Whether you have thought long and hard about an actuary career or have only just heard of the field of actuarial science for the first time, you might be curious about job prospects with this degree. This interdisciplinary degree program is more specialized than a general mathematics degree program, and its primary objective is to prepare students to become actuaries. However, actuaries hold different job titles as they achieve different levels of professional certification and work in different fields.
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Types of Actuarial Work
Seven out of 10 actuaries work in the finance and insurance industry, but within this general industry there are numerous specialized career fields, the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported. Due to their skills in analyzing risk, actuaries are particularly valued by insurance companies. As a health insurance actuary, you would calculate the costs of providing healthcare services to determine how much an insurance company should charge policyholders for premiums. Life insurance companies, too, use actuaries to determine likely life expectancy and premium rates based on an individual’s risk factors. Other actuaries work in property and casualty insurance, again compiling and analyzing data used to write insurance policies. This type of insurance includes car insurance, homeowners insurance and renters insurance.
Among actuaries who work in the field of finance, most work in investment strategy or enterprise risk. In this role, you might use your analytical skills to predict the best investments for individuals or businesses. Some actuaries work in pension and retirement benefits to develop and assess pension, 401(k) and other types of retirement plans. You could also become an enterprise risk actuary, working alongside top company executives to recognize potential and minimize potential risks to a business.
Outside of the finance and insurance industry, actuaries find work in professional, scientific and technical services, in management of company and enterprises and in federal and state government roles.
Levels of Professional Actuary Certification
Completing full professional certification from the Casualty Actuarial Society (CAS) or Society of Actuaries (SOA) is one of the most important – not to mention challenging – aspects of preparing for the actuarial career path. Both professional societies offer certification at both the associate and fellowship level. Reaching associate-level certification may take up to seven years, and it can take another two to three years to finally achieve fellowship certification according to the BLS.
If you want to work as an actuary, you must usually begin taking your exams before you graduate – often, before the end of your junior year of college, to help you get chosen for an internship. However, even the most ambitious student will not reach associate actuary status by the time he or she graduates with a bachelor’s degree. Your first actuarial role will most likely have a job title like actuarial analyst. Salaries in these entry-level actuary roles often begin around $45,000 to $55,000 but can rise to $65,000.
As you continue passing your certification exams, you will see a considerable increase in pay. Many employers offer raises based on how many exams actuaries have completed. You may even be eligible for bonuses when you pass a new exam. Once you reach associate certification status, you will likely receive a new job title, actuarial associate. Actuarial associates can often expect to earn $69,000 to $88,000 or more per year. Actuaries who go on to attain full fellowship certification, referred to as actuarial fellows, often earn six-figure salaries and can see wages as high as $150,000 to $250,000.
Many employers pay for their actuaries to take the exams, and some even offer paid study materials and time off to study.
Alternatives for Actuarial Science Degrees
As you consider a degree in actuarial science, you might wonder if you need a backup plan? What happens if you have trouble passing the certification exams, which are notoriously challenging tests? If you find that you don’t enjoy the work of an actuary, will your degree be useless because it is so narrowly focused on this one career path?
An actuarial science degree combines studies in math with studies in business and in computer science and programming. The degree itself may be specialized, but the subjects you study to earn it still equip you with versatile knowledge and skills. Graduates from an actuarial science degree program can also use their education to become business analysts, budget analysts, analysts intelligence agencies, research analysts, financial analysts, insurance underwriters or insurance claims adjusters. With a little further schooling in a slightly different field of study, you could become qualified to work as a personal finance advisor, investment banker or risk manager.
CNN Business called actuary “One of the best jobs in America,” citing factors like the high salary, demand, job security and opportunities without the need for a graduate education.