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Actuaries are accounting professionals who apply skills in mathematics, statistics, and analysis to assess and manage risk. They calculate the probability, benefits, and potential costs of future events. In addition to the insurance industry, actuaries work in many other risk-averse settings, such as banking, consulting, and healthcare.
To become an actuary, successful candidates must be detail-oriented and mathematically proficient. Unlike accountants — who work with money — actuaries work primarily with statistical data to predict future outcomes. For example, in the insurance industry, these statisticians assess risk to help companies establish insurance premiums.
Read on to learn what it takes to become a skilled actuary, including educational and credentialing requirements.
Steps to an Actuary Career
The typical steps required to become an actuary are:
- Earn an actuary degree: Complete a bachelor's degree in actuarial science, mathematics, statistics, or another closely related field. Most actuarial science programs are offered at the undergraduate level, while some may be available at the graduate level.
- Accumulate actuarial experience: Entry-level actuaries start in junior roles to gain early-career experience. Here, they perform calculations and analyses, develop actuarial models, and communicate results to clients or senior actuaries.
- Join a professional association: To pursue associate-level certification, join the Society of Actuaries (SOA) or the Casualty Actuarial Society (CAS). The American Academy of Actuaries (the Academy) does not offer certifications, but can also be a valuable resource for professionals in the field.
- Pursue associate-level certification: SOA and the CAS both offer associate-level certifications for actuaries. Entry-level professionals should begin the certification process early in their career — some actuaries even begin while completing their bachelor's degree. Each credential requires several exams in areas like probability, statistics, finance, and economics. Actuaries typically take several years to complete these exams while they maintain full-time employment. SOA's certification is the associate of SOA (ASA) credential. The CAS certification is the associate of CAS (ACAS) credential.
- Complete fellowship-level certification: Actuarial associates in good standing can pursue fellowship-level certification through the CAS — the FCAS credential — or through SOA — the FSA credential. SOA's FSA certification requires associates to select a specialty track.
- Maintain continuing education requirements: The Academy requires all credentialed actuaries — even non-members — to complete 30 continuing education units each year to keep their knowledge current.
Required Actuary Degrees
Entry-level actuaries typically hold a bachelor's degree in actuarial science, mathematics, statistics, or another analytical field. Some professionals also have a master's or doctoral degree in the field.
Because professional certification often requires extensive math courses, some actuaries may need to take additional courses to prepare for certification exams. Students majoring in math or actuarial science typically complete relevant classes during their degree, while enrollees in other fields may not.
- Read about actuary degrees
- Read about bachelor's degree programs in actuarial science
- Read about master's degree programs in actuarial science
What Do Actuaries Do to Be Credentialed?
When considering how to become an actuary, professionals should explore the various credentials available. Requirements for these certifications vary by specialty. For example, to become an ASA or ACAS, individuals successfully complete actuarial exams, online courses, and validation by educational experience credits. Associate-level status is a requirement for certified actuaries.
SOA administers the ASA, and the CAS offers the ACAS. In addition to associate credentials, both organizations offer fellow-level certification. The CAS offers the FCAS credential, and SOA offers the FSA certification.
Employers may offer assistance with the certification process, including study groups, paid study time, or reimbursement for exam prep materials.
The CPCU credential from the American Institute for Chartered Property Casualty Underwriters signifies expertise in insurance operations and risk management. Actuaries may seek this certification to fulfill continuing education requirements and deepen their knowledge of insurance from a business perspective. The credential must be renewed every two years.
A specialized credential, the FSEA certification is for actuaries enrolled with the U.S. Social Security Administration. To become an FSEA, candidates need at least 15 years of professional actuarial experience and two nominations from other members of the Society of Enrolled Actuaries.
SOA offers the CERA credential, which can help actuaries land positions such as risk manager, risk analyst, and chief risk officer. Because of the high overlap between ASA and CERA requirements, SOA allows professionals to count exams and educational experiences toward both credentials.
Actuary Experience Requirements
Entry-level actuaries take on junior roles, which provide professionals with training and hands-on experience in actuarial science, statistics, and mathematics. These positions include associate actuary and actuarial assistant.
Employers may hire new actuarial graduates, allowing them to immediately gain practical experience. Additionally, some schools offer internships and practicums that allow students to acquire work experience while they complete their education.
As actuaries learn the trade, they should study for certification exams, choose a career specialty, and seek roles with more responsibility.
Should I Become an Actuary?
Actuary careers potentially offer higher-than-average salaries and faster-than-average career growth projections: According to data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), these professionals earned a median annual salary of $105,900 as of 2021, and the BLS projects 24% growth in actuary jobs from 2020 to 2030.
However, these roles can also be challenging because they require specialized knowledge. For those interested in pursuing an actuarial career, some things to keep in mind include:
Actuaries require strong math skills. As actuaries, employees work with numbers every day. They apply their understanding of complex mathematical concepts to their job.
Actuaries are detail-oriented. Because actuaries analyze large datasets to make their risk assessments, they must be detail-oriented to ensure accuracy. Qualified actuaries pay attention to small details while working with large financial datasets.
Actuaries are good problem-solvers. Actuaries use their analytical skills to solve problems. They calculate the likelihood of certain events, such as how often people get sick or how often car accidents occur. They use this information to create informed opinions and help companies understand risk.
Ultimately, whether the actuary career is worthwhile depends on the individual. In addition to the benefits of these jobs, there are some challenges in the actuary field, including potentially high-pressure work environments and needing to earn continuing education credits.
The Job Hunt
Aspiring actuaries can leverage a few valuable resources to help them find jobs:
Actuary-specific career resources include:
In addition to actuary roles, graduates in this field can pursue several related careers. We explore some of these jobs below.
Insurance underwriters evaluate insurance application responses to review applicants' financial information and assess their risk. Underwriters typically require a four-year degree in business or a related field. They may also obtain certifications from professional organizations, such as The Institutes. According to the BLS, the median annual salary for insurance underwriters was $76,390 as of 2021.
Risk managers develop risk management plans and policies, working with other stakeholders to implement and monitor these plans. Risk managers typically earn a bachelor's degree in business, finance, or a related field. They may also seek certifications from professional organizations, such as the Institute of Risk Management. According to August 2022 Payscale data, the average salary for a risk manager is $90,420.
Financial analysts research and analyze financial data to help companies make informed decisions about investments, pricing, and other financial planning issues. They may also recommend how best to apply financial data. Financial analysts typically have a bachelor's degree in finance or a related field. According to the BLS, they earned a median annual salary of $81,410 as of 2021.
Questions on How to Be an Actuary
What qualifications do you need to be an actuary?
Entry-level actuaries typically need a bachelor's degree in mathematics, actuarial science, statistics, or a related field. Actuaries also earn professional certifications through the CAS or SOA.
How long does it take to become an actuary?
Becoming a certified actuary requires several years of education and experience, including earning a bachelor's degree and passing exams to earn professional credentials from SOA or the CAS.
Is it hard to become an actuary?
Like all careers, becoming an actuary requires dedication and hard work. Students who enjoy math, including probability and statistics, will likely succeed in this field.
Is becoming an actuary worth it?
Actuary jobs offer a higher-than-average salary: According to the BLS, the median annual wage for these professionals was $150,900 as of 2021. Actuaries can work in a variety of industries, including insurance, finance, and consulting.
Are actuaries in high demand?
The BLS projects actuary jobs to grow 24% from 2020 to 2030. This demand is driven by these workers' ability to apply complex skills to analyze and predict organizational risk, functions which are crucial to businesses in many industries.
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