Written by Bryce Peterson of the University of Michigan
There are many important decisions that you, a student actuary, will make in your journey to a successful actuarial career. Among these are which school to attend, which society to pursue credentials with, and which companies to apply to. However, one of the most important choices a young actuary makes is in regards to actuarial exams – which ones to take and when to take them. There are numerous benefits to taking exams in school, as well as to taking exams while working, after obtaining a full-time job. Here I will break down these pros and cons to help you in that decision making process.
Many working actuaries I have come across encouraged me to take as many exams as possible while still in school. This is advice that I, as well as an increasing number of student actuaries, have heeded. First, you have more free time in school than you will while working full time. It may not always seem that way, but simply being in an academic environment and in the swing of studying for classes makes it that much easier to transition to studying for exams. Additionally, many schools have classes that specifically prepare you for exams, especially if you have an actuarial program. Earning credit towards your degree while also preparing for actuarial exams is a double benefit, and will save you time when you focus your preparation for the exam. Finally, there is the argument that coming out of school with more exams makes you a more qualified candidate when applying for full time positions. Showing employers that you have already taken the initiative to start passing exams makes you a more appealing applicant, as you will obtain your fellowship faster than average.
On the other hand, some actuarial students elect to postpone one or more exams until they are working full-time. This does not mean they do not take any exams in school; usually they take one or two – which is enough to secure an internship or full-time position – then wait until after graduation to study for the rest. The biggest downside to taking exams during school is missing out on other social or leadership opportunities. College is an important time to get involved in clubs and meet new people in order to become well-rounded, and studying for actuarial exams can prevent this at times. There is also an argument that having too many exams with no work experience is detrimental to your resume. It’s recommended to gain a balance of work experience to complement your actuarial education. A final consideration is cost. Many students pay for their own exams and study materials in school, whereas most companies that hire actuaries have a financial support program, and may even provide paid study time. In addition to reimbursing you for the cost of the exam and its materials, most companies offer base salary increases for passing each exam.
All in all, passing exams is essential to progressing in your actuarial career, so you’ll have to take them eventually. It is important for you to find a balance of studying and enjoying college that works for you, because everyone’s path is different. I hope this will help you with your decisions in the future, and best of luck on your exams!