BW Math Department Fosters Success for Students Entering Elite Profession

May 1, 2013

When the miscalculation of risk can lead to financial ruin, where do smart businesses turn? To an elite professional known as an actuary, a field BW graduates are successfully entering almost every year with faculty support.</>

"It's the most useful math--a real world application of mathematics," says BW math major Suhyun Choi '13, who's working toward the goal of becoming an actuary. "That's what I like about it. It’s not just about proving theorems."

Smartest Person in the Room

According to The Society of Actuaries (SOA), one of two professional societies overseeing the field, actuaries “use mathematics, statistics, and financial theory to assess the risk that an event will occur" and help businesses minimize the cost of that risk.

As BW math professor Tim Riggle puts it, "An actuary is usually considered the smartest person in the room. They are truly a critical part of managing risk for their companies or clients."

The respected profession also pays well and enjoys a jaw-dropping 0% unemployment rate. It’s no wonder then, that actuaries also have high job satisfaction, with Jobs Rated Almanac consistently rating "actuary" as one of the top two or three jobs.

Conquering the Actuarial Exams

But, entering the field takes drive and hard work beyond a college diploma. In addition to a bachelor's degree (which should include coursework in mathematics, economics, statistics, and finance), actuaries must pass a series of difficult exams to earn professional certification.

That's where BW’s math department has been stepping in to foster student success. "We meet and work through old tests," Riggle says of the support offered to students preparing for the rigorous assessments. "Our goal here in the math department is to help prepare students for first two exams which are particularly mathematical."

Choi says working through the problem sets with Riggle helped her to pass the initial actuarial exam in March 2012 and she notched another one in the fall. Choi is just the latest in an impressive run of BW students to overcome the rather daunting test odds.

"It's a lot of time that goes into preparing for those exams and I think the low overall pass rates speak for the rigor," says Monty Wesoloski ‘06, a BW alumnus and now a Senior Analyst at global actuarial science consulting giant, Towers Watson. "Out of every ten people who walk into the exam room, seven will need to come back and try again six months later."

On the Job Training and Study Time

The good news for aspiring actuaries is that it's possible to get your foot in the door after clearing the first testing hurdles. “If you can get through the first couple while you’re still in college, the companies will give you support to pass the others,” says Riggle.

In fact, Wesoloski says employers typically pay the cost of exams and study materials, often grant paid time to study throughout the certification process and offer raises or bonuses for each exam passed. It typically takes 4 to 6 years for an actuary to get an initial certification because each exam requires hundreds of hours of study and months of preparation.

So, in spite of difficulty factor, Wesoloski says becoming an actuary is an attainable goal for talented math students. He visits BW every year to address interested students and tells them, “The bottom line is that Towers Watson and other actuarial employers are continuing to recruit BW students.”