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Actuaries are experts at using math to figure out risk and its financial impact. If you want to work as an actuary, you need to go to college. A bachelor’s degree is the required education for this career path. While actuaries can come from a variety of different educational backgrounds, they need to choose an analytical program of study so that they can develop their technical skills. Actuaries typically do not need a graduate degree for career advancement, but they do need to complete a challenging process to achieve professional certification.

Degree Options in Analytical Fields of Study

There’s no one major that is correct for aspiring actuaries. The United States Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) identifies mathematics, statistics and actuarial science as majors that can help prepare you to for a career as an actuary. The BLS also notes that other analytical majors are good choices, as well.

Since actuary is a math career, it stands to reason that majoring in mathematics would equip students with the strong math foundation they need to perform advanced calculations of risk. Statistics, another of the mathematical sciences, is a crucial subject of study for actuaries. Aspiring actuaries should take at least one semester of linear algebra, two semesters of calculus-based probability and statistics coursework and three semesters of calculus, according to the Society of Actuaries (SOA) and Casualty Actuarial Society (CAS).

Business is also an important subject for actuaries, but majoring in business only may not be the best option for this career path. Though the occupation is closely related to business, it requires more advanced math skills than most business majors will acquire.  

What Degree Should an Actuary Have?

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The Advantages of a Specialized Actuarial Science Program

Over 180 colleges and universities across the United States offer a degree program in actuarial science that has been reviewed by the Society of Actuaries. This specialized major prepares students for the actuary career through a multidisciplinary blend of coursework in math, business, statistics, economics, finance and computer science. While not as broad or versatile as a general mathematics or statistics program, an actuarial science major offers benefits for students who are committed to the actuary career path.

By combining studies in each of the disciplines most relevant to an actuary’s work, the actuarial science degree gives students a more tailored educational experience. While a lack of business knowledge might hamper the success of a math major and a business student might not have strong enough math skills to perform the work of an actuary, students majoring in actuarial science enjoy the best of both worlds.

Students of actuarial science also have an advantage when they begin working toward professional certification. The courses they take prepare them for, at the minimum, the first two actuary certification exams, Probability and Financial Mathematics. Some undergraduate actuarial science degree programs go even farther, with a curriculum that helps students get ready for three, four or more of the exams. Because actuaries must also attain validation by education experience, or VEE, credit to become certified, it’s important that they take finance, economics and applied statistics courses that are approved by the SOA or CAS. The coursework in these subjects in an actuarial science program typically meet these VEE requirements. However, students in other majors might find that their general courses in these subjects do not have SOA or CAS approval.

To even have the opportunity to complete an actuary internship, you will need significant technical skills. Often, prospective employers judge the technical skills of candidates for internships based on the number of professional certification exams they have passed.

Actuary Requirements Beyond the Degree

Certification is a big part of the actuary occupation. Students preparing for an actuary career should plan to spend a great deal of time studying even after they graduate. Progress toward full certification is measured by the passing of exams, each of which requires hundreds of hours of study. In all, actuaries may take seven to 10 certification exams. Actuaries use exam preparation materials such as official study guides and other materials by The Actuarial Bookstore to get ready for their exams. Employers of actuaries often expect them to earn passing scores on at least one or two of their certification exams even before they graduate college. While exams are important for advancing your career, a graduate education typically is not, and so few actuaries decide to pursue a master’s degree.

The BLS reports that attaining certification as an actuarial associate takes four to seven years, and it takes an additional two or three years to become an actuarial fellow.

Additional Resources

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