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For those of you wanting to be an actuary ...

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  • For those of you wanting to be an actuary ...

    Frequently someone says, “I’m in (insert field name here) and I want to be an actuary. I got a degree in (insert degree program here) and I want to know if it’s possible to get into the actuarial field. How do I get started?” So I wrote this to try and address some of the commonly-asked questions I see here. As the list of commonly asked questions grows, I'll add to this list.

    1. "I’m currently working in computer science, accounting, biology, ceiling tile counting, …."
    It doesn’t matter what field you’re in now. You must understand what an actuary does before you ever think about the switch and be committed to staying in the field once you get in. (Roughly 70% of those who start down the actuarial career path drop out before earning the FSA or FCAS designation - employers want you to be one of those 30% who make it!) The best place to get most questions answered (besides here!) is – it’s a great site with information targeted at people like you aren’t in the actuarial profession but are thinking about it.

    2. "How do I get started?"
    Assuming you don’t have previous experience as an actuary, pass an exam. Even better, pass two exams. Your chances of getting started are greatly enhanced if you’ve taken and passed an exam – it shows you’re not just giving lip service about being an actuary, you’re actually taking steps toward getting into the field. To learn more about the exams, go to and click on "Actuarial Exams".

    In addition, apply early and apply often. Every job you don't apply for is one you're guaranteed not to get. Insurance companies and consulting firms are almost always looking for new actuaries - go to their web site and submit your application. Use a recruiter. Talk to someone you know who's already in the field. The more things you do to land a job, the better your chances are of getting one.

    If you can get an internship somewhere, that's fantastic - but it's not something that will make or break your chances of getting into the field. (I didn't have an internship and someone hired me; if I got hired, there's hope for everyone else.)

    3. "What courses should I take?"
    While the exact list is subjective and will vary from person to person, here’s a good starting list:
    -- Calculus (through Calculus III)
    -- Linear algebra (if you’re majoring in math, you’ll have to have this anyway)
    -- An calculus-based introductory class in probability and statistics
    -- An advanced class in probability and statistics (regression, time series, analysis of variance are great topics to cover)
    -- Economics (micro and macro – this should be 2 separate classes)
    -- Interest theory (if your college offers this class)
    -- Finance
    -- At least 1 computer science class, preferably 2 classes (emphasis on programming – it doesn’t matter what language)
    -- Public speaking (perhaps the most overlooked class on everyone’s list)
    -- At least one technical writing class (I’m not talking English 101 or English 102)

    4. "Where is a good college to go for actuarial science?"
    In the big picture, where you go to college and get your degree isn’t nearly as important as the fact that you graduated with a degree and passed exams. I graduated from SIU-Carbondale (which has no actuarial science program) and found a job in the actuarial field. Many actuaries got degrees in fields other than actuarial science (the most common is math, but I know people who are actuaries who got their degree in computer science, history, English, and even physics) so if you’re in college going for a chemistry degree and then realize you want to be an actuary, don’t think that your degree will lock you out of the profession.

    However, for those who want to go to a university with a degree program in actuarial science, this list of colleges and universities covers at least the first 2 exams plus some material on the 3rd and 4th exam; if you're going to college to get an actuarial science degree, that would be the list to start with. I won't (and don't) give recommendations for any specific school, IMO go to the one nearest you unless you've got a great reason to go halfway across the country to a different school.

    5. "Should I go into life, health, pension or P&C?"
    If you don't have a preference for one, don't worry about it - get into the field first. If you *do* have a preference, then that's the one you should try to work to eventually. I don't know that there's a "good" choice or a "bad" choice - I'm in P&C and I wouldn't go into another line if I could help it, while there are others who would fight going into P&C down to their last breath.

    6. "I'm getting a degree in ...."
    To a point, it doesn't matter what you get your degree in (see #4 above). It's more helpful if it's in math, economics, or business, but if it's in computer science it's not a problem. Even if it's zoology, it's not the end of the world ... it'll just be a little tougher since your degree likely didn't cover topics you'll see on the actuarial exams.

    7. "Should I get a master's degree?"
    Pay in this field isn't based on education. It's based on passing exams and doing well on the job. If you want to get a master's, then get it - but it's not necessary (or in many cases, more helpful) when finding a job.

    8. "I think I'm too old to start, ...."
    Grandma Moses took up painting in her 70s, and there's always a story about someone 80+ or 90+ going back to college and getting a degree. Why should it be any different here? If someone wanted to get into computer science at the age of 45, which would be more important - the person's age, or the person's knowledge and ability?

    If you know this is what you want to do, forget about how old you are. Make the committment and make it happen.

    9. "I have (x) exams, can I get a job in this field?"
    If you have 0 exams, the answer is quite likely "no". The more exams you have passed, the better your chances are of getting hired (to a point). It's open to debate whether one can have too many exams - some will say, "the more exams you pass, the less time an employer has to spend paying you to study" but if you've got letters [ASA, ACAS, FSA, FCAS] after your name it implies you have the experience to back up the exams you've passed; if you don't, you're certainly not going to get paid what your credential says you should be paid. Employers may be leery of hiring someone with 6+ exams, especially if the candidate expects to be paid like a 6-exam student and/or doesn't want to be working under someone with more exams but less experience. I know people who will not consider candidates with more than about 4 exams passed; I know others who've said they know people that prefer candidates who have more exams passed to less. In the end, the phrase "it only takes 1 to say yes" is certainly accurate - the question is at what point more exams and no experience becomes a hindrance.

    Ideally you should probably have 2-4 exams completed. If you have solid grades (above 3.5 GPA overall and in your major), you can likely attract interviews with just 1 exam passed. However, a lot of people have 1 exam complete - you want to make exam progress to show that you're committed to getting through the exams and getting the FSA/FCAS designation, and you want to make progress to set yourself apart from everyone else. [I've mentioned the same things in point #2 above] HOWEVER, simply passing exams does not stamp your ticket to a job. See the threads here on interviewing - if you can't interview well, you will not get your foot in the door.

    10. "When should I start applying for a job?"
    See point #2. If you're in college, start early your senior year just like you would if you were applying for any other job after college.

    11. "I took (insert exam here) and only got a 6 - I was hoping for a higher score. Can I retake the exam?"
    NO. Page 9 of the 2006 SOA Catalog states very clearly: "A candidate may not write an examination for a course for which the candidate already has credit." This has been a rule for many years now ... don't expect it to change.

    12. "What is the requirement for getting an ASA/FSA/ACAS/FCAS designation"
    ASA: "Effective January 1, 2006, candidates may also earn the Associateship designation by completing the following requirements:
    i. All candidates must complete Exams P, FM, M and C, collectively known as the preliminary education component. (Credit earned from a passing score on previous administrations of former SOA Courses 1–4 will be converted appropriately.)
    ii. All candidates shall satisfy Validation by Educational Experience (VEE) for three subjects: economics, corporate finance and applied statistics. (VEE credit earned from a passing score on Course 2 and/or 4 will be converted appropriately.)
    iii. All candidates must complete the Fundamentals of Actuarial Practice (FAP) Modules 1–8 and the two associated exams, FAP Exam #1 and #2.
    iv. All candidates must also complete the Associateship Professionalism Course (APC). Candidates must also have an approved Application for Admission as an Associate on file, as described above."

    FSA: "Associates must complete all remaining educational requirements including the PD Requirement. The FAC is required of all candidates for Fellowship, and candidates may not attend the FAC until they have completed the Preliminary Education examinations and Courses 5-8 and the PD requirement."

    ACAS: "Candidates for Associateship in the Casualty Actuarial Society must fulfill the examination requirements by successful completion of, or credit for, Exams 1-7, and have credit by Validation by Educational Experience (VEE) for the required topics of economics, corporate finance, and applied statistical methods. Exam 7 is nation specific, covering U.S.- or Canadian-specific material, and passage of either of the two examinations fulfills the completion requirements. Candidates must complete the CAS Course on Professionalism prior to admission to the CAS."

    FCAS: "In addition to fulfilling all the requirements of Associateship, successful completion of, or credit for, all nine examinations is required to fulfill the examination requirements for Fellowship and to be designated as a Fellow of the Casualty Actuarial Society (FCAS)."

    13. OMG, I FAILED AN EXAM - IS IT THE END OF THE WORLD? WILL EMPLOYERS KNOW? (answered from the viewpoint of students who aren't in the field yet)
    A. Failing an exam is not the end of the world. On average, more people are going to fail an exam than pass, and the number of people who get through all of the exams and never fail once is really small. Chief actuaries have failed exams. It happens, they realize it. Now ... if this is your 3rd or more shot at one of the preliminary exams (especially the first two) and you still haven't passed, it may not be a good sign of things to come b/c the exams don't get any easier. If you get to this point, it may be time to (A) evaluate how you're approaching the exam, (B) change study methods, or (C) realize that maybe you're not cut out for the actuarial field - and there's no shame in that; a lot of people get into the field, start through the exams, and drop out before finishing the exam process.

    B. No, employers will not know how many times you've failed an exam (or exams total) - the SOA and CAS do not track total sittings, they track which exams you pass. However, if a prospective employer asks, you should be truthful about your success rate - because if your transcript from the SOA or CAS shows it's been 3 years between exam passes, they're going to get suspicious if you say, "Well no - I didn't fail an exam" or "Well, I took it once and failed but passed the 2nd time" without a really good reason why you would have only sat once in between.
    Last edited by Irish Blues; December 14 2010, 05:38 PM. Reason: Added #11, will post answer to #12 shortly
    "You better get to living, because dying's a pain in the ***." - Frank Sinatra - where I talk about the Blues and the NHL.

  • #2
    I'm new here, and you answered most of my questions, I just want to ask you one thing my major is Economies, and I took statistics, Forecasting, and Calculus I as Electives, And also I'm 36 Yrs old , do you think I can pass the exams without going through the other courses, if I self studied the rest.


    • #3
      Originally posted by jilan
      I'm new here, and you answered most of my questions, I just want to ask you one thing my major is Economies, and I took statistics, Forecasting, and Calculus I as Electives, And also I'm 36 Yrs old , do you think I can pass the exams without going through the other courses, if I self studied the rest.
      You can always self-study. You'll have to overcome the disadvantage of not having classes on the subject, etc.

      As anecdotal evidence, the only exam I had a class pertaining to the informatoin for was Course 1 (now Exam P). I did take a couple economics courses prior to taking Course 2 (the predecessor of Exam FM), but other than that, I've self-studied for the actuarial exams. Now, I finished 5 exams and am studying for my 6th one.

      It's doable - you just have to have that drive to do it.


      • #4
        Thanks , For your motivation.


        • #5
          Made sticky. Thanks, Irish Blues!


          • #6
            Thanks for the info

            Thanks for all the info to kick off this thread. What would you suggest for someone already out of college without a strong background in university math (2 sem. calc)? Would going back to school to get a degree in math be worthwhile, or just working through the suggested classes at a community college? I noticed that U of Texas has a program to get a masters in math for those of us with liberal arts bachelors degrees. I'm just not sure about which approach would be the best and which would be overkill. Thanks in advance for any input.
            Last edited by aarmitch; April 13 2006, 12:37 AM.


            • #7
              The thread has been updated with a couple more questions (and answers).

              aarmitch - if you're going to go back and get a degree, get the bachelor's in math. Take note of the classes mentioned, and work on getting those completed. My comment on a master's should still apply.

              Or, assuming you've got a bachelor's degree you could do the self-study thing and save yourself $6,000 a year (or so).
              "You better get to living, because dying's a pain in the ***." - Frank Sinatra

     - where I talk about the Blues and the NHL.


              • #8
                if u get a bacholer for Statistics will it be helpful for ur studies in Acturial Science?

                and honestly, are the exams REALLY that hard? and does it get worse as the exams go by until u become a fellow?


                • #9
                  Originally posted by dizzydevil
                  if u get a bacholer for Statistics will it be helpful for ur studies in Acturial Science?
                  Probably, in the sense that you'll have more exposure to the statistical techniques and definitions that we use throughout the exams and our jobs.

                  and honestly, are the exams REALLY that hard?
                  Yes. But there's only one way to find out.

                  and does it get worse as the exams go by until u become a fellow?
                  Worse? If you mean more time-consuming, then that's a fair assumption. The material becomes more specialized and more vast the higher up you go.


                  • #10
                    Originally posted by wat
                    Yes. But there's only one way to find out.
                    That's coming from the guy that's never failed.
                    Whether you are the lion or the gazelle, when the sun comes up, you better be running.


                    • #11
                      Originally posted by Ken
                      That's coming from the guy that's never failed.
                      If I pass in about 2 weeks, that'll make 2 of us.
                      "You better get to living, because dying's a pain in the ***." - Frank Sinatra

             - where I talk about the Blues and the NHL.


                      • #12
                        Originally posted by Irish Blues
                        If I pass in about 2 weeks, that'll make 2 of us.
                        Don't worry - you've still got the 5 upper-level CAS exams to have a chance at failing.

                        ... where's that evil-smiley face when you need it?


                        • #13
                          Originally posted by Ken
                          That's coming from the guy that's never failed.
                          I just know that this is the hardest I've ever had to study for exams in my life. High school and college exams simply don't compare.

                          In short, the difficulty of studying for actuarial exams is not so much the material (which is somewhat complicated, don't get me wrong), but more the amount of material you have to retain for each exam. They say that for the upper-level SOA exams, you can expect each exam to cover approximately 1,500 - 2,500 pages of reading. After taking Course 5 and studying for Course 6, I'm more than willing to believe them.

                          Plus, the preliminary exams are like having one large cumulative exam that consists of about 3 or 4 of your college classes - the information you need to retain is just amazing.


                          • #14
                            1 500 to 2 000 pieces of paper of information????????????
                            Are u that serious


                            • #15
                              Originally posted by dizzydevil
                              1 500 to 2 000 pieces of paper of information????????????
                              Are u that serious
                              Yes. But Courses 5, 6, 7 & 8 won't be around anymore. They are being replaced by modules (which have a significant amount of reading to do) and 2 upper-level exams (which will probably have a lot of reading to do as well).

                              The hard part, to me, about actuarial exams, is that it's a lot of information to retain just for one exam. Take the old Course 2, for instance. That 4-hour exam covered interest theory, microeconomics, macroeconomics and corporate finance. That's like 4 classes all rolled up into one.