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An actuarial science degree is ideal for learners with an interest in data, probability, and statistics. Actuarial science analyzes data to assess risk and predict the probability of financial outcomes. Professionals in this field work in many industries, including insurance, finance, and enterprise risk analysis.
Actuary careers are lucrative and stable. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects jobs in actuary science to grow by 24% from 2020-2030, much faster than the projected national average growth. Moreover, actuaries earned a median annual salary of $111,030 as of 2020.
A degree in this major generally entails coursework in mathematics, statistics, and foundational business topics. Upon graduation, prospective actuaries earn professional certification.
This guide explores what to expect from this degree, and career options for graduates.
What Is Actuarial Science?
Actuarial science developed alongside the insurance industry. When insurance companies first began selling policies, they used actuarial science to make educated predictions about what they were insuring. For example, life insurance companies needed to assess the risk of insuring people based on their health and profession, using that data to determine how much people should pay and how much their policy should be worth.
As the field developed, actuarial scientists found work in a host of other industries, too. Many actuaries work at publicly traded companies to calculate financial risks for their businesses. Actuaries enjoy high demand for their skills in mathematics, statistics, and financial analysis.
According to the BLS, there were 27,700 actuaries employed in the U.S. as of 2020. The BLS projects that another 6,800 actuary jobs will open from 2020-2030. These actuarial accountants and scientists hold at least a bachelor's degree and professional certification.
Why Get an Online Actuarial Science Degree?
An actuarial science degree prepares learners for careers in a rapidly growing industry. These programs emphasize mathematics, statistics, and business — key skills students can employ in a variety of roles, even jobs outside actuarial science.
To earn certification as an actuarial accountant, prospective professionals must hold a bachelor's in actuarial science or a closely related field, like mathematics or accounting. A bachelor's in actuarial science includes the courses and training required to sit for certification exams.
Some of the benefits of earning an actuarial science degree include:
- Acquiring Key Skills: Actuarial science programs emphasize skills and knowledge in mathematics, business, theory, and financial analysis. Job candidates with these marketable skills may qualify for all kinds of positions and roles.
- Diverse Career Options: Graduates from actuarial science programs can pursue a variety of career paths. They may work in finance, for a large corporation, or even as an accountant — the degree provides many of the foundational courses required to become a CPA.
- Job Availability: Jobs in actuarial science continue to grow rapidly. Because the field is projected to grow so quickly, graduates can expect to enter a job market offering competitive entry-level salaries and relative career stability.
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What To Expect From Bachelor's in Actuarial Science Programs
Curricula for bachelor's programs in actuarial science vary by school. A typical bachelor's degree entails 120 credit hours, equating to four years of full-time study. Students complete about 60 credits of general education courses, and some programs may require additional prerequisite classes before students can begin actuarial science coursework.
Along with general education classes, students complete around 60 credits of coursework in actuarial science. These classes include accounting, micro- and macroeconomics, calculus, business statistics, and probability. Some programs may offer specializations in data science, applied statistics, and accounting.
There are many common components of a bachelor's application: Incoming first-year students generally must hold a high school diploma or equivalency. Transfer students may need to complete a minimum number of credit hours to qualify for transfer admission. Often, these students must demonstrate a competitive minimum GPA from prior coursework and submit official transcripts.
Students are also usually required to submit ACT or SAT scores, letters of recommendation from teachers, and statements of purpose. Many schools use Common App, a tool where students can upload all their application materials and send them to multiple schools.
Some schools may allow applicants to enter the actuarial science major right away; other schools may require students to complete certain general education and prerequisite courses prior to applying for admission to the program.
There are two common versions of an actuarial science degree: the BA and the BS. The key difference between these degrees is the general education curricular focus:
Bachelor of Science
The BS is usually the best option for actuarial students seeking a strong foundation in analytical and quantitative thinking, as the general education requirements typically include more math and science coursework. BS degrees in actuarial science typically include the training and skills necessary for professional certification.
Bachelor of Arts
The BA degree generally requires more humanities and liberal arts classes. Students pursuing this track may need to pursue a minor in accounting, finance, or a similar field to take the mathematics and related courses they need for certification, if they plan to take that career route.
Comparing Actuarial Science and General Accounting Degrees
Though both actuarial science and general accounting degrees include many of the same foundational courses in mathematics and business, they are not the same. These two programs prepare learners for different careers. Accountants, for example, create budgets and file taxes, while actuaries employ statistical data to predict financial risks. Jobs in both fields require career-specific training and certification, so coursework within the major may differ.
The table below explores key differences between these two degrees:
|Bachelor's in Actuarial Science||Bachelor's in Accounting|
|Program Requirements||Typically 120 credits||- Typically 120 credits
- May require additional credits and/or master's degree for CPA licensure
|Courses||Emphasizes statistics, mathematics, economics, and data analysis||Emphasizes courses specifically in accounting | May require foundational mathematics courses|
|Admission Requirements||May require prerequisites in mathematics and business||May require foundational courses in mathematics|
|Career Outcomes||Typically leads to careers as actuaries, working with firms and corporations to analyze financial data and statistics and make informed predictions and risk evaluations||Typically leads to careers in accounting, working with individuals and businesses to manage finances and file taxes|
Popular Actuarial Science Courses
Though each school's actuarial science program varies, there are a number of typical classes in the major that students can expect to encounter as they pursue their bachelor's. The courses below are common to many programs:
How Much Will a Bachelor's in Actuarial Science Cost?
Preparing to finance your actuarial science degree involves careful research and consideration of your budget. The National Center for Education Statistics reports the average cost for tuition and fees at undergraduate institutions was $13,360 for the 2019-20 academic year. This number includes public and private two- and four-year institutions.
Often, public, in-state schools offer learners the most affordable tuition, while out-of-state and private schools are more expensive. The actual cost for earning a bachelor's degree varies based on factors beyond tuition, however. Students also incur costs for fees, room and board, and textbooks.
Fortunately, students can take advantage of financial aid. Grants, scholarships, and fellowships provide funding without requiring repayment; federal and private loans require repayment upon graduation. When applying to a bachelor's program, students should fill out the FAFSA to find out what financial aid they qualify for. Learn more about financial aid options for funding your actuarial science degree at the links below.
Jobs for Bachelor's in Actuarial Science Majors
An actuarial science degree prepares students for lucrative careers in several fields. Many graduates work as actuaries, employed as independent contractors or in-house employees for corporations. As of 2020, actuaries earned a median annual salary of $111,030, and the BLS projects jobs in this industry to grow rapidly in the coming years.
Other graduates may pursue additional training to become an accountant or CPA. The coursework in actuary programs can also prepare students to work as insurance underwriters, mathematicians or statisticians, and personal financial advisors.
The careers below are examples of possible pathways for actuarial science graduates:
Actuaries analyze statistical data to determine risk. They typically work with insurance and other underwriting companies to develop insurance policies. Other companies also employ actuaries to calculate financial risks of doing business.
- Required Education: Bachelor's degree
- Job Outlook (2020-30): +24%
- Median Annual Salary: $111,030
Accountants and Auditors
Accountants primarily manage finances and file taxes. They work for companies or with individuals. Accountants who become CPAs have to pursue licensure, which often requires more education beyond a bachelor's degree.
- Required Education: Bachelor's degree
- Job Outlook (2020-30): +7%
- Median Annual Salary: $73,560
Budget analysts advise organizations, including companies, universities, and governments, about their budget to ensure their finances comply with regulations. They review financial requests and work with boards and top executives to create effective budgets.
- Required Education: Bachelor's degree
- Job Outlook (2020-30): +5%
- Median Annual Salary: $78,970
Mathematicians and Statisticians
Mathematicians and statisticians work in many fields. They often work alongside other professionals, like engineers and industrial designers, to help them solve mathematical problems or apply statistical analysis to data. They also design questionnaires and surveys like the census.
- Required Education: Bachelor's degree required, master's preferred
- Job Outlook (2020-30): +33%
- Median Annual Salary: $93,290
Sometimes called securities analysts or investment analysts, financial analysts work with businesses, corporations, and individuals to analyze financial and investment opportunities. They employ many of the same skills as actuaries to determine financial risk and evaluate business and market trends.
- Required Education: Bachelor's degree
- Job Outlook (2020-30): +6%
- Median Annual Salary: $83,660
Choosing the Right Actuarial Science Program
Prospective students must consider several factors when choosing the right actuarial science program. Rankings lists are a great place to start, but the list below includes some other crucial factors in picking the best program:
- Accreditation: Students researching programs should ensure the school is accredited, either nationally or regionally. Regional accreditation is more rigorous and considered more prestigious.
- Cost and Financial Aid: Students should identify financial aid options to help fund their degree. Many schools offer lower or flat-rate tuition options for online learners, and others may offer generous grants and scholarships.
- Location: Some public schools charge out-of-state tuition for online learners in other states. Students should consider the additional cost of tuition when choosing an out-of-state school.
- Program Length: Typically, bachelor's degrees take four years of full-time study. Learners with prior credits, including AP and IB classes or previous college coursework, may be able to graduate more quickly. Programs with significant prerequisite requirements may take students longer than four years to complete.
- Reputation: Research the program's reputation in the industry. Consider how many graduates land jobs in the field, and what kind of organizations hire them.
Why You Should Get Your Actuarial Science Degree Online
Learners seeking a flexible, accessible pathway to an actuarial science degree may benefit from learning online. Online education has grown exponentially in recent years, even before the COVID-19 pandemic. In 2018, for example, 35.3% of students in postsecondary institutions took at least one online course.
However, the online learning experience does not suit every student. Self-sufficient learners with strong organizational and time management skills can thrive in online environments. Students with career or family obligations may also appreciate the asynchronous format of some classes, which allow learners to complete coursework on their own time. On the other hand, students who prefer the community-based, deadline-oriented structure of traditional on-campus learning may struggle in a fully online environment.
Bachelor's in Actuarial Science FAQs
What is the best degree for an actuary?
Prospective actuaries should consider a degree in actuarial science. Actuarial science programs build the necessary skills for actuary careers and help students train for certification exams.
Which is better: an actuarial science or general accounting degree?
This depends on each student's career goals. Both degrees provide marketable skills and training to pursue lucrative careers, but the specific skills and jobs differ. Learners should pursue the degree that best aligns with their goals and interests.
Can I get an actuarial science degree online?
Yes. Many schools offer actuarial science programs online. Online learning has grown in recent years, making these programs more accessible. Online actuarial science programs allow students more flexibility to work and earn their degrees simultaneously.
What kind of job can you get with a degree in actuarial science?
Graduates of actuarial science programs can pursue careers as actuaries, insurance underwriters, budget analysts, accountants, auditors, mathematicians, or statisticians.
Is a degree in actuarial science worth it?
Yes! Actuaries often earn high salaries, and jobs in the industry continue to grow at faster-than-average rates. Earning an actuary science degree offers high earning potential and a strong return on investment.
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