Actuarial science professionals apply statistical and mathematical methods to assess risk in industries such as finance and insurance. Actuarial science focuses primarily on risk, while accounting emphasizes the analysis of numbers for financial purposes. Professionals with a master’s in actuarial science can pursue a variety of careers and often earn higher salaries than bachelor’s degree holders.
THE BUREAU OF LABOR STATISTICS (BLS) PROJECTS THE NUMBER OF ACTUARY POSITIONS TO INCREASE BY 22% FROM 2016-2026 — A RATE MUCH HIGHER THAN THE NATIONAL AVERAGE FOR ALL OCCUPATIONS.
Depending on their specific field, many actuarial science professionals enjoy positive job outlooks. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects the number of actuary positions to increase by 22% from 2016-2026 — a rate much higher than the national average for all occupations. However, the BLS projects a decline in opportunities for insurance underwriters during that same time frame. This guide includes information about opportunities for graduates with a master’s degree in actuarial science.
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Common Career Paths
Graduates with a master’s in actuarial science can become actuaries, risk analysts, and insurance underwriters. The sections below review responsibilities for professionals in each of these careers, as well as their salary expectations.
Actuaries complete most of their work using computers. These professionals use database software to collect information and advanced statistics, as well as modeling software to forecast probability. Actuaries design and test pension plans, insurance policies, and investments, minimizing risk and maximizing profitability for clients.
Actuaries use financial theory and mathematics to evaluate risk and advise clients. Actuarial science professionals often work in the insurance industry, alongside managers, accountants, financial professionals, and underwriters. Most actuaries specialize in a field, such as life insurance, health insurance, enterprise risk, pension and retirement benefits, or property and casualty insurance.
According to the BLS, actuaries earn a median annual salary of $102,880. However, actuaries with a master’s degree typically earn higher salaries than undergraduate degree holders. The BLS projects actuary jobs to grow more than three times faster than the typical job in the U.S. between 2016 and 2026.
Risk analysts review and analyze data to determine potential risks and outcomes. They also compile reports to document their work. Risk analysts often work for insurance companies and banks, verifying application information and retrieving missing data from agencies like credit bureaus.
Risk analysts work with a variety of computer applications and software, and their daily tasks include interpreting credit reports and financial statements. Professionals in this field should be detail oriented, boast solid communication skills, and thrive in high-pressure situations. Risk analysts earn an average annual salary of about $63,000, according to PayScale.
Insurance underwriters connect insurance agents and insurance companies. These professionals enter client information into a computer program that provides recommendations for premiums and coverage. Underwriters then review the recommendations and determine whether to accept or deny a client’s application. In some circumstances, underwriters collect additional resources, including credit scores and medical documents.
Underwriters review the risk factors on each client’s application. They work to balance risk and capital gain, minimizing the insurance company’s financial loss through claims while approving enough applications to earn the company money through premiums. Underwriters typically specialize in health, property and casualty, or life insurance. Underwriters earn an annual median salary of $69,380, according to the BLS.
Master’s in Actuarial Science
The following section explores common elements of master’s in actuarial science degrees, including program formats, program length, and enrollment options. Although specific coursework varies by program, the information below details typical course topics.
What to Expect
Students considering pursuing a master’s in actuarial science should research the specific requirements of their prospective schools. However, most graduate programs in this field include some common elements. Full-time master’s students typically graduate in about two years, and master’s programs generally require 35-50 credits of general education classes, core coursework, and electives.
Students who enroll part time complete fewer credits per semester and typically take longer than two years to graduate. Alternatively, some programs offer accelerated formats that allow students to complete more credits each term and graduate in less than two years. Many actuarial science programs require applicants to have completed prerequisite coursework in probability, statistics, and calculus. In-state learners often pay lower tuition rates. However, many schools charge all online learners the same rate, regardless of residency status.
Students pursuing their master’s in actuarial science gain competencies and skills that prepare them to succeed in the field. Although curricula vary by school, most actuarial science programs help students master many of the following skills.
- ANALYTICAL PROBLEM-SOLVING SKILLS Student’s pursuing their master’s in actuarial science learn how to think critically and use analytical skills to solve problems. Students learn to identify patterns and trends and to apply this information to project outcomes. Professionals use these skills to prevent undesirable outcomes for their company.
- COMPUTER SKILLS Students in actuarial science programs develop strong computer skills and become familiar with the statistical software actuaries commonly use. Students learn how to use Microsoft Office, gain basic computer skills, and explore advanced topics like statistical programming languages.
- COMMUNICATION SKILLS Actuarial science students gain skills related to collaboration and oral communication. Professionals apply these skills to explain statistical and technical details to various audiences. Learners also develop written communication skills, which graduates use to report findings and propose solutions.
- BUSINESS AND FINANCE KNOWLEDGE Actuaries need foundational knowledge in business and finance — these professionals often work at organizations in these fields. Actuarial science students learn about pension and insurance plans, financial risks, and investment products.
- MATH AND NUMERACY SKILLS Students pursuing a master’s in actuarial science develop math and numeracy skills, exploring topics like statistics and calculus. Additionally, graduates learn how to measure probabilities.
The curriculum for students pursuing a master’s in actuarial science depends on their program and specialization. Each school requires different courses; however, the classes below are common among master’s in actuarial science programs.
- PROBABILITY AND ACTUARIAL MATHEMATICS This course focuses on the function and distribution of random variables. Students learn about the order of statistics and explore probability distributions, random number simulations and generations, and basic probability structures.
- REGRESSION ANALYSIS Students in this course learn about the foundations of matrix algebra and statistical theory. They also prepare to apply computer software to regression techniques. The course emphasizes applications and explores experimental design models, residual analysis, analysis of covariance, and response surface methodology.
- STATISTICAL MODELS This course provides a framework for multiple linear regressions and diagnostics. Coursework emphasizes the analysis of variance models, general linear models, estimation and testing in regression, and regularized regression.
- APPLIED TIME SERIES ANALYSIS Focusing on model-based forecasting methods, this course explores state-space models, missing data, and autoregressive and moving average models. Coursework emphasizes forecasting and model validation, irregularly spaced time series, and time-varying models and wavelets.
- LIFE DATA ANALYSIS Emphasizing statistical methodologies behind survival and reliability data, this course examines the parametric and nonparametric interferences among lifetime distributions, censored data, and regressions. Coursework explores statistical software, regressions and censored data, and renewal processes.
Accrediting agencies recognize programs, colleges, and universities that meet set standards of quality. U.S. institutions can receive regional or national accreditation. The type of accreditation a school holds can impact its student’s ability to transfer credits, qualify for financial aid, and pursue advanced programs and licensure.
Nationally accredited institutions typically focus on career and technical education, while most regionally accredited colleges and universities offer liberal arts programs. Credits from nationally accredited schools rarely transfer to regionally accredited institutions, and many graduate, licensing, and certification programs do not accept credits or degrees from nationally accredited or unaccredited institutions. Although nationally accredited schools often charge lower tuition rates, many financial aid opportunities are only available to learners at regionally accredited institutions.
Students can also look for programmatic accreditation from field-specific agencies. This type of accreditation verifies that a program or department prepares students to succeed in a particular field.
After earning a master’s in actuarial science, graduates can enter the workforce or earn certification. Graduates can also enroll in a doctoral program to expand their career opportunities and increase their earning potential.
Enter the Workforce
After earning a master’s degree in actuarial science, many graduates enter the workforce immediately. A master’s degree can lead to many job opportunities, including careers as consultants, risk analysts, and insurance underwriters. Graduates can also pursue certification to work as actuaries.
Earn a Credential or Designation
Aspiring actuaries must pursue certification after earning their master’s degree. Graduates must hold certification before practicing in the field. After completing certification requirements and obtaining their credential, individuals qualify to work as actuaries in a variety of industries.
Pursue a Ph.D.
After earning an actuarial science master’s degree, many graduates pursue a Ph.D. in the field. Doctoral programs help students develop specialized and advanced skills. A Ph.D. can lead to more job opportunities and higher earning potential.
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