Actuarial science is a field that utilizes knowledge of statistics, financial theory, and mathematics to manage, mitigate, and measure financial risk and uncertainty. Being an actuary is a desirable career for those with strong math and critical thinking skills. U.S. News recently listed actuaries among the Best Business Jobs, Best STEM Jobs, Best Paying Jobs, and 100 Best Jobs. But how does one become an actuary?
Most actuaries begin their careers with a bachelor’s degree. After graduation, those interested in this in-demand field begin taking their Professional Actuary Exams. There are a series of seven tests, but most jobs in the United States will consider hiring actuaries after they pass the initial two exams. Some people may choose to stop after the first two tests and remain an actuarial analyst. But many others continue their studies either with an MBA, Master’s in Actuarial Science, or through taking the remaining five exams. Let’s take a look at the best degrees to become an actuary.
Bachelor’s in Actuarial Science
For those who are certain that they would like to go into the actuary field, a Bachelor’s of Actuarial Science is an obvious choice. This degree prepares students with curriculum that is typically grounded in economics, statistics, and mathematics. Critical thinking, projects, and STEM assignments are often involved in the learning process as well.
While actuaries can technically come from any educational background, an actuarial science degree really sets students up for success on the Professional Actuary Exams. In fact, many of these programs include test prep materials and study resources. Universities like Purdue, Carnegie Mellon, Ohio State, Temple, and the Milwaukee School of Engineering see the value and demand for this degree path. Some of the courses often included within Actuarial Science programs include Calculus, Actuarial Modeling, Actuarial Probability & Statistics, and Corporate Finance for Actuarial Science. There are on-campus and online programs available to meet any learning style and time constraints.
Bachelor’s in Statistics
Actuaries use a great deal of statistical analysis in their work, making a Bachelor’s of Statistics a great choice for individuals considering entering into this career path. In general, undergraduate degrees in statistics help students build a fundamental knowledge base of skills like probability, data analysis, mathematical statistics, and statistical computing. This degree offers skills that can be applied to actuary positions within insurance companies, government, or financial advising organizations.
A few of the classes within Bachelor’s Statistics programs commonly include a variety of statistics courses, Probability, Linear Algebra, and Calculus. Luckily for statistics majors, this is a very common degree option and specialization. There are many accredited statistics programs available both through distance and traditional on-campus programs. Some of the regionally accredited institutions that offer Bachelor’s in Statistics degrees are the University of California Berkeley, Colorado State, Georgia Institute of Technology, and Kansas State.
Bachelor’s in Business Analytics
One of the actuary’s most significant jobs is to help add statistically-sound data to data models for insurance companies. They then analyze the effects on insurance policies, all using complex data systems and technology. Some of the skills covered within Business Analytics degrees are data warehousing, big data analytics methods, visualization tools, and dimensional modeling. This emphasis on data, technology, and critical thinking has a direct correlation to the skills used by actuaries on a day to day basis.
An advantage to this degree is the integration of business skills such as business communications, organizational behavior, business modeling, and economics & management decisions. Students can complete their full bachelor’s degree in Business Analytics. Or if students are not sure they are ready for a full degree program, find Coursera or edX courses on the subject, or many schools also offer a certificate option that blends well with other degrees.
Bachelor’s in Insurance and Risk Management
Actuaries are essential to the insurance industry. They test, design, and administer investments, pension plans, insurance policies, and other business strategies in order to minimize risk and maximize profitability. A Bachelor’s degree in Insurance and Risk Management gives those who plan to become actuaries within the insurance field the exact information that they need for the job. It’s one of the best degrees to become an actuary.
A few of the subjects discussed within most IRM programs are managing property & liability risk, international risk, and human capital risk. Retirement planning, health employee benefits, risk financing, and enterprise risk management are also often addressed. Bachelor’s in Insurance and Risk Management can be completed online or on-campus at universities such as St. John’s University, Temple University, Ball State, Florida State, or the University of Georgia. On-campus students have the benefit of joining like-minded peers through groups like Gamma Iota Sigma, a professional student risk management and actuarial science organization.
Master’s in Actuarial Science
Master’s in Actuarial Science degrees take undergraduate understanding and build towards new concepts. Master’s students explore valuation of certain and probabilistic cash flows, insurance pricing and reserving actuarial modeling techniques, data analytics, and predictive modeling. They’ll also study business acumen, like corporate finance, economics, and accounting. Most programs are designed with working professionals in mind.
There are many high quality online or part-time options. Those who are not already in the field, and have the desire for an immersive experience, can also find many choices in full-time on-campus degrees. Some programs are more particular, but in general, applicants do not have to have an undergraduate degree in Actuarial Science. Other frequently accepted areas of study include Mathematics, Economics, Finance, Risk Management and Insurance, or Data Analysis. Courses within Master’s of Actuarial Science programs prepare students for the final five exams needed to become a fully certified actuary. Some programs even offer specializations that allow students to dive deeper into the fields like insurance or financial services.
According to Payscale, actuaries‘ average salary is $91,729, with a high salary of $146,000. Currently, top-paying employers include New York Life Insurance Company, Scor Reinsurance Company, Liberty Mutual Insurance Group, and The Travelers Companies, Inc. In addition to great pay, actuaries have an 18% expected growth rate over the next ten years. This rate is much higher than the national average and is a sign that this field is in-demand.
The next step after researching the best degrees to become an actuary, is to plan out what you need to do to start your next degree. What prerequisites or tests do you need to take? How many applications do you need to fill out? And how does one eat an elephant? One bite at a time. Start at the beginning of your plan and persevere until you are in the career you want.
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