuary.org, the official resource for aspiring actuaries from the Society of Actuaries and Casualty Actuarial Society. The EzraPenland.com United States Actuarial Salary Survey put earning potential for actuarial fellows in the range of $100,000 to $528,000 per year.
The more experience actuaries have, the wider the pay gap between those who attain the fellowship level of certification and those who don’t, the Casualty Actuarial Society reported. This means that experience alone can’t make up for the missed earning potential of actuaries who never become certified as fellows.
The Top-Paying Industries for Actuaries
For actuaries, as for other occupations, two factors that influence earning potential are the industry of employment and geographical location. The BLS reported that the top-paying industries for actuaries in 2020 included:
- Securities, commodity contracts and other financial investments and related activities, where the average wage is $139,100
- Agencies, brokerages and other insurance-related activities, which pays a mean salary of $129,610
- Insurance carriers, which pay an average annual salary of $124,550
- Management, scientific and technical consulting services, where the mean wage is $121,920 per year
- Management of companies and enterprises, where actuaries earn an average wage of $111,820 annually
All in all, the finance and insurance industry made up 76 percent of the actuary profession in 2020, according to the BLS. The professional, scientific and technical services industry was the next largest employing industry for actuaries, making up 11 percent of the workforce.
Types of Actuaries and Salaries
Different types of actuaries earn different wages. In 2019, the middle 85 percent of pension actuaries earned between $53,000 and $337,000, according to the EzraPenland.com United States Actuarial Salary Survey. Of course, the $53,000 salary was reported for the lowest-paid actuaries with minimal experience and exams passed, while the $337,000 wage was for actuaries with fellowship level of certification and more than 20 years of experience. For health actuaries, the lowest wage reported was $57,000, and the highest was $457,000. Earnings for life actuaries ranged from $56,000 to $468,000. Among property and casualty actuaries of all kinds, the income range stretched from $60,000 all the way to $528,000.
Historically, DW Simpson has reported that the highest actuary salaries by type of work were $556,000 for actuarial fellows in casualty insurance, $528,000 for those in life insurance, $423,000 for those in health insurance and $364,000 for those in pension jobs.
Actuarial Jobs and Salaries by State and City
The location where actuaries earn the highest salaries is New York, with an average wage of $145,180 per year. Actuaries in Washington, D.C., and Connecticut earn mean salaries in the $127,000 range. In Georgia and Washington, the average annual salary for actuaries is in the $121,000 range.
As a math person, you might wonder how these figures add up. Though the BLS reports a $101,560 median wage for the actuary profession in its entirety, there is a big difference between how much individual actuaries make. Many of the top-paying industries listed above employ few actuaries, so their exceptionally high average salaries don’t reflect the earning potential for most actuary roles. The BLS also uses different measures, median salary versus mean or average salary, to convey different types of data.
The metropolitan areas where actuaries earn the most include the Charlotte-Concord-Gastonia area of North Carolina and South Carolina, followed by the New York-Newark-Jersey City area that consists of regions in NY, Pennsylvania, and New Jersey, the BLS reported. You can also find lucrative opportunities in Texas, particularly in the San Antonio-New Braunfels area, and in the areas surrounding Milwaukee, Wisconsin, Tampa, Florida, and Seattle, Washington.
It’s worth noting that actuarial jobs are so highly concentrated in certain geographical areas that opportunities may be nearly nonexistent in some regions. 2020 data from the BLS shows that more than a dozen states in the U.S. have fewer than 200 people employed as actuaries, while other in other states there are thousands of working actuaries – and the BLS doesn’t even report data on actuary employment for 13 states.
That isn’t to say that it’s impossible to find an actuary job in these other states, but it does suggest that the job market for this occupation isn’t as robust in these regions. If you’re looking for actuary jobs in Michigan, for example, you might find listings for… even though the BLS doesn’t report actuary employment data for this state. However, you won’t find nearly the number of opportunities here as you would in New York, where the BLS reported that 2,570 actuaries work, earning an average annual wage of $154,150.
The top-paying industries aren’t always the ones that employ a lot of actuaries. Among the industries that employ the most actuaries, finance and insurance and professional, scientific and technical services offer the best median salaries, the BLS reported.
The Companies With the Best Pay for Actuaries
Naturally, the company or organization for which you work plays a big part in determining the actuarial science salary you’re able to earn. For example, Goldman Sachs actuary salaries at the actuary V level – a high level of experience and seniority – fall in the range of $156,709 to $190,772, according to Salary.com. The average salary for fifth-level actuaries at Goldman Sachs in 2021, according to Salary.com, was $173,171.
Fortunately, Goldman Sachs isn’t the only company in which actuaries are well compensated. The top-paying company for actuaries, according to job search and career research website Zippia, is management consulting firm McKinsey & Company Inc., which reported an average actuary salary of $143,080. Insurance, investing and banking solutions company USAA offers the next most lucrative actuary salaries, with an average of $130,187 per year. Also on the list of the companies that pay actuaries the most are Zurich, American International Group (AIG), and Genworth Financial.
It isn’t uncommon for actuaries working in these companies that are known for paying high salaries to earn an average salary above $125,00 – and the higher the level of your job role, the greater your earning potential, generally.
Becoming the Highest-Paid Actuary in the World
Admittedly, becoming the highest-paid actuary in the world might sound a bit dramatic. If you want to reach your full earning potential as an actuary, though, here are some points to keep in mind:
- Majoring in actuarial science, rather than just mathematics or science, can put you on the right path to passing actuarial certification exams early.
- Gaining experience through internships during college can make you a more marketable job candidate after graduation.
- By making it a priority to quickly pass exams, you can maximize your earning potential at every point throughout your career. In general, the more exams you pass, the higher your salary potential. Moving from associate level of certification to fellowship level can boost your income potential significantly.
- Considering the possibility of working for yourself? The BLS reported that two percent of actuaries are self-employed. Self-employed actuaries who work in a consulting role for major domestic and international companies have no cap on their income beyond the number of hours they are willing to work and the rate their clients are willing to pay for their expertise.
You might also have to move to an area with a higher average actuary salary if you really want to make the most money possible. Keep in mind, though, that it’s a good idea to also factor the cost of living in different areas into your salary expectations.