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 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. From entry-level to senior-level, actuaries have significant earning potential throughout their careers.
Entry-Level Wages for Actuarial Science Graduates
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 average starting salary for all majors is $41,880, but 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.
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 United States Bureau of Labor Statistics reported.
Among actuaries employed in the field of casualty insurance, salaries range from $85,000 to $360,000 or more upon attaining associate-level certification. Actuaries who achieved the highest level of certification, fellowship, saw wages that went from $114,000 to more than $556,000.
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. Casualty insurance actuaries who have passed five exams earn $65,000 to $95,000 with just one to three years of experience, but as much as $100,000 to $159,000 with decades of experience. Upon passing seven exams, these same actuaries see wages from $72,000 for those with the least experience to $172,000 for those with the most experience.
The highest reported salaries by type of work are $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.
Top Industries and Geographies 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 include:
- Business, professional, labor, and political organizations, where the average wage is $132,480
- The federal executive branch of the government, which pays a mean salary of $125,560
- Insurance agencies, brokerages and activities, with an average wage of $123,420
- Office administrative services, which pays a $117,220 mean salary
- Management, scientific and technical consulting services, a field where the average wage is $116,010
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 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.