Best Degrees for Becoming an Actuary

This article examines the need for a college degree for actuaries and examines the best types of degrees for actuaries who want to bolster their careers degree programs aligned to tasks they will be performing as an actuary. An actuary is responsible for analyzing the financial costs associated with uncertainty and risk. If you have an interest in becoming an actuary, you’ll need to look at various degree programs that are suited for the position.

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Detailed Discussion of Degree Programs for Actuaries

Actuarial Science is one of those professions where it does not technically matter what degree you hold, or indeed in some cases, whether or not you even have a degree. In many cases, all that is required of somebody who wishes to become an actuary is for that person to pass the incredibly difficult professional examinations. When considering the suitable area of study for persons wishing to become actuaries, the mathematics is the most important thing to take into account. Actuarial science requires an in-depth understanding of advanced math and its applications to risk analysis.

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Centers of Actuarial Excellence – Society of Actuaries

This list of degrees highlights the fifteen actuarial science programs at universities considered to be Centers of Actuarial Excellence by the Society of Actuaries. The SOA is also the organization that administers the professional examinations. The list then chooses three different areas of study related to actuarial science. These areas are mathematics, economics, and engineering. Some students interested in becoming actuaries may wish to study these fields at the undergraduate level because they offer a wider range of possible professions. Students may plan to transition from undergraduate work in these areas to an Actuarial Science degree as a second major, or for their graduate degree.

Actuarial science is considered to be one of the best kept secrets of the professional world. The job of an actuary is not glamorous, and actuaries can’t expect the academic recognition and prizes for their work. Despite this though, actuary is considered the second best job in U.S. by the Wall Street Journal, and was listed among the 15 most lucrative careers by CNN Money.

Each university considered a Center of Actuarial Excellence has met stringent requirements set by the Society of Actuaries relating to the degree offered, curriculum, number and quality of students graduated, faculty, industry connections, and research. There are only fifteen schools bearing this distinction in the United States, and their programs are listed and described here.

Georgia State University

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The Actuarial Science program is offered through a joint effort of GSU’s Department of Mathematics and Statistics, and the Department of Risk Management and Insurance. The program is designed to provide students with a deep understanding of mathematics and how they apply to actuarial science.

Tuition: $22,936

Drake University

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The road to becoming an actuary is long. The education is only part of this road. There are numerous levels of testing throughout the process. Education is just one component of the process but it is essential. The program at Drake has professional actuaries teaching the Actuarial Science classes. The program is designed to allow students to get a head start by taking and passing important exams while still in college.

Tuition: $30,889

University of Illinois–Urbana/Champaign

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The Actuarial Science program at the University of Illinois is part of the Mathematics Department. UIUC boasts the largest Actuarial Science program in the United States ensuring that students will have many peers with whom to interact and study.

Tuition: $29,132

Penn State University

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The Actuarial Science option at Penn State is offered through the Department of Statistics. Students major in statistics and choose the Actuarial Option. Some might think this diminishes the effectiveness of the program because it’s not a pure Actuarial Science degree, but the fact that PSU is recognized as one of only fifteen Centers for Actuarial Excellence contradicts such thinking.

Tuition: $29,566

University of Michigan

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The University of Michigan offers a program in Actuarial Mathematics and is designed to provide students with broad training in the fundamental mathematics necessary to the actuarial profession. The program is also designed to prepare students for several of the professional exams necessary to become an actuary. This preparation includes non-credit review classes dedicated to the exams.

Tuition: $40,392

Illinois State University

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The actuarial science program at Illinois State is advised regarding its effectiveness by top practicing actuaries. Graduates of the program at ISU have gone on to work for some of the most prominent companies in the world including: Deloitte, Ernst & Young, PricewaterhouseCoopers, and Citigroup.

Tuition: $20,450

Robert Morris University

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Robert Morris may be one of the smallest schools labeled a Center of Actuarial Excellence, but the school is determined to use that to its advantage. The actuarial science program features small classes, an informal setting, and top level actuarial faculty.

Tuition: $25,114

St. John’s University

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The actuarial science program at St. John’s University, in addition to having been recognized as a Center of Actuarial Excellence, is also fully accredited by AACSB International. The location of the school in Queens is ideal for a school as its proximity to many firms that employ actuaries means the professional relationships of the university can be a boon to graduates.

Tuition: $37,260

Temple University

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Though the actuarial science program at Temple is closely tied to the mathematics department, it is offered through the Department of Risk, Insurance, and Healthcare Management. Temple students in the actuarial science program can also join the Sigma chapter of Gamma Iota Sigma, Temple’s nationally recognized student organization in Risk Management, Insurance, and Actuarial Science.

Tuition: $24,122

University of Iowa

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Students at the University of Iowa must apply and be admitted not only to the school, but also to the actuarial science major. This is due to the intense difficulty of the program and career. While math is a major focus, students at the University of Iowa will also study the law, finance, insurance, and economics necessary for success in the career.

Tuition: $26,931

Towson University

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Towson is the only Center of Actuarial Excellence in the state of Maryland. The program has two primary goals, the first is to prepare students to take the first four preliminary actuarial society exams, the second is to prepare students for a successful career in the fields that most commonly utilize actuaries.

Tuition: $20,020

University of Connecticut

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The Department of Mathematics is home to the actuarial science program at UConn. The university graduated its first actuarial science students in 1979 and has been one of the most prominent schools for the major ever since. The program is designed with the goal that each student will pass a minimum of two actuary preliminary exams before graduation.

Tuition: $30,970

University of Nebraska–Lincoln

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Students at the University of Nebraska at Lincoln will find that the program is designed to prepare them to take the first five professional actuarial exams. Aside from the preparation for professional exams, students are schooled in the fundamental applications of math to actuarial science, and learn the essential theories of risk management.

Tuition: $21,388

University of St. Thomas

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The University of St. Thomas is a liberal arts school that takes an interdisciplinary approach to actuarial science, the program for which is offered through the Department of Mathematics. Students take courses in maths, actuarial science, computer science, business, and economics in order to gain a well rounded understanding of actuarial science, its methods, and its applications.

Tuition: $28,240

University of Wisconsin–Madison

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The Actuarial Science, Risk Management, and Insurance program at UWM is offered through the Wisconsin School of Business. The focus of the program seems to be on actuarial science as it is applied in the insurance industry. Students have access to a highly qualified faculty, and can take advantage of the school’s connections to industry leaders.

Tuition: $26,653

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Online Mathematics Programs for Actuaries

Most major universities offer quality mathematics programs and there are relatively few quality programs offered online. These five online mathematics programs have several things working their favor. They offer flexible, quality programs, and are generally more affordable for students living out of state than they would be should the student attend in person. These programs would be most beneficial for students already holding a bachelor’s degree, and working in a non-actuarial profession. Such students might need programs that will provide them with the raw mathematical understanding necessary to gain entry into the field.

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The main difference between a BA and BS degree in mathematics, both of which are offered online by UALR, is the flexibility of the upper level electives. Students interested in pursuing a career as an actuary might choose the program which allows them to take electives in finance, economics, and business management.

Tuition: $26,015

Saint Mary of the Woods College

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While the traditional programs at SMWC are available only to women, the online programs are open to both women and men. Mathematics students can choose a second major, or a minor, and advisers are available to help students make choices that suit their career goals.

Tuition: $14,880

Chadron State College

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One of the primary goals of the mathematics program at Chadron State College is to enable students to apply what they learn in their mathematics courses to other academic disciplines. Students can also minor in applied statistics or finance, both of which would be useful for those considering a career in Actuarial Science.

Tuition: $6,750

Indiana University East

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Indiana University East offers a B.S. in Mathematics completion program to students with an associate’s degree or at least 60 credits. All required mathematics courses for the degree are offered online. Electives can be chosen from a number of courses, including courses in Finance.

Tuition: $8,748

University of Illinois–Springfield

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Math was one of the first programs available online from UIS, which started offering the math program fully online in 2004. The online classes are taught by tenured and tenure track faculty, and the program is simply an extension of the traditional program offered by the school, which ensures that the high quality of the program is maintained in the online format.

Tuition: $9,270

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Online Economics Programs for Actuaries

Actuarial Science has much in common with economics and especially econometrics. Both subjects attempt to quantify human behavior in order to gain a predictive edge for their company. A strong understanding of economics can be a boon to actuaries taking the long view of their career. An undergraduate economics degree paired with a graduate degree in Actuarial Science has the possibility to open many doors professionally in both government and private industry, and academia.

Utah State University

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Utah State University offers one of the most comprehensive, least expensive online economics programs available. The program focuses on the fundamental principles of economics and is designed to prepare students for careers in finance, consulting, and statistical analysis among others.

Tuition: $8,700

Robert Morris University

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This online program from RMU is a BSBA program with a concentration in economics. Because this is a BSBA program students will learn the fundamentals of finance, accounting, and business management, in addition to their learning in economics.

Tuition: $20,850

Penn State University

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Students in the economics program through PSU’s World Campus will learn the skills necessary to determine pricing policies, collect and analyze data, and forecast market trends. An in depth understanding of economics can be a major benefit to students whose end goal is an actuarial career. Students may choose to minor in finance which can provide an additional edge.

Tuition: $16,050

Oregon State University

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Students of the economics program at OSU can rest assured that the online courses are taught by the same renowned faculty as the traditional. Online students also receive the same exact diploma as traditional students, showing that OSU’s confidence in their online program is so high, they see no need to distinguish it in any way from the traditional.

Tuition: $12,195

University of Alabama–Birmingham

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Economics graduates have an incredible range of options open to them upon graduation. The economics program at UAB is designed to provide students a broad understanding of the field, while giving them the freedom and flexibility to gain work experience while studying, and to study more specifically the areas of the field in which they wish to work.

Tuition: $16,398

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Engineering Degree Programs for Actuaries

Engineers are in high demand currently both inside the confines of their study areas and outside. Many top flight engineers are recruited to finance industry firms upon graduation. The in depth understanding of mathematics and its applications by engineers means the transition to the actuarial field can be natural for those wishing to make that jump. Engineering degrees aren’t typically offered online, so here we listed the top five engineering degrees according to the Academic Ranking of World Universities. One interesting fact is that the University of Illinois at Urbana/Champaign is both a Center for Actuarial Excellence and one of the top engineering schools in the United States.

Massachusetts Institute of Technology

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MIT offers students the chance to study just about every major area of engineering and is widely considered the top school for engineering in the United States. Financial firms have long been recruiting engineers from MIT to apply their abilities to the finance industry.

Tuition: $43,498

Stanford University

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Stanford is another of the top schools for STEM fields. As many top schools, Stanford does not offer an Actuarial Science program, however its sterling reputation in the engineering field, coupled with the wide applications of engineering principles and knowledge, make it a great choice for students seeking a top level undergraduate education.

Tuition: $43,683

University of California–Berkeley

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The University of California at Berkeley does not offer a major in actuarial science, but studying there is tempting for top students who also aspire to be actuaries because of the school’s sterling reputation. The school does have a student club called the California Actuarial League in which aspiring actuaries at the school gather from across their majors to prepare for their careers.

Tuition: $35,742

University of Illinois–Urbana/Champaign

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UIUC is an incredible school for aspiring actuaries. Not only is it one of the Centers for Actuarial Excellence, it is also a top engineering school. Students that want options might choose to major in Engineering but take electives from some of the top actuarial sciences minds in the United States.

Tuition: $29,132

University of Texas at Austin

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The University of Texas at Austin is another top engineering school with an Actuarial Science Club. Students that want the in depth grounding in mathematics and the options afforded by an engineering degree can still attend the club and learn the important aspects of the field that have more to do with business and finance than mathematics and engineering.

Tuition: $33,842

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