According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), actuaries earn a median annual salary of $102,880. A six-figure salary that requires only a bachelor's education is an attractive prospect. However, actuaries spend up to a decade preparing for and completing certification exams. Additionally, the field is small and highly competitive; the BLS-projected growth rate of 20% between 2018 and 2028 translates to only about five thousand new job openings over that timespan.

This page details how to become an actuary and explores topics including workplace skills, education requirements, and certification.

What Skills Do You Need to Become an Actuary?

Broadly speaking, actuaries analyze and minimize the financial costs of risk and uncertainty. To perform daily tasks, actuaries need keen skills related to analytics, problem-solving, mathematics, computers and technology, and communication.

Analytical

Analytical skills help professionals gather and dissect information. Actuaries apply analytical skills to identify trends in complex data sets and to determine factors impacting current financial events and risk areas.

Problem-solving

Problem-solving skills involve determining the underlying issues of a problem and developing effective solutions. Actuaries primarily use problem-solving skills to identify, manage, and mitigate risk.

Mathematics

Actuaries must be proficient in advanced mathematics areas, including calculus, statistics, and probability. Professionals also benefit from knowledge of college-level algebra, trigonometry, and linear algebra. Actuaries use math skills to design financially sound insurance, pension, and financial plans.

Computers and Technology

Actuaries utilize complex computer programs to solve mathematics and statistics problems. They must be able to create and understand spreadsheets. Actuaries also benefit from knowledge related to database manipulation, programming languages, and statistical analysis programs.

Communication

Actuaries must be able to translate complex information into layman's terms. Actuaries frequently share dense numerical data and technical information with business executives, fund managers, and customers researching insurance plans.

How Long Does It Take to Become an Actuary?

  • Earn a Bachelor's Degree

    A bachelor's degree typically fulfills the minimum formal education requirements for actuarial employment and certification. Most actuaries hold earn an undergraduate degree in an analytical field, such as mathematics, actuarial science, or statistics. Students should also take courses in topics such as computer science, writing, communication, and public speaking. Full-time students typically earn their bachelor's degree in four years.

  • Begin the Certification Process

    Aspiring actuaries can begin the certification process while still in school. While no specific timeline is enforced, the Society of Actuaries (SOA) and the Casualty Actuarial Society (CAS) provide suggested certification pathways. These organizations recommend completing at least the first two actuarial exams before graduation. Additionally, many employers expect prospective employees to have completed this initial progress toward certification.

    The first two basic education exams cover probability and financial mathematics. Candidates take exams online, with three hours allotted for completion. Students should expect to devote extensive time to exam preparation.

  • Obtain Work Experience

    Aspiring actuaries should pursue work experience to improve their professional opportunities. Learners can bolster their resume by completing college internships, which provide practical field experience. Internships are especially valuable for students unsure of which practice area they plan to pursue. Common practice areas include health, life, pension, casualty, and consulting.

    Recent graduates enter the field as trainees and work under the supervision and mentorship of an experienced actuary or a team of actuaries. In addition to providing training, work experience, and a paycheck, most employers support trainees by paying for their certification exams and study materials.

  • Complete the Certification Process and Seek Advancement

    Although graduates often obtain entry-level employment after completing the first 1-3 actuary certification exams, these workers do not earn their first credential until passing the sixth or seventh certification exam. Each exam requires hundreds of hours of preparation, including independent study and in-person seminars. Earning an associate-level credential can take 4-7 years.

    After earning their first credential, actuaries can pursue a second level of certification, known as the fellowship level. SOA offers five fellowship tracks: life and annuities, group and health benefits, retirement benefits, investments, and finance and enterprise risk management. Fellowship candidates must pass 3-4 additional actuary exams, which typically takes 2-3 years. Fellowship certification can lead to supervisory opportunities. Some professionals with the fellowship credential advance into executive positions, such as chief risk officers.

What Education Do You Need to Become an Actuary?

No degree guarantees a specific job or career, but actuaries must meet minimum education requirements to qualify for entry-level roles. However, the typical education path for actuaries extends far beyond college. In addition to formal education, professionals can advance their careers through on-the-job training and diligent certification exam preparation.

Formal Education

An undergraduate degree fulfills formal education requirements for most entry-level actuary positions. Bachelor's students complete approximately 60 general education credits and 60 credits of core and elective courses in their major. Popular majors for actuaries include mathematics, actuarial science, business, economics, and statistics.

On-the-job Training

Actuaries must obtain workplace education and on-the-job training to succeed in the field. If possible, students should complete an internship during college. Graduates typically work as trainees under the mentorship and guidance of a certified actuary. Trainees perform basic tasks, such as compiling data, and they often work in multiple departments to learn about various aspects of a company's operations.

Education for Certification Exams

The certification process for an actuary can take up to a decade to complete; therefore, most aspiring professionals begin studying for their first certification exams while still in college. Candidates undertake months of exam preparation, which may include independent study, online courses, and live seminars. This preparation helps candidates hone the knowledge and skills necessary to work in the field. Certification candidates study topics including financial mathematics and economics, statistics, risk management, insurance accounting, regulation, and estimation.

Actuary Career Development and Credentials

Actuaries undergo one of the most intensive certification processes in the business and accounting industries. The following sections examine the types of required certification, optional credentials, and continuing education opportunities for actuaries.

Certifications and Continuing Education

Chartered Enterprise Risk Analyst

CERA is a global credential with a curriculum that combines actuarial science with theoretical, practical, and professional principles of enterprise risk management. To qualify for this credential, candidates must hold at least an associate-level membership with a professional actuarial society. Eligible candidates then complete CERA-specific examinations.

In the U.S., the CAS and SOA offer CERA certification.

Continuing Education

Continuing education, also called continuing professional development, encompasses a variety of learning activities and programs. Continuing education helps professionals develop new skills, gain industry knowledge, and train for new professional responsibilities.

Actuaries need a certain number of continuing education credits to maintain their professional credentials. For example, working actuaries with certification from the CAS or SOA must complete 30 hours of relevant continuing education each year. Popular forms of continuing education include online webinars and courses, in-person training programs, and independent study.

Credentials and Licensing

CAS Certification and SOA Certification

The CAS and SOA each offer two levels of certification and membership: associate and fellowship. The CAS focuses on the certification of actuaries working in property and casualty risk, while SOA certifies actuaries who specialize in life and health insurance, retirement, investments, and finance. Associate status requires the completion of 6-7 exams, while fellowship status requires the completion of 3-4 additional exams. Individuals can typically obtain entry-level actuary jobs after passing 1-3 exams.

Joint Board for the Enrollment of Actuaries

Aspiring pension actuaries typically pursue licensure through the Joint Board for the Enrollment of Actuaries, which is operated by the U.S. Department of Labor and the U.S. Department of the Treasury. To become an enrolled actuary, candidates must meet certain education and experience requirements and complete two Joint Board examinations.

Learn More About Actuary Careers and Take the Next Step Today

Career and Professional Resources

  • Society of Actuaries More than 30,000 global members make up SOA -- one of the two major societies offering professional certification for working actuaries in the United States. Membership benefits include opportunities for networking, professional development, and research contributions.
  • Casualty Actuarial Society The CAS is the only actuarial organization in the world focused exclusively on property and casualty risks. This society offers professional certification for working actuaries, extensive continuing education options, and networking opportunities.
  • American Academy of Actuaries This organization works to serve the public and the American actuarial profession. It provides advice and expertise to public policy makers and sets professional standards for actuaries.
  • American Society of Pension Professionals & Actuaries ASPPA is one of four sister organizations comprising the American Retirement Association. This nonprofit organization educates retirement plan professionals -- including actuaries -- and promotes public policy to give working Americans the opportunity to retire comfortably.
  • Conference of Consulting Actuaries The CCA represents more than 1,200 members in the U.S. and Canada. Focusing on the career challenges of actuaries outside the insurance industry, the CCA offers members networking and professional development opportunities.