How to Become an Actuary

Actuaries report six-figure median salaries and high demand. Learn more about the steps required to pursue an actuarial science career.

portrait of Genevieve Carlton, Ph.D.
by Genevieve Carlton, Ph.D.

Published August 26, 2022

Edited by Amelia Buckley
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How to Become an Actuary
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Actuaries use statistics and mathematics to assess economic risk. They employ their knowledge of financial theory and statistics to minimize risk to businesses and other organizations. These professionals most commonly work for insurance companies, but they can also find work with government agencies or as contract workers.

Before becoming an actuary, professionals must complete a bachelor's degree and a lengthy certification process. Many actuaries spend multiple years passing a minimum of seven certification exams. A career in actuarial science can be an excellent fit for people with strong analytical and business skills who are invested in becoming an actuary.

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Ready to start your journey?

What Does an Actuary Do?

Actuary Responsibilities

  • Analyze statistical data using software programs.
  • Estimate the likelihood and cost of events like property damage, natural disasters, or a need for medical care.
  • Create and test insurance policies to account for risk and set insurance premiums.
  • Test investment or business strategies to identify risks and increase profits.
  • Create reports and presentations based on statistical analyses.
  • Recommend insurance or risk management strategies to clients or company executives.

Whether you're choosing an undergraduate major or considering a career change, you can become an actuary by following a clear career trajectory. Actuaries need a bachelor's degree for entry-level roles. In these roles, actuaries complete the certification process, which requires passing a minimum of seven exams.

As they complete exams, actuaries move into more advanced roles. They may take on supervisory or mentorship responsibilities. Actuaries can also move into executive-level positions, like a chief actuary.

Actuaries report a high median salary and strong projected job growth. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), actuaries earned a median annual pay of $105,900 in May 2021. The field also boasts 24% projected job growth from 2020-2030, which is much faster than the average growth of 8% for all jobs.

Actuarial Science Not for You? Check Out These Related Careers.

What Are the Steps to Become an Actuary?

The process of becoming an actuary takes years. Actuaries must hold a bachelor's degree and complete a lengthy certification process.

We spoke with Actuary Steven Walker on what it's like to become an actuary. He explains, "Getting into an actuarial career can begin with any bachelor's degree. Most actuaries major in mathematics, actuarial science, statistics, or another analytical field. Professional certification requires coursework in economics, statistics, and corporate finance."

Step 1: Earn a Bachelor's Degree in Actuarial Science

A bachelor's degree meets the entry-level educational requirement for actuarial science jobs. Undergraduates can major in actuarial science or a related major like business management, economics, statistics, or finance.

As an undergraduate, prospective actuaries can start preparing for the workforce. Make sure to emphasize soft skills in addition to technical skills. Consider an internship to gain hands-on certification. Future actuaries can begin the certification process while earning their degree. Many students pass 1-2 certification exams before graduation.

The average net price for a bachelor's program ranges from $14,000-$28,000 per year, according to 2019-2020 data from the National Center for Education Statistics.

Step 2: Get an Entry-Level Actuarial Science Job

With a bachelor's degree, graduates can apply for entry-level actuarial science jobs. Common job titles include actuarial associate and actuarial analyst. In these entry-level roles, actuaries complete their certification requirements. Many employers sponsor candidates during the exam process, which can include covering exam fees.

Graduates struggling to find a job can focus on networking opportunities or consider a professional internship. Some colleges also offer career bridge programs.

Early career actuaries report salaries of around $65,000-$83,000 per year, according to August 2022 Payscale data.

Step 3: Earn Your Master's of Actuarial Science

Early career actuaries can boost their earning potential with a master's degree in actuarial science. This step can benefit actuaries who complete the associate-level certification process, which typically takes 4-7 years. A master's in finance, mathematics, or statistics can also help actuaries.

Actuaries can also consider graduate school alternatives like professional development or advancing their certification to the fellow level.

Before applying to graduate programs, consider the return on investment. In 2020-2021, graduate students spent nearly $20,000 per year on tuition and fees, according to NCES data. Actuaries can talk to a mentor or career advisor about whether graduate school makes sense for their career goals.

Step 4: Get a Job as an Actuary

Actuaries close to completing the certification process can work as senior actuarial analysts. With certification, they move into senior roles, such as partner or consultant. Some pursue management positions like actuarial manager. With experience, professionals can become chief actuaries or chief risk officers.

An actuary typically earns around $100,000 per year, according to Payscale and BLS data. Actuarial managers report an average salary of $122,900 per year as of June 2022 Payscale data.

Step 5: Consider Continuing Education or Specialization

Careers in actuarial science require continuing education. The certification process includes fulfilling continuing education requirements, and actuaries must stay current in the field. "I need to meet continuing education requirements regularly to maintain my actuarial certification or license," explained Walker.

Actuaries specialize in many areas, including property insurance, life insurance, financial risk, and retirement planning. Preparing for specialized certification exams helps actuaries stay current. Actuaries can also consider a doctorate in actuarial science to move into research and academic roles.

Licensing and Certification

After meeting educational requirements, actuaries also pursue professional certifications. The Casualty Actuarial Society (CAS) and the Society of Actuaries (SOA) offer credentials at the associate and fellow levels. CAS offers certifications for property and casualty specialists, including options for automobile, homeowners, and workers' comp insurance. SOA offers certifications for actuaries in life insurance, investments, finance, and health insurance.

These credentials typically take several years to complete because candidates must pass 7-10 examinations. Actuaries can begin the process during their undergraduate degree and continue them under employer sponsorship.

What to Know Before Becoming an Actuary

Before becoming an actuary, consider whether the career path offers a good match for your skills. "Actuaries are thought to be extremely intelligent and numerate," said Walker. "People will generally hold me in higher regard when it comes to numbers and finances."

In addition, consider the following factors when choosing whether to launch an actuarial science career.

Accreditation

Prospective actuaries should always choose an accredited college or university. Accredited institutions meet high standards for academic excellence. They also demonstrate strong records for student learning outcomes. Students considering an online degree can find accredited online colleges.

Cost

On average, a bachelor's degree costs around $19,000 per year in tuition and fees, according to 2020-2021 data from the NCES. On top of that, undergrads pay for other hidden costs, like textbooks or e-textbooks, supplies, and living expenses. According to the SOA, actuaries also pay hundreds of dollars per exam to become certified.

Students can lower expenses by comparing the costs of online and on-campus programs and understanding the total cost of a program. Pursuing business scholarships and identifying employers who cover certification costs also helps.

Salary

Actuaries report a median salary of $105,900, according to May 2021 data from the BLS. With experience, actuaries typically see their salaries increase. The top 10% of earners in the field made over $206,800 in 2021. Location, industry, and degree level also influence the earning potential for actuarial science careers.

Frequently Asked Questions About Becoming an Actuary

What qualifications do you need to become an actuary?

Actuaries need at least a bachelor's degree for entry-level positions. Most employers look for candidates with a bachelor's in actuarial science, mathematics, statistics, finance, or an analytical major. After taking an entry-level role like actuarial analyst or actuarial associate, professionals take certification exams.

Actuarial science majors often begin the certification process while in college. Earning certification takes multiple years. Candidates take exams in financial mathematics, probability, statistics, and demography. Actuaries earn certification in several specialty areas, which require passing a minimum of seven exams. While pursuing certification, actuaries also gain professional experience.

What should I study if I want to become an actuary?

Actuaries typically major in actuarial science. This major covers key topics in the field, including probability, financial economics, and risk modeling. Some colleges do not offer an actuarial science major. Instead, prospective actuaries can major in mathematics or statistics with a concentration in actuarial science. Majoring in finance or economics while taking math courses can also prepare graduates for careers as an actuary.

The profession requires strong statistical analysis and data interpretation skills, which undergraduates can build in many analytical majors. Undergraduates who majored in a non-analytical field can consider a graduate certificate or master's degree in actuarial science.

How long does it take to become an actuary?

Actuaries spend 2-4 years meeting the educational requirement for entry-level roles, followed by 4-7 years to complete the certification process. Actuarial science careers require at least a bachelor's degree. Many actuaries major in actuarial science, mathematics, or statistics. These programs take around four years.

After completing a bachelor's degree with the required coursework, graduates apply for entry-level positions like actuarial associate and actuarial analyst. While working, actuaries study for their certification exams. The field offers several specialized certifications. With the official credential, actuaries can move into senior roles.

Can I become an actuary with an online degree?

Yes, you can become an actuary with an online degree. A bachelor's degree from an accredited school meets the minimum education requirement for actuary careers. Some colleges offer online actuarial science degrees.

Several business degrees can also prepare learners to become actuaries. During undergrad, prospective actuaries should make sure to take classes in corporate finance, economics, and statistics. In addition to online undergraduate programs, current or prospective actuaries can consider an online graduate-level program. An online graduate certificate in actuarial science or a master's degree can help actuaries enter the field or enhance their careers.

How much money can I make as an actuary?

Actuaries report above-average salaries. According to May 2021 BLS data, actuaries earn a median salary of $105,900. Professionals' earning potential varies depending on the industry and location. Actuaries in Georgia report an average pay of $235,000, while Utah actuaries report an average pay of around $77,000, according to BLS state data.

Actuaries in finance, insurance, and the public sector report salaries above the profession's median. While the lowest-paid actuaries reported median salaries under $63,260 in May 2021, the highest-paid actuaries earned over $206,820 per year. Other factors, like experience and education, also shape how much money you can make as an actuary.

BestColleges.com is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.

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