The Struggles of an Actuary

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In my four years as an Actuarial Science major at UConn I’ve been faced with a lot of questions and stereotypes from peers and friends. Some of them make me smile, while others annoy me. But, I’ve learned to embrace them as it is all a day in the life of an Actuary. Below are four questions/topics that I frequently encounter.

1. What is an Actuary?

Just like every other college student, when I meet someone new, the first thing I’m asked about is my major. However, unlike my friends in other majors, I often see a stunned look when I tell them I major in Actuarial Science. My responses often range from “No, I don’t want to work with birds” to “I don’t like Biology, Chemistry or Physics, just Math.” Undoubtedly many of you have heard the same questions over and over again and will continue to hear them for years to come.  At this point I’ve gotten it down to a five word sentence. I tell people, “I just like doing math” which definitely gets its fair share of disgust and confusion. In the end it brings the conversation to conclusion more often than not.

2. Your exam is months away?

I think one of the most difficult things to deal with is explaining the amount of time that has to be put in for each individual exam. For all four of the exams I have taken thus far, I began studying at least a few months in advance. I study countless hours and make a schedule of what and when to study to keep myself on task. Yet, most of my friends have still yet to buy that I need to put as much time into studying as I do. For Exam C/4, I can recall several occasions where friends thought I was “over-studying”. I began studying for the February sitting in November and wanted to make sure I got through a few sections each week. The manual itself was 50+ sections, so I knew what needed to be done.  Even though I had similar techniques for the first three exams, my friends were still combative and tried to get me to go out when I needed to study. Don’t get me wrong, I am the first person to advocate that you need to have time away from studying, but I didn’t want to get off my schedule. I think this is the hardest to explain because many people think months of studying as excessive. I try to explain to them the average amount of study hours and if that doesn’t work, I just let it be.

3. Multiple Choice Exams

I’ve always been someone who really enjoys multiple choice exams. As opposed to short answer and essay type questions, they give me the opportunity to guess with at least some probability of success. As soon as I began studying for Exam FM/2, I realized that multiple choice exams could in fact be extremely difficult. Whenever I explain the actuarial exam process the conversation somehow gets back to the fact that the Computer Based Testing Exams are multiple choice. People are often hesitant to believe that a 3 hour exam with 30 multiple choice questions is truly difficult. This is when I pull out the pass rates and marks. Once I explain that only 45% of people get a 65% or above during one testing window, people are more understanding.

4. “Just an Accountant with a different name”

For some reason people are really set on the idea that an Accountant is the same thing as an Actuary. Whenever you talk about business and math, Accounting seems to be the first career that pops into most peoples’ heads. It’s hard to explain to someone the difference between both jobs without going into a lot of detail, so I often just leave this one by saying that these two jobs are completely different.

Over the course of four years as an Actuarial Science major I’ve learned to expect these questions and I’ve even gotten to enjoy them. At first I found it frustrating to explain to everyone what exactly Actuarial Science is and why it is such a difficult path. But, after becoming closer friends with other Actuaries and hearing their similar experiences I’ve learned to laugh a little more as it is all a day in the life of an Actuary.