It’s never too early to begin preparing for the hands-on experience that accompanies your actuarial science education. Despite the actuary occupation’s rapid rate of job growth, candidates face strong competition even for entry-level and internship roles. From your very first semester of college, you should begin acquiring the extracurricular experience and technical skills needed to perform well as an actuary intern. To maximize your opportunities to gain hands-on internship experience, you may wish to begin applying for internships as early as the start of your sophomore year of study. While this may sound like overkill, it’s hard to understate just how valuable internship experience is for an actuary or just how hard you will have to work to attain an internship.
The Need for Actuary Internship Experience
Is an internship really necessary? The Society of Actuaries (SOA) and the Casualty Actuarial Society (CAS), the two professional organizations that sponsor actuary certification programs in the United States, consider internship experience an invaluable advantage in the job market. When you begin looking for your first full-time actuary role after graduation, having real-world actuary experience is one of the factors that could make or break your candidacy for the job you want.
While your progress toward professional certification through passing exams is “the single most important qualification,” the SOA and CAS reported, internship experience is not far behind. In fact, a student who has passed just one exam and has one internship under his or her belt is on equal footing with a student who has passed two exams but has no experience, according to the professional societies. If you have already passed the first two exams but haven’t yet been an intern, you should definitely make gaining experience a priority before you even think of attempting a third exam, according to the SOA and CAS.
Internships do more than just pad your resumé. They help you understand what the day-to-day work of an actuary is like. One of the biggest benefits of interning is the opportunity to figure out which actuarial practice area you most enjoy working in, the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported. To better explore your future career options, the SOA and CAS recommend participating in two internships during your education and finding opportunities that expose you to different kinds of actuarial work, such as pensions and property and casualty insurance. Interning in different settings, like an insurance company and a consulting company, can also give you a feel for the range of different employment environments out there.
Your internship is an opportunity to spend the summer in a new locale. Many actuary students travel far from home for their eight- to 12-week summer internships. Being willing to travel offers you the biggest benefits, since your job options aren’t limited by location.
The Process of Finding an Internship
Summer internships are the norm for actuaries. Since these internships are usually full-time, you can’t complete more than one at a time. You have a limited number of summers between starting college and graduating – one after freshman year, one after sophomore year and one after junior year, if you finish your degree in four years – so you need to begin thinking about your internships early on, especially if you plan to do two of them as the SOA and CAS recommends.
During your freshman year, you can begin working toward an internship by taking the coursework needed to prepare for your first actuarial certification exam, which could be either Probability or Financial Mathematics. Taking coursework in calculus, probability and financial mathematics as a freshman, in conjunction with your own independent study, can prepare you to pass one of these actuarial exams as early as the summer following your first year of school.
Passing an exam early on in your college career is important because many prospective employers expect actuary interns to already have at least one exam passed. Employers often view passed exams as evidence of intern candidates’ technical skills. If you haven’t yet taken any exams, you could be at a disadvantage compared to other job candidates who have, and some employers might not consider your application at all. You should also use this time to work on your resumé, because you will need to start submitting it sooner than you may think.
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If you plan to start your first internship during the summer between your sophomore and junior year, then you should begin applying when your sophomore year begins. Applications for summer internships are often due the fall prior to when the internship would begin. While that may seem like a long time, remember that internships are competitive. If selected for an interview, you may be flown out to company headquarters and spent half a day or more interviewing with different company representatives. It takes time for companies to sort through all of the actuary internship applications they receive, conduct the interview process and select their final choices. Often, companies will end up offering high-performing interns a permanent job upon graduating.
Look for extracurricular activities like the Gamma Iota Sigma academic fraternity (open to men and women), as early as your freshman year. Participating in these activities shows your enthusiasm for the career and, if you attain an officer role, your leadership abilities.