An actuarial science degree, which combines studies in advanced mathematics with business and computer science coursework, can prepare you for a lucrative career. Actuaries enjoy a six-figure median wage and a much faster than average rate of job growth, but the career path is far from easy. To get a high-paying actuary job, you need a bachelor’s degree in actuarial science or math, experience through an internship and passing scores on a series of challenging professional certification exams.
The Actuary Career Field
Actuary is an occupation in which you apply mathematical and statistical theories to the calculation of risk and its financial costs. Around 70 percent of actuaries work in the finance and insurance industry, according to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). The industry that includes professional, scientific and technical services accounts for 16 percent of actuary jobs. Other industries that employ actuaries include management of companies and enterprises, making up seven percent of jobs, and the government, which employs four percent of actuaries. Around one percent of actuaries are self-employed.
A bachelor’s degree is a requirement to become an actuary, but not many schools offer undergraduate degree programs in actuarial science specifically. Other analytical fields of study, such as mathematics and statistics, are popular choices among aspiring actuaries. Internship experience is particularly valuable in this occupation, and recruiting for competitive summer internship opportunities often begins as early as the preceding autumn.
One benefit of studying actuarial science rather than math or statistics is that actuary degree programs are often designed to help students complete an additional requirement, Validation by Educational Experience (VEE), early by taking specific courses in college.
Median Wages for Actuaries
Starting salaries for actuaries are in the $45,000 to $55,000 range, but wages can increase quite a bit as new actuaries gain work experience and progress toward professional credentials. The median, or midpoint, salary for actuaries as a whole is $101,560, the BLS reported. At the upper end of the spectrum, the top 10 percent of earners make more than $184,770 in their actuary roles, while the bottom 10 percent of earners make less than $59,950 per year.
One factor that affects your salary potential is your industry. The finance and insurance industry is both the number-one employer of actuaries and the best paying of all of the top employment industries. Actuaries who work in finance and insurance earn a median salary of $102,510. Close behind are actuaries working for professional, scientific and technical services, where the median wage is $101,430. Median salaries slightly below the six-figure range are found in government actuary roles as well as in jobs in management of companies and enterprises.
Actuaries work hard for their money, and almost one-third of actuaries work more than 40 hours per week, the BLS reported.
Increasing Your Salary as an Actuary
While the industry in which you work affects your wages, it isn’t the only factor. Another important factor is your level of certification. Actuaries must attain certification from the Society of Actuaries (SOA) or the Casualty Actuarial Society (CAS), depending on which area of finance or insurance they intend to work in, and this certification process is lengthy. Even before you graduate with your bachelor’s degree, you should pass at least one or two professional credentialing exams. Throughout your career, you will have to continue taking exams – seven to 10 in all – to finally achieve full fellowship certification status.
The more exams you complete, the more you can expect your salary to grow. Employers of actuaries value certification so much that they often pay for their employees to prepare for and complete the exams as well as offering raises and bonuses upon passing the tests. Having an employer pay for study materials, time off of work to study and exam costs is a significant perk. The exams themselves can cost hundreds to thousands of dollars, and study materials often cost hundreds of additional dollars. For each exam, actuaries will need to spend hundreds of hours preparing for the test. While benefits like covering exam costs, preparation costs and study time might not directly add to your take-home pay, they are certainly a valuable part of an actuary’s compensation package.
Attaining associate actuary certification typically takes four to seven years, and reaching fellowship certification requires another two to three years, the BLS reported.