Before you decide whether or not to major in actuarial science, you should give some thought to how much demand there is for the math-related degree. Actuarial science is a specialized degree program that prepares students for one career in particular: actuary. Fortunately, this lucrative career has an excellent job outlook. While not as broad or adaptable as a math degree, an actuarial science program has plenty to offer in terms of job prospects and salary potential.
Actuary Job Outlook
Around 23,600 Americans hold the job title of actuary, the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported. In this position, these math professionals figure out the cost of risk as it affects insurance, lending, investments and other financial activities. The job outlook for actuaries is thriving, with the BLS predicting a much faster than average 22 percent rate of job growth. Over a decade, this increase will result in an estimated 5,300 new jobs.
Despite the rapid rate of job growth, the BLS expects entry-level actuary jobs to be competitive. Make sure you pass two or more professional certification exams, fully develop your business and analytical skills and complete an internship before you graduate.
Why Actuarial Science
Actuarial science isn’t the only major that can prepare you for a career as an actuary. A general mathematics degree, a statistics degree or a degree in another analytical field can all equip students with the mathematical and business knowledge they need to succeed in this occupation, the BLS reported. However, there are some concrete benefits to choosing an actuarial science major over one of these broader fields of study for students who are sure that they want to become actuaries.
The more than 180 colleges and universities that offer a Society of Actuaries (SOA)-recognized degree program in actuarial science are specially focused on preparing students for this career path. Students of actuarial science programs take a blend of math, business, economics, corporate finance, statistics and computer science courses, the BLS reported. Their coursework prepares them for at least the first two actuary certification exams, Probability and Financial Mathematics. Some actuarial science degree programs pride themselves on preparing students for the first four or more exams.
In an SOA-recognized actuarial science program, students can feel confident that their college coursework will meet the additional validation by education experience (VEE) requirements that both the SOA and the Casualty Actuarial Society (CAS) have instated. You must attain this credit to reach the associate level of professional certification. The VEE requirement covers the subjects of economics, finance and applied statistics, which are not directly tested in the first four certification exams. Certainly, students who major in another field of study can take coursework in these subjects, but those students must be diligent about checking that the courses they take
Students who are uncertain whether the actuary career path is right for them might be better off choosing a more versatile major, like mathematics, and carefully selecting their elective courses so that they can develop some of the specialized skills of an actuary.
Reaching Your Full Potential as an Actuary
Actuaries don’t need a graduate degree to advance in their careers, but they do need professional certification. Both the SOA and the CAS award associate, and later fellowship, levels of certification based on performance on a series of difficult professional exams.
Becoming a full-fledged actuary fellow means earning passing scores on at least seven, and perhaps as many as 10, examinations. For each of these exams, actuaries will spend months preparing and reviewing specially-created exam materials. Employers often pay for the cost of taking the exams and the materials needed to prepare for these challenging tests. Some employers even offer their actuaries time off to study for their exams – a valuable benefit, particularly since each exam usually requires hundreds of hours of studying, according to the BLS.
It isn’t easy to become a fully-certified actuary. In fact, the process can take as long as four to seven years, plus you need to earn your bachelor’s degree. However, the rewards of this challenging career path are significant. Using your analytical skills to work in the field you love – math – and make a six-figure median wage doing so is an ideal career path for many math-lovers.
As actuaries pass exams, they typically earn wage increases and often bonuses.