It's not too late to consider being an actuary.

I was 35 when I took my first actuarial exam. Making a career change to become an actuary is a big commitment and it’s not easy, but it can happen later in life and be very rewarding. Now that I’ve moved into my new career, I thought I’d share some insights.

  • You have to have the math skills. This isn’t a career shift that’s taken lightly. The exams are hard—grueling even at times. I had a minor in mathematics in college and always had the quantitative skills, so it made it easier for me, but I’ve still spent hours studying to get myself back to the level I was at 15 years ago.
  • You’re starting over—somewhat. I had 10+ years of experience in marketing and sales positions before this shift. I have a lot of skills that are valuable to a business, but when I was hired, it was for an entry-level actuarial analyst position. I’ve been able to use my existing work skills on actuarial projects, but right now my main contribution to the team is as an analyst—just like someone else with a few years of actuarial work experience. I know that when I finish the exams, I’ll be further ahead with my new career because of my previous experience, but until then, I’m still crunching numbers.
  • Swallow a bit of your pride. Your boss/supervisor/team member is going to be younger than you—and probably smarter. I have met some incredibly intelligent and talented people in this profession. But there are times when I just feel old—and dumb. I stop, swallow my “but I’m older than you” reaction, and realize that there’s a lot I can learn from the people around me.
  • Say goodbye to your extensive social life. One of the hardest shifts for me was going from a life with lots of time to spend with my spouse and friends to giving up evenings and weekends to study. It’s not easy to see everyone else living their lives after establishing their careers, but I remember that it’s worth it in the end. The life of an actuary is very rewarding, and I’m beginning to see some of those rewards as I move forward. Which brings me to …
  • Keep your eye on the goal. A shift into the actuarial field is a four- to seven-year commitment for exams and requirements depending on how fast you progress through the system. But the end goal is worth it! I wholeheartedly agree that this field is one of the most rewarding—both in the kinds of business problems we solve, but also personally in terms of salary and quality of life. As a friend told me when I made the shift, “You mortgage a part of your life, but it’s worth it in the end.”

So, if you REALLY want to change careers and be an actuary, then go for it! But know that the great rewards come with a lot of work.

Ready to get started? The Actuarial Exams section of the website will guide you through the process and provide tools and resources to help you prepare.

Jason Bribitzer-Stull, ASA, is an actuarial analyst/consultant with Towers Watson. He has former careers as a classical musician and cook as well as marketer and salesperson.

Note: a longer version of this article appeared on page 27 of the May 2011 issue of Actuary of the Future newsletter. The complete article is available on the SOA Web Site.