Career Profile: How to Become an Actuary

How to Become an Actuary: Image of a group of actuaries discussing risk report in a team meeting.

If you're wondering how to become an actuary you're not alone. Unlike more familiar careers (to become a doctor you must go to medical school and complete a residency; to become a lawyer you must go to law school and pass the bar exam), the path toward a fulfilling career as an actuary isn't as well-known. In this article we'll offer insight about why you should consider a career as an actuary and how to become an actuary. First, however, we should clarify the job:

What is an Actuary?

The future is an uncertain place full of risk, but where there's risk there's also opportunity for savvy managers. As an actuary your role will be to help companies manage and reduce the risks facing their business or their clients. Actuaries possess expertise in the following areas:

  • Using numbers, facts and careful analysis, actuaries evaluate the likelihood of future events in an effort to avoid the “worst case” scenario from occurring.
  • When risk cannot be avoided, actuaries offer creative ways to reduce the likelihood that undesirable events will occur.
  • These unsavory events will occur sometimes (it's inevitable) and when that happens an actuary's role is to decrease the impact as much as possible.

Managing today's risks requires a unique blend of analytical savvy, business sense and a keen understanding of human behavior. As a result, actuaries are valued members of management teams in many companies which deal with risk. The insurance and financial sectors are two popular fields which require the service of a talented actuary.

How to Become an Actuary: Preparation

If you're serious about learning how to become an actuary you probably know that preparing for a tough series of exams is the first step toward your new career. The ideal time to begin taking the actuary exams is when you're still in school, working toward your undergraduate degree. The syllabus materials for each exam are readily available and you can take the exams in any order … preparing for each test individually. With that said, it's wise to take the first two exams before others as many of the subsequent test material is based in the core knowledge you'll gain studying for exams 1 and 2.

You should try to complete the first two exams as an undergraduate. Most actuarial employers require that you've passed at least two exams before considering you for a job, but once you're hired many insurance companies and consulting firms will pay for future exam fees. Some will even offer you a raise when you pass additional tests. If you aren't sure where to start, there's plenty of information available HERE and HERE that will help you learn how to become an actuary in each of the two potential career paths available to actuaries.

How to Become an Actuary: Career Paths

There are two career paths to choose from and each has a separate set of exams. The Casualty Actuarial Society (CAS) offers one set of exams and the Society of Actuaries (SOA) is the other option. Information about each society is available online, but if, after some research, you still aren't sure which path to choose you might consider applying to internships on both sides during your undergraduate summer vacations. This will allow you to add relevant experience, make professional connections and (most importantly) discover which specialization you prefer. If only one type of job is available in the area you want to live in the decision will be an easy one.

How to Become an Actuary: Job Perks

A career as an actuary is consistently ranked as one of the top jobs in America thanks to the unique combination of benefits that an actuarial career offers. Studies conducted by CNN Money, US News and World Report and Jobs Rated Almanac praise employment as an actuary thanks to the work environment, employment outlook, job security, opportunity for growth and promotion and most importantly – salary. Numerous articles confirming the high praise for this exciting career are available HERE.

One of the main reasons to choose a career as an actuary is the compensation package. Experienced fellows are able to earn between $150,000 and $250,000 each year and many skilled actuaries earn more than that. While you're learning how to become an actuary it's a good idea to do your homework and find salary data for actuaries in different niches and different parts of the country so that you can work toward a career that's the right match toward your desired locale and lifestyle. The DW Simpson Actuarial Salary Survey is a great place to start.

How to Become an Actuary: How Long Will it Take?

As with any high-paying career, if you're interested in working as an actuary you should expect to invest some time in the process. While it may take you between 6 and 10 years to pass all of the actuarial exams, you'll be able to begin your career as soon as you've passed the first two exams through employment as an actuarial assistant. This will offer you real-world experience, solid starting pay (which can help you pay off your undergraduate student loans) and a supportive environment as you prepare for the remaining tests.

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