Should I be an actuary? (The why YES and the why NO)
The short answer: If you’re looking for a career that will challenge you and allow you to use your mathematical expertise on a daily basis, then becoming an actuary is a viable choice for you. However you should also consider the fact that passing actuarial exams is difficult and will take thousands of hours of your own time to study for over the next 5 to 10 years.
But becoming an actuary is a big choice, so I’m sure you want more details than that. So, that’s what I’m going to talk about in this post!
Reasons why you should become an actuary
I know you’re trying to decide whether the actuarial career path is right for you. So in hopes that this can help you decide, I’ve put together this list of some of the top reasons you may decide “yes, I want to be an actuary!”. This is my list of “pros” to becoming an actuary.
Use math everyday
My guess is that one of the main reasons you’re wondering if you should become an actuary is because you like math (a lot). Right?
An actuary uses lots of math, probability, and statistics all day long. I love that about being an actuary. That’s one of the main things that attracted me to the career.
If you like math, you probably really like the challenge that math provides too. You probably like problem solving, learning and expanding your knowledge too. If so, that’s great because in a career as an actuary you’ll be facing new challenges, learning and problem solving almost every day too.
Problem solving in an actuarial career
Like I said above, problem solving is a big part of the actuarial career. I didn’t realize that when I was researching it, but I’m really glad it is. I love being challenged almost every day.
If you become an actuary, you’re going to spend a ton of time problem solving. Do you like that sort of thing?
Some of the problem solving challenges you may be faced with as an entry-level actuary are
- how to create VBA or Python code that automates a process
- potential ways to decrease premiums even when expenses are increasing
- how to display tons of information in a way that’s way for others to consume
These are just a few examples. But as you move up into management positions (see the 8 steps to becoming an actuary) the problems you’re faced with will change and become more and more complex.
Job in an office
When I was envisioning my career as an actuary, I always imagined working in a big high rise building with my own little cubicle that I could decorate. I’d have a window with a great view of the entire city.
Well, that never really happened. The office I work in is just 3 stories high right now.
But, nonetheless, I am working in an office. And you likely will too if you decide to be an actuary.
So before getting into the career, make sure that being in an office is something that you want. Typically, actuaries aren’t out of the office very much (in my experience). For some people, that may not be a good fit.
The actuarial salary
The salary of an actuary is pretty good. I’m sure you’ve checked that out already. But hopefully for you, that’s just an added benefit. You shouldn’t go into the actuarial career if you’re just after the money.
Writing actuarial exams takes a lot of time (a lot of your own time) so if you don’t enjoy the process along the way it’s likely that you won’t stick to it.
For me personally, the actuarial career met all my other requirements and the fact that the pay was good just made the job even better.
Reasons you may not want to become an actuary
When you’re considering your career, it’s important to look at both sides. The pros AND the cons. I find that not many people talk about the cons of the profession. There are some things here that I wish I had known before deciding to be an actuary. I’m not sure if they would have changed my mind, but it would have been good to give them some thought.
The “work-life” balance
You probably expected this to be in the “pros” section, didn’t you? You’ve probably heard that the work-life balance of an actuary is really favorable. We all want to have a time to work and a time to do the things we enjoy. But at the beginning of your career as an actuary you won’t get that.
I’m sure once you’re a fully qualified actuary, the work-life balance would be much more ideal. But when you’re working and writing exams at the same time, it’s likely that about 80% – 90% of your time will go toward work, studying, and sleep.
You may think that you’ll just take exams at a slow pace, whenever you ‘feel’ like writing one but that can rarely happen in the real world. Employers push for you to write exams, and some require that you pass an exam every 1 – 2 years. I know, that sounds like lots of time but the exams are difficult and failing is common.
For most people, it’s worth it in the long run but it’s something to be aware of before you get into the career just so there’re no surprises.
This may be another one that you thought would be in the pros. Well, I had a hard time deciding where to fit this because I don’t think the job security is as good as most people make it out to be. I know you don’t want to write a whole bunch of actuarial exams and then end up not finding a job. They’re a lot of work!
You may have heard that the rate of unemployment for actuaries is really low, close to 0%. Well, it’s true (probably) but that doesn’t mean that all those actuaries are in actuarial positions. It just means that they’re working. And when they say 0% unemployment, they’re referring to fully qualified actuaries, not people with just 1 or 2 exams.
So don’t incorrectly believe (like I did) that because you pass some exams, you’ll get an actuarial job. There’s a lot of competition. And many people have trouble finding a job (make sure it’s not you though.. read this to find out how).
But, that being said, actuaries-to-be often have lots of transferable skills that are valued in lots of different industries, so there’s no need to worry about not being able to find a job.
It’s mentally draining
As an actuary, you’re thinking constantly! For many people, that’s one thing they love about the job. But thinking all day and being challenged all day has it’s downsides too. It can be pretty exhausting.
By the time I get home from work, I usually feel like having a nap to refresh. Especially if I need to study in the evenings!
So if you’d prefer a job that’s more relaxed, without much to think about, then an actuarial job may not be for you. Actuarial work isn’t routine. You need to be thinking and problem solving almost all day.
The last thing that may deter you from an actuarial career are the exams. You really have to consider whether you want to commit to these exams. For most people they take anywhere from 6-8 years. And there’s no guarantee that you’ll fit into that range.
Studying for exams takes a ton of your own, personal time. HOURS. And HOURS. And HOURS.
After work, I usually spend 3 – 4 hours at night studying when an exam is coming up. It’s not fun. And it takes dedication.
When I was getting into actuarial science, I overestimated how quickly I could pass exams. And I underestimated how much of my own time it would take to study for them.
Of all the things I’ve mentioned in this entire post, I think that this is the one thing that you should spend the most time thinking about. Because it is the reason many people decide to leave the actuarial career.
So, should you be an actuary?
Now that you’ve read all this, what do you think? Is the actuarial career a good fit for you?
For many people, the career path is a great option. It’s a rewarding and fulfilling career. But it’s a big commitment too.
If you decide that the actuarial career is right for you and are ready to commit to it, you’ll find all the support you need in the Actuary Accelerator Community (AAC)! You’ll get a mentor, the opportunity to connect with tons of aspiring actuaries, and access to all the resources you need to help you get your first actuarial job. You can learn all about it here.
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