Preparing for an Actuarial Career at Washington & Lee (Draft Version)


So you think you might want to be an actuary, eh? Or maybe you're not sure what an actuary is... or maybe you just found your way here by mistake. Read on, my friend, and learn what it means to be an actuary and what Washington and Lee can do to help you become one.

Actuaries combine strong analytical skills (in mathematics and statistics) with their knowledge of business and economics (and some psychology too) to try to predict the likelihood of various future events and to try to prepare for them. For example, an actuary could determine the probability of a hurricane striking Florida, and then figure out how much money an insurance company should put aside to cover that risk. Or, he/she could try to predict when people are going to choose to start taking Social Security benefits. Or, an actuary might be asked to determine how much to charge a twenty-year-old male driver for car insurance, given the likelihood of his getting into an accident. Usually, actuaries specialize in one of the major areas of risk analysis (life insurance, pensions, casualty, health insurance), but they can also be found in many other fields.

Actuaries are paid very well. Right out of college, starting salaries are in the 40 to 60,000 range. After 10 years, most earn between 125 and 240 thousand dollars. Salaries are dependent on how quickly you progress through the exams (see below for more information on these exams).

The following external links will tell you a bit more about being an actuary.

For more information, or to sign up for classes, contact Professor Dresden (or go to his homepage).


Actuaries take a series of exams to advance in their career. You can start these while still in school, and continue them while working for an actuarial firm. (Most companies will pay you to study!) The exams do not need to be taken in any order.

It's best to have passed at least one exam before you graduate. This will increase your chances of getting a good job (and also give you an idea if the career is for you). The Mathematics Department here at W&L gives exam prep courses for Exam P and Exam FM (and others if time and resources permit), and sometimes we even administer the exams on campus. Study notes and sample exams can also be found at the SOA Exam Information Site (click on ASA, CERA, or FSA for details).

Coursework and VEE (Validation by Educational Experience)

In addition to the exams, you'll also need to show experience in three topics: Economics, Corporate Finance, and Applied Statistical Methods. To quote the SOA's Q&A file on their website, "It was determined that validation by educational experience is appropriate for topics that are either best learned in a classroom environment (applied statistics) or are considered important, but not core to actuarial work (economics and corporate finance)." You may be able to do this simply by taking the appropriate coursework here at Washington and Lee!

Full information about VEE credit can be found on the SOA website right here.

Gregory Dresden, Department of Mathematics at Washington & Lee University