My Non-Traditional Journey to Becoming an Actuary

Written by Matt Hobbs:

In 2006, I graduated from Cedarville University with a degree in Social Studies Education. You can imagine how disappointed I was when I graduated with a teaching degree and decided I did not want to teach. That’s not how you want to start off your professional career. 2

After graduating, an older friend from the East Coast helped me think through the next steps as I looked for work and, more importantly, moved to be closer to my girlfriend and her family in Arkansas. This friend, who happens to work in disability insurance, talked a lot about the underwriting and actuarial fields.  That got my attention, but they weren’t options for a non-teacher with a teaching degree who was moving far away from home.

My first couple jobs (retail management and accounting clerk) helped me move close to the woman I would eventually marry, but they weren’t ideal for the long term. About two years after moving to Arkansas, a friend at a regional health insurance company told me about an underwriting position that was opening up. I’ve now been working in the underwriting field for the past 5 ½ years.

But this post is not about underwriting or the sacrifices it takes to show someone you really want to marry them. It’s about becoming an actuary, especially for those that don’t have an actuarial science degree (or a math or statistics degree). My educational background and work history suggest that I don’t have what it takes to become an actuary.  Thankfully, passing a few exams has given me more credibility than my education and work history suggest, but that wasn’t the case initially.

I remember hitting up the actuarial message boards early on before I started taking exams, and I wasn’t very encouraged. The exam process seemed very daunting for a non-math/statistics major and most of the comments towards the non-traditional actuarial students (especially those with little success passing exams) didn’t exactly embolden me as I tried to make my decision about becoming an actuary. So why did I choose to move forward with this career choice?

  1. Getting paid to predict and assess risk sounds really cool! I’ve had a lot of practice “assessing” risk as an underwriter, and that was a great help as I tried to understand what it would be like in the actuarial world.
  2. I am very determined. I think every actuary out there has to have this character trait.
  3. I enjoy math. Although derivations and very complex math formulas do not come easy for me, I enjoy working with numbers.
  4. I want to provide a comfortable lifestyle for my family, and I want to give to others generously. This is a great career to meet these goals.
  5. I had the support of my family, particularly my wife.

Let me close with this situation I found myself in recently. I was sitting around having lunch with about a dozen other actuarial “students.”  I asked them, “So how many of you have a degree in math or statistics?”  Everyone raised their hand. Everyone but me, of course. If I could do it over again, yes, I’d get a bachelor’s degree in something related to actuarial science. But I can’t do it over again.  What I can do, however, is realize I have a great opportunity ahead of me. If you are good at math, determined, and have a clear goal in mind, then you can achieve your dream of becoming an actuary.  I’m not there yet, but I have had success along the way (so far I’ve passed three exams).  Hopefully that will encourage others out there like me who pursuing certification the “non-traditional” way!