An actuary is a profession that deals with analyzing and calculating risk. People who become actuaries study uncertainties that exist in our world and analyze risk for a variety of businesses, including insurance companies, consulting firms, pension programs, employee benefits departments, hospitals, banks and financial companies. This profession requires students to have a strong foundation in mathematics.
Students are interested in becoming actuaries need to get their bachelor's degrees and pass a series of seven to nine exams. Many companies employ perspective actuaries immediately after college and give them time off to study and take exams. Actuary exams take full-time working professionals about six to eight years to complete. Entry-level actuaries start out with salaries of $45,000 to $50,000 per year and get increases as they pass each exam. Actuaries who pass all of the exams make about $90,000 per year. Undergraduates who are interested in becoming actuaries do not have to major in actuary science, but actuaries tend to come from statistics and mathematics backgrounds.
Algebra and Geometry
High school students who are interested in becoming actuaries should take as many mathematics courses as their high schools offer. In the beginning of their high school careers, students should take pre-algebra, if they had not done so in middle school, as well as algebra 1 and 2 and geometry. These courses will give students a strong foundation in equations and variables, and introduce them to concepts such as circumference, slope and areas of geometric shapes such as triangles and squares. All of these courses are prerequisites for higher-level high school courses in trigonometry or pre-calculus, as well as calculus.
Trigonometry or Pre-Calculus
High schools tend to offer courses either in trigonometry or pre-calculus. Both courses delve deeper into how to find slopes of lines and equations and how to graph different equations. Furthermore, these courses also introduce students to the graphing calculator and how to use it in mathematics. Students typically take trigonometry or pre-calculus as juniors in high school so they can take calculus in their senior year. A course in trigonometry or pre-calculus is absolutely necessary for students who are interested in becoming actuaries because they prepares students for the rigor of high school and college calculus.
Prospective actuaries should try to take a course in calculus as high school students. Calculus is the study of the rate of change of functions, and anyone who majors in mathematics or statistics in college typically has to take three semesters of calculus covering both single variable and multivariable calculus. High schools tend to offer calculus as an advanced placement course, and it is usually separated into advanced placement Calculus AB and advanced placement Calculus BC. An advanced placement class is considered to be a college-level class, and students who pass the advanced placement Calculus exams at the end of the year are eligible for college credit in calculus. Even if students do not take or pass the advanced placement exams, the experience of taking calculus in high school will give them a good introduction to the field and prepare them for college courses in calculus.
Kate Prudchenko has been a writer and editor for five years, publishing peer-reviewed articles, essays, and book chapters in a variety of publications including Immersive Environments: Future Trends in Education and Contemporary Literary Review India. She has a BA and MS in Mathematics, MA in English/Writing, and is completing a PhD in Education.