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

Many actuaries spent time working in other fields, from teachers, to pizza shop owners to journalists, before coming to this field. If you are considering changing careers and becoming an actuary, you’re not alone and you can do it!

Solving Mathematical Mysteries: Key Questions for Aspiring Actuaries 

By Mike Starr – 2024 

Have you ever thought about a career in actuarial science? Maybe a friend, loved one, or former teacher has encouraged you to think about it because of your proficiency in math? 9 years ago, I was in your shoes. After working in higher education for nearly a decade, I decided to leave my career as a college administrator to start over in actuarial science. Now, I am fully on the other side of that transition, and I get to use my background working with college students to help recruit interns and entry-level professionals to my company. This has given me another framework through which to consider what it takes to become an actuary. 

If you’re considering a career change, actuarial science has many attractive features and structural advantages to make your transition more straightforward, given the right circumstances. Below are some questions you might ask yourself while exploring the actuarial career:

  1. Do you have a strong math background?
    One huge advantage that actuarial science has over other careers is that it does not require a degree in actuarial science (or any other discipline). As long as you have a strong math background, you should be able to find an opportunity to get your foot in the door. Because I had an undergraduate degree in physics, recruiters knew that I could do the math (or at least learn to do the math), which saved me from having to pursue an MBA or a second Bachelor’s degree. 
  2. Ok… but do you love math?
    Just being able to do the math isn’t enough; you need to love math. In addition to the actuarial exams you must take, which are some of the hardest math tests you will ever encounter, actuaries use statistics to quantify risk and make predictions about those risks, so math needs to be more than just a subject you tolerate. You need to know how to use the data at your disposal to solve interesting analytical problems (or, as I call them, “mathematical mysteries”). If that sounds fun to you, keep reading. 
  3. Are you good at taking tests? 
    For better or worse, actuarial exams are table stakes for a career in actuarial science. While these can add stress to your early years starting out as an actuary, they also add a structure that makes promotions and salary increases more transparent than many other fields. Test-taking is a skill that will serve you well if you are considering becoming an actuary, and passing your first exam will greatly improve your chances of landing that first actuarial role.
  4. What are your life’s other priorities and commitments? 
    Like any big change, a transition to actuarial science must be considered within the context of the rest of your life. Does your financial situation allow you to leave your current career and start over in a new one? Actuarial internships are a decent-paying, low-stakes way for you to try this career on for size, if your financial and health insurance situation will allow you to take this leap. Once you’ve officially committed to the career change, studying for exams requires more than just good time management — it’s a lifestyle change. The rule of thumb is that each hour of exam duration requires 100 hours of studying (i.e. you should study about 300 hours for a 3-hour exam). Some students may require more study time; some will certainly require less, but make no mistake, exams are a time commitment that your life must make room for. It’s definitely possible to pass exams, even with small children (I was just shy of my ASA when I had my first son, and I’m 3 modules away from my FSA as I write this). This isn’t meant to scare you away; but it’s important to be clear-eyed about the life you are entering into as you are weighing your options.
  5. Wow… this sounds like a lot of work. Is it worth it? 
    It has been for me! Being an actuary has given me everything I was searching for a decade ago. I get to use the analytical part of my brain to perform challenging work on a daily basis. I earn a great salary, and I have appreciated the clarity of knowing that my salary will continue to rise if I can keep passing exams. More money usually comes at the expense of work-life balance, but this has not been the case for me. While this can vary with certain actuarial roles (pricing vs. reserving, consulting vs. insurance) and certain times of year (quarter-end, year-end), I have rarely felt the need to work evenings, weekends, or more than 40 hours a week.

So, do you make the switch? Do you become an actuary? Only you can decide that for yourself. Switching careers was a wonderful decision for me and my family. If you’re still on the fence, a great first step is to start looking at the material for Exam 1/P (Probability) or Exam 2/FM (Financial Math). If you can see yourself setting aside the time to study and pass your first exam, go for it! Whatever you decide, I wish you all the best in your endeavors. And please don’t hesitate to reach out if there is anything more you would like to discuss. You can find me on LinkedIn or email me at