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Becoming an Actuary

If you are considering pursuing a career as an Actuary, you should first read this to find out exactly what an Actuary does. If that sounds good to you, keep reading to find out how to make it happen!

Before the Exams

There are a few things you can do before you even take the first exam to make yourself a more desirable candidate for an Actuary position.

  • Take a computer programming course. Actuarial work often uses SAS or VBA, but any programming experience is a huge boost to your employability.
  • Learn Excel. Actuaries use Excel regularly and the more you know before you start the better.
  • Demonstrate your ability to communicate. Give talks, participate in clubs, or seek other experiences that will improve your communication and presentation skills
  • Have some extracurricular activities to put on your resume, employers want to know that you will be able to work while studying for future exams. Show them that you can manage extra things in your life.
  • Network, see if any friends or family have connections to companies that hire actuaries.

The Exams

The preliminary exams are an important step to becoming an actuary. Plan to pass at least one exam before you graduate, many firms won’t consider a candidate that has not passed any exams. Passing two is a very reasonable goal. Here is some information on the the first two exams: the Probability Exam (SOA Exam P/ CAS Exam 1) and the Financial Mathematics Exam (SOA Exam FM/ CAS Exam 2). Keep in mind these first two exams do not have to be taken in order and they have no overlapping material whatsoever.

The Probability Exam

  • MATH 461/561, 462/562 Introduction to Mathematical Methods of Statistics I, II covers a significant portion of the material on Exam P/1, but it will not fully prepare you. So after taking this course you’ll need to get hold of the exam syllabus and use it to systematically study for the exam by yourself.
  • Study Materials: Several textbooks are suggested on the exam syllabus. A First Course in Probability by Ross contains enough material to fully prepare you for the exam. The eighth edition is listed among suggested texts, but the seventh edition is perfectly adequate. Beware of some study manuals and practice exams. Here is the website for a course designed to prepare for the first exam, it includes practice problems with worked out solutions. Be careful, many sources available are poorly written and contain misleading mistakes. Also, some sources are outdated, if a guide has questions from past exams check to make sure those were recent exams.
  • Calculators: Among the allowed calculators the TI-30X is one of the most user friendly models. Unlike the others listed, it has a two-line display that can save you from making unnecessary mistakes. It also happens to be the most inexpensive.
  • Take practice exams using an approved calculator. It is surprising how difficult it feels to use an different calculator, and you don’t want this slowing you down during the actual exam.
  • Make sure you know how to clear the memory on your calculator. You will be asked to do so at the testing center. In addition, if you prefer to use your calculator with non-standard settings, be sure you can change these back after resetting without the use of the user-manual, as it is not allowed in the testing center.

The Financial Mathematics Exam

  • Study Materials: The ASM Study Manual for the FM/2 Exam is extremely thorough and covers all topics on the exam. It contains hundreds of practice problems (many from past exams) as well as five full-length practice exams.
  • Calculators: The BA II Plus is a financial calculator has all of the capabilities needed for the FM/2 exam, but it has an inferior display. The screen does not display operations entered and by default does not follow order of operations. It will save you time for many financial calculations, but you may wish to use the TI-30X, which has a two-line display and superior algebraic capabilities, for other problems. You can bring two calculators to the exam.

Finding a Job

You can start looking at any time, but your search should start to get serious after you pass your first exam.

  • Writing your resume and cover letter: The Career Center at the University of Oregon offers a lot of help in this area. You can make an appointment in advance, or they have drop-in hours, to meet one on one with a counselor to help you write the best resume for your skill set. Also, the Career Center holds fairs occasionally. If you have an interview at the fair the interviewer will give some feedback to the Career Center that you can go over with one of the counselors.
  • Where to look: The SOA keeps a directory of firms that offer internships and entry-level actuarial positions, which can be found here. This list is by no means exhaustive. Many entry-level positions are only listed on the individual company’s website. Even if a company doesn’t have a position listed, don’t be afraid to cold email any company that employs actuaries. Also, don’t forget to ask everyone you know if they know anyone that could help you get an interview.
  • Internships: An internship is a great way to start your career. Many job postings for entry level actuary positions express a preference for candidates that have completed an internship. An internship can help you make sure that actuarial work is right for you, and you might be more comfortable asking a lot of questions as an intern. Most importantly an internship can lead to a full time position.

Some useful links

  • Be an Actuary: Probably the most complete site about actuaries currently on the internet. You can find information about exams, jobs, and current news about actuaries.
  • Society of Actuaries: This is where you register for your exams and can search for job openings.
  • Casualty Actuarial Society: Another place to search for jobs.