Preparing to be an Actuary at a School Without an Actuarial Science Program

One of the strengths of the actuarial profession is its willingness – indeed, its desire – to welcome and accommodate people with very different backgrounds.  In our roles as identifiers, quantifiers, and managers of risk, actuaries benefit society by utilizing the variety of perspectives and approaches to risk that diversity provides.

One aspect of diversity and strength within the actuarial profession involves schools and majors.  The CAS recognizes that good students and future actuaries can and will emerge from colleges with small, or even no, actuarial science program, and that students with non-actuarial majors can provide unique and important perspectives and skills. To be sure, there are certain realities about the actuarial profession – one must have at least a minimal level of quantitative skill, and be able to pass actuarial exams.  Beyond that, though, there are a variety of skills and perspectives that are valuable in an actuarial career.

Below is a list of some courses that a student at basically any university should consider taking in preparation for a career as an actuary:

  • Probability and Statistics: Most schools have at least one or two courses in probability and statistics.  This material is foundational for the quantitative skills required by actuaries.  A full year of probability and statistics – i.e., a two-semester-course sequence – would be ideal.  It would also be ideal if these courses had a full sequence of calculus as their prerequisite.  But if your school offers something different in this area, take whatever is available.
  • Other Math: Good math is always worth studying – not necessarily because of the material itself, but because it helps to build a systematic and logical way of thinking.  Certainly, you should take the full sequence of calculus courses offered, but additional courses beyond calculus and probability-statistics are often worthwhile.  Courses involving linear algebra, regression analysis, or advanced statistics are particularly worth considering, but courses like advanced calculus or analysis can also sharpen your quantitative skills.
  • Economics: Developing an understanding of economic issues and processes is one of the best things you can do for yourself – whether you end up being an actuary, or most anything else.  Take (at least) a basic microeconomics and a basic macroeconomic course.  In addition to learning the classroom material, regularly read the economics section of a newspaper, and try to develop an intuitive “feel” for economics.  There are also many excellent general-readership books available that can help you better appreciate the economic forces affecting individuals, countries, and the world.
  • Finance: Try to take at least one finance course, covering the basics of corporate finance, investments, and/or derivatives.  A course that covers some financial math (e.g., interest theory, bond and loan mathematics) is particularly valuable.
  • Computer Science: Learn some programming – and it doesn’t matter too much what language or software you study, because the foundational skills are largely transferable to others.  Beyond basics like Word and Excel, items worth being exposed to include any of Visual Basic, C++, R, and SAS.
  • Communications: The best actuaries are the ones who combine excellent technical abilities with the “softer” skills.  Try to take courses that expose you to, and enhance your skills in, both verbal and written communications.
  • Science: Actuaries often model natural phenomena and their impact on humans.  Science courses can help you to appreciate the underlying principals and forces that result in risks.
  • Other: Strive to be a student of the world.  Our world and civilization are a complex network of interconnected and interdependent forces and activities.  Understanding how it all fits together, and where the risks and potential for breakdowns are, represents the value of the actuarial function.  Almost any subject, and any academic department, will have courses that are relevant to this broad perspective.

Many of the courses and skills mentioned above are expanded upon in the CAS Curriculum Guide, available to download in the online community. The Guide will help you identify experiences to seek out while in college to prepare for a future career as an actuary.

Actuarial science is one of the most multi-disciplinary of professions.  Whether your major is math, economics, or business – or philosophy, history, or science – you will encounter skills and a way of thinking that are useful to a potential career in actuarial science.  And whatever college or university you call home, you can make your dreams of becoming an actuary come true!

Rick Gorvett, FCAS, is Director of the Actuarial Science Program and is the State Farm Companies Foundation Scholar in Actuarial Science at University of Illinois-Urbana Champaign, where he has taught for 14 years. He also serves on the CAS Board of Directors and the CAS University Engagement Committee. 

Search CAS Directory

6 Tips for Landing and Excelling at an Actuarial Internship

3 Tips for Landing an Actuarial Internship

1. Stay Ahead of the Game: The timing of when you get your resume out to

a company is critical. It’s important to know that most companies tend to finish hiring in December for the actuarial summer intern positions. This means you should plan to update and polish your resume soon after you return to school in the fall. Many companies will be posting positions in August and September, so be on the lookout for the positions you want at your top prospects.

2. Know the Company: It’s extremely important to always know information about the company with which you’re interviewing. It’s quite apparent in interviews when a candidate hasn’t done any research on the company and skirts any questions about why they’re interested in working at the company. In contrast, when candidates do look into information about the company and share what they find interesting, it shows a deep interest in the company. This can go a long way.

3. Remain Professional: Remember to always keep a professional demeanor. Some interviewing processes entail interviews with younger or newer actuaries at the company to help facilitate easier conversations. This is a great time to ask questions you might have forgotten to ask in the more ‘formal’ interview, but remember this time is still being used as an interview and being professional is still crucial.

3 Tips for Excelling at an Actuarial Internship

1. Stay Up to Date on Current Events:  Before and during your internship, it’s important to stay on top of the news and what’s happening in the world. I don’t mean just staying current in the worlds of sports or celebrities, but rather the worlds of politics, finance, healthcare, technology, and so many more. All of these can impact insurance companies since insurance touches almost every industry. In addition, issues around the world can affect the company at which you’re interning as a result of increased reinsurance and increasingly global companies. I’m not saying you need to be an expert on all things, but having a general understanding of the major news of the day will serve you well.

2. Network: Developing professional relationships with coworkers can benefit you both during and after the internship. It’s important to develop a few strong relationships. Most companies will pair you with a mentor to help you answer your day-to-day questions, while your manager might meet with you weekly. Use these meetings as an opportunity to showcase your work efforts, your ability to be a team player, and your interpersonal skills. It’s also important to build a network with other actuarial interns and new hires at the company. This group will be seeing a wide range of actuarial roles across the company as they’re learning and being trained in different capacities. By asking questions about the work they’re doing, you can expand your knowledge of what other actuaries do and start formulating ideas on which actuarial function most interests you for a future internship or a full-time starting position.

3. Utilize Feedback to Grow Professionally: Take advantage of a mid-summer review. Your summer internship will fly by quickly. Internships usually range between 10-12 weeks, and by the time you get settled in, it’ll seem like your end date is right around the corner. Your mid-summer review can help you to hone in on the skills that you still need to develop during your time with the company. Your manager might schedule one with you but if not, I suggest asking your manager if he/she would conduct one with you to give you feedback on how the summer is progressing. Most managers will discuss how your first few weeks have been going, and point out a few places you could grow and develop. I cannot stress enough the importance of taking those development suggestions to heart and trying to improve. An important attribute of a great employee is being someone who can accept constructive criticism and respond by making positive changes.

Anthony Pragovich, ACAS, is a senior actuarial analyst at Zurich North America. In addition to his role in pricing, he is a member of Zurich’s core actuarial recruiting team.

Search CAS Directory