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Actuarial Science

The Breakdown

At first (or even second) glance, actuarial science might not appear to be the most glamorous of academic pursuits. Indeed, to the untrained eye it seems to involve a lot of number crunching. However, when distilled down to its simplest definition, actuarial science is really the assessment of risk. Sounds a little saucier now, eh?

Truly a vital and rigorous field, actuarial science helps to both define and tackle business and social problems. In evaluating risk, actuaries determine the costs of benefit programs such as health insurance, life insurance and pension plans. Should you choose this major, be prepared to take a healthy combination of math and business classes. Indeed, you’ll cover everything from statistics and forecasting theory to financial accounting and microeconomics.

If you decide to major in actuarial sciences, you’ll be using a number of sophisticated computer programs. Therefore, it’s important to be tech savvy and comfortable around technology. Moreover, you will likely need to learn several programming languages. Of course, a facility for and strong foundation in mathematics is also vital. Lastly, you should be someone who is fascinated by the illumination and insight probability and statistics can provide.

Nuts and Bolts

Get ready to become intimate with your calculator. As an actuarial science student, your course load will require a lot of math. Possible classes might include: Calculus, Linear Algebra, Discrete Systems, Probability, Introduction to Mathematical Software, Life and Health Insurance, Principles of Risk Management and Insurance, Mathematical Statistics, Mathematics of Life Contingencies, Regression and Time Series Models, Topics in Actuarial Science and Introduction to Econometrics.

Decisions, Decisions

Actuarial students are typically interested in fields that incorporate aspects of business and quantitative analysis. Therefore, they sometimes also consider studying accounting, finance, business management, accounting, applied mathematics, statistics, computer and information science, economics, mathematics, entrepreneurship, real estate and business communications.

What's Next

Shockingly, many undergrads who study actuarial science become (wait for it, wait for it)…actuaries. And why shouldn’t they? The employment outlook for actuaries is fairly strong and the field offers great earning potential. Most graduates find positions within the insurance industry, specializing in either property and casualty insurance or life and health insurance. When first starting out, actuaries will often rotate through different departments (such as marketing, underwriting and financial reporting) to gain a better sense of what insurance work truly entails.

In order to achieve full professional status in their respective specialties, actuaries often take licensing exams. These exams are administered by one of two groups: the Society of Actuaries (SOA) or the Casualty Actuarial Society (CAS). The Society of Actuaries offers certification for health benefit systems, life insurance, retirement systems and finance and investment. The Casualty Actuarial Society provides certification for property and casualty. These include medical malpractice, workers compensation, automobile, homeowners and personal injury liability. The material on four of the exams overlaps between the SOA and the CAS and the initial exam simply tests an individual’s aptitude in mathematics and potential as an actuary. Therefore it can actually be taken while the candidate is still in school. Those who pass a few examinations will find themselves with a higher starting salary.


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