How to Get Involved on Campus: The Actuarial Way

I didn’t dream about becoming an actuary when I was growing up. I didn’t research it as I was applying to colleges. I didn’t even plan on it when I started college. However, once I discovered the career a year into college, I decided that it was the path I wanted to pursue. Learning that my school didn’t have an actuarial science program seemed to pose a challenge at first, but I learned that by getting involved in on-campus activities, I was able to gain experience and skills that would identify me as a well-rounded candidate and make me marketable to an actuarial employer.

Here are a few ideas of activities that I have found to be beneficial in preparing for an actuarial career:

Join An Industry Related Club

Actuarial Science Club: If an Actuarial Science Club doesn’t exist at your school already, it is usually pretty easy to set up. To get a club started at my school, all you need is eleven other students and a professor willing to serve as an advisor. Our club was founded just a few years before I began attending meetings, and I was elected as president my third year of school. The club’s main purpose is to be an academic resource since our school does not have an Actuarial Science program. We host speakers from various companies, coordinate workshops to study for exams and to learn computer programming skills, rent out exam study manuals, help students find internships, promote actuarial science around campus, and advocate for relevant courses and VEE course approval.

Gamma Iota Sigma: Gamma Iota Sigma is the international professional fraternity dedicated to insurance, risk management, and actuarial science. You can check out their website to see if your school has a chapter, learn about the organization, and see the events and resources it offers for students. If your campus doesn’t have a chapter, the website walks you through the process of creating one.

Strengthen Your Technical Skills

Join clubs related to math, business, computer programming, or economics to improve your technical skills and knowledge relevant to the insurance industry. I am a member of the Math Club, for example, which has professors speak about their work and organizes for students to complete challenging problems and puzzles together.

Enhance Your Soft Skills

Join organizations that can improve your “soft” skills.  A skill of increasing importance is the ability to effectively communicate ideas and processes to businesspeople who are not highly trained in our field. My sophomore year, I joined our university tour guide organization, which allows me to practice my communication skills and increase my comfort level in front of large groups of strangers. You can also work in jobs that require customer service for practice in this area.

Go Outside Your Comfort Zone

Trying something out of your comfort zone is where you will be challenged and learn the most about yourself. You’ll also gain unique skills that may give you an advantage over your peers. Freshman year of college, I was a research assistant for a federally funded program called Proactive Recruitment in Science and Mathematics. Although this kind of research had nothing to do with actuarial science, I learned to use some new computer programs and techniques for working with data that are still applicable to the work actuaries perform, and I always have something interesting to discuss in interviews!

Be True to Yourself

Building your resume is great, but only if you are enjoying yourself in the process. Recruiters will want to hear about what you are passionate about, even if it isn’t always math and computers. You never know what you may have in common that starts a memorable conversation. For me, this includes reading for book club, dancing at ballroom club, playing flute in pep band, volunteering internationally, and playing intramural sports.

Develop Your Leadership Skills

When being involved on campus, look for ways to step up as a leader. This may mean holding a position as an officer in a club, such as President, or Chief Administrative Officer, or being a mentor to younger students in a shared major or program.

Get Paid for Your Work

If you are looking to make an income simultaneously, look for a work-study or part time job around campus. You may be able to find opportunities such as grading for the math department or tutoring in various subjects that can be relevant to your future career—while also filling your wallet each week!

This is a lot to consider, and obviously you cannot be part of dozens of activities while also focusing on schoolwork and enjoying your college years, but don’t be afraid to try new things to find out what you enjoy. Even the experiences and activities not related to actuarial science paint a picture of your personality and interests. Recruiters want to know that you will be able to juggle work and other activities. Most importantly, be yourself and enjoy the activities you pursue!

Catherine Erdelyi is a senior at Northeastern University and a winner of the 2015 – 2016 CAS Trust Scholarship. 

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How My Interest in Guiding Actuarial Students Led to a New Career Path

In 2006, I partook in the creation of an online company, The Infinite Actuary, to provide online actuarial exam prep seminars.  Responding to the idea that came from my business partner, James Washer, FSA, a small group of actuaries with teaching experience collaborated to form The Infinite Actuary.  However, my story starts long before this.

My junior year of college, Jobs Rated Almanac named Actuary the number one job in America.  Great salary, normal work hours, and math – I was sold!  My first job was with a large insurer.  The work really interested me, but my favorite part was the opportunity to advance quickly – all I had to do was pass a few exams.  I love the ability to control my own destiny.  I am very competitive, and in a large company there was definitely pressure to pass exams.  This competition propelled me to finish the exams quickly.  After achieving my FCAS, I decided to become a consulting actuary.  The work was new and challenging, but only a year removed from the exam process, I missed it.  I fortunately came across an opportunity to teach a live exam prep seminar for the Casualty Actuaries of the Mid-Atlantic Region, a regional affiliate of the CAS.  I discovered my passion for teaching and soon started instructing seminars with other regional affiliates.

As I continued to teach seminars, I started a new job with a small insurer.  The work differed from that of either a large insurer or a consulting firm.  I became more of a decision maker for the company as a whole instead of just one line of business or project.  Six years after teaching my first seminar, I was given the opportunity to teach full-time with The Infinite Actuary.  I do love teaching, but I didn’t realize the work involved with running your own company.  Fortunately, the skills developed at both large and small insurers, as well as my experience as a consulting actuary, helped me develop and manage the business.

At first, I was teaching all, or part of, three exam seminars.  This included developing written content, recording online videos, and teaching live seminars.  On top of this, we were continuing to build and improve our website, hire and manage instructors, deal with the many financial tasks, and most importantly, market our product.  As our business grew, customer service became more time consuming.  Adding support staff became critical if we wanted to be successful.

Today, we have a full staff to help the business run smoothly.  I currently manage the financial and marketing areas of the company, as well as the casualty seminars.  In a typical week, I have several staff meetings, work on advertising to companies and universities, discuss strategies for business development, complete various tasks related to financials, add new educational content, and review new or updated exam prep material.  My background as an actuary prepared me for the challenge of becoming a successful small business owner.

Ken Fikes, FCAS, is the executive director at The Infinite Actuary.

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