Choosing a career is a very difficult decision. Partly because most careers are a mystery when we are young, but mostly because we have no idea what we want to do for the rest of our lives, and our fleeting passage through school is not enough to gain the insight we need to make such a big decision.
I came across the actuarial field quite late. A couple of years ago and just out of college, I was part of that vast majority of people who would mistake an actuary for an actor (or some crazy profession) and never took a moment to think about the immense and vital place the insurance industry has in our society, and that making it work must take quite a few exceptional mathematicians to take a look into the future using statistics (and then PV’ing into the present). The truth is that I was clueless the moment I graduated from high school, and pursued a bachelor in Physics because along with math they were the only classes that I enjoyed, with the slightest idea of what to do after graduation. Eventually, I ended up working as a programmer and in related fields, and despite enjoying some of the work, it didn’t give me the fix we math junkies look for.
Then I found out about the actuarial profession, and spent endless nights researching about the career and what steps I could take in order to become an actuary. To be honest I was also lured by the high demand and salary outlook. At the moment, it seemed that it was just an ordinary career that any mortal could pursue and that it would take perhaps a couple more years of study. Of course little did I know about the exam process, and that I was to embark into the neverending path of becoming an actuary. Probably few careers require as many exams and certifications as we do to become a full-fledged professional. The amount of time that we spend preparing for the exams is countless and it never seems to be enough. In my opinion, the exam process is the backbone of every actuary. Besides a lot of formulas and really hard concepts, the discipline of respecting study hours and all the good habits necessary to prepare properly, are customs that hardly go away and that transcend into our working ethics.
Being a little deeper into the rabbit hole, with a couple of exams and some internship experience, my perspective of the career has changed. One might think that a natural talent for mathematics is the most important skill an actuarial student could have, but I beg to differ, it is a multidisciplinary profession that requires us to be a jack of all trades (mathematicians, statisticians, businessmen, economists, communicators, salesmen, programmers, you name it) and there will always be an area that requires improvement. Whether an actuary ends up in an insurance company, consulting firm or a non-traditional role, it seems that is always very challenging and figuring out what to do is the most common part of the job.
If you are an aspiring actuary, my recommendation is to seek as much advice and information about the career as you can, some people more advanced in the career will try to scare you with the exams (and you should be a little scared), but try to figure out what actuaries do day to day and what the job is like. An Actuary’s perspective of the career from people at different stages, may be the most insightful information that could help with knowing if the career is for you. Exams are hard, but with enough motivation, they become a little easier.