Actuarial science degrees prepare learners for careers in business risk analysis. The field's history dates back to at least the 1660s when European financiers developed the first mortality tables.
Aspiring actuarial scientists can look forward to entering a robust job market. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects jobs for actuaries to grow 18% between 2019 and 2029. In 2019, these professionals earned an annual median salary of more than $108,000, according to the BLS. Entry-level actuaries typically only need a bachelor's degree.
Students considering a degree in actuarial science can use this guide to review admission standards and common academic requirements. This page also provides a ranked list of the best schools for actuarial science in 2021, as determined by the methodological analysis of quantitative data.
10 Best Actuarial Science Schools
|1||Brigham Young University||Provo, UT|
|2||Florida State University||Tallahassee, FL|
|3||University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign||Champaign, IL|
|4||Ohio State University||Columbus, OH|
|5||University of Minnesota, Twin Cities||Minneapolis, MN|
|6||Appalachian State University||Boone, NC|
|7||University of Wisconsin-Madison||Madison, WI|
|8||University of Northern Iowa||Cedar Falls, IA|
|9||Baruch College||New York City, NY|
|10||University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire||Eau Claire, WI|
What Is Actuarial Science?
Actuarial science is an essential aspect of industries that deal in financial risk and uncertainty. Most actuaries work in insurance, but they also practice in institutional finance, accounting, business management, and government.
The demand for actuaries continues to grow due to financial technologies that have transformed the insurance industry, creating new products and the need for new actuarial scientists to assess and quantify the related risks. The continued move toward commercialized data collection has also generated new job markets for actuarial science professionals.
In 2019, about 27,700 actuaries worked in the United States, according to the BLS. By 2029, the BLS projects 32,600 actuaries working nationwide. Successful actuaries excel with probability, statistics, algebra, calculus, and other specialized branches of mathematics with applications in insurance and finance. They also display superior problem-solving and analytical skills, and demonstrate sharp attention to detail.
Why Get an Actuarial Science Bachelor's Degree?
Actuaries must pass standardized licensing examinations to obtain the necessary professional practice credentials. A bachelor's in actuarial science often prepares learners for these exams.
Some experts believe that aspiring actuaries should take their licensure examinations right after earning their bachelor's degree. However, master's degrees offer value to learners transitioning into actuarial science from other disciplines and to aspiring specialists.
Additional benefits of an actuarial science bachelor's degree include:
- Strong Earning Potential: In 2018, Bankrate named actuarial science the most valuable college major, outperforming even high-profile STEM fields. Actuaries usually earn high pay and enjoy excellent job security.
- A Direct Path to Gainful Employment: Bankrate's 2018 review also noted that only 22% of actuarial science students held advanced degrees, which shows that most learners graduated into stable careers without requiring further education.
- Career Flexibility: Candidates with degrees in actuarial science enjoy advantages if they pivot into accounting. CPA certification requirements include a bachelor's degree in accounting, and students with actuarial science backgrounds often qualify for advanced standing in accredited accounting programs.
The Top Bachelor's in Actuarial Science Rankings
Founded in 1875 by Latter-Day Saints leader Brigham Young, and counted as one of the largest and most respected religious universities in the US, Brigham Young University has long been the destination for Mormon students worldwide. BYU is recognized as one of the best values in higher education, as church donations support the vast majority of students. But in recent years Brigham Young has earned a reputation beyond strictly Mormon circles for its educational excellence, especially in business. BYU has earned accolades from U.S. News & World Report, Forbes, and Bloomberg Businessweek for its programs in management, finance, and more.
The BYU BS in Actuarial Science degree is a perfect example of Brigham Young’s business expertise. Offered by the Statistics Department, the actuarial science degree program prepares students for the mathematical and analytical demands of an actuary career. Those demands are not just mathematical and statistical – though the degree is, of course, heavy on statistics – but technological. Students are prepared not only for actuarial analysis as it exists now, but for adapting to the future of the field, which is changing rapidly due to Big Data and economic transitions. Brigham Young University is a top choice for this career of tomorrow.
One of Florida’s two preeminent universities – the state’s version of “flagship” – Florida State University was founded in 1854 along with the University of Florida: an institution on each side of the Suwannee River. Over its history, FSU developed into Florida’s foremost STEM-focused research university, with a high level of research spending, an economic footprint of over $10 billion, and some of the nation’s finest labs and research centers. FSU is also a leader in business, economics, and accounting for the state, and has been ranked one of the top 50 public universities nationally by U.S. News & World Report.
The university’s excellence in technology and mathematics informs FSU’s Actuarial Science bachelor’s degree program. The first dedicated actuary program in Florida, FSU’s degree remains cutting-edge and intensive, giving students a deep grounding in mathematics, economics, finance, and related fields. Students can also choose between a BA or a BS degree, tailoring their coursework to their career goals – more technical, or more managerial. With a reputation throughout Florida and nationally, FSU provides students with all they need to pass the actuarial exams, and to enter the job market ahead of the pack.
Illinois’ top land-grant research university, and a central part of professional learning in the state, the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign is one of the Midwest’s most trusted names. Founded in 1867 as a land-grant university under the Morrill Act, U of I was intended to open up higher education to the people of the state, beyond the elites that the state’s private universities served. Today, Illinois is known for its accessibility, excellence, and far-reaching influence, not only in Illinois and the Midwest, but nationally and internationally. Today, Illinois is ranked in the top 20 public universities nationally by U.S. News & World Report, and is one of the top schools in the Midwest for accounting.
The Actuarial Science Program at Illinois is a fully developed, interdisciplinary division dedicated to the needs of today’s aspiring actuary. U of I’s actuarial science program brings together math, business, statistics, and technology to give students the fullest possible picture of the actuarial field. The Department of Mathematics has been named a Center of Actuarial Excellence by the SOA, and given the University Award by the Casualty Actuarial Society. Students can trust that they are getting all they need not only to pass the actuarial exams, but to take on their careers with all of the market reputation and connections of the University of Illinois.
The Ohio State University is a model of the modern public research university, with a history stretching from the agricultural and mechanical school founded in 1870, to the 3rd-largest university in the nation today. Like other land-grant universities, OSU was built on practical education in applied sciences, which made it a central part of research and professional education for Ohio and the Midwest. In the 21st century, OSU has combined accessibility with excellence, from fully online programs to some of the most innovative degrees out there. From STEM to business, OSU is a national leader.
Ohio State’s Actuarial Science degree program is based in the Department of Mathematics, but combines math and statistics with business, accounting, and finance from the Fisher College of Business, one of the nation’s top-ranked business schools. This interdisciplinary program is designed around the real-world requirements of the actuarial science field, with internships, professional development, and interviews with national industry leaders. Students are prepared to pass at least one, and possibly all five actuarial exams by graduation, getting graduates off on the right foot into their career. Ohio State’s national reputation makes it one of the heavy hitters.
Minnesota’s foremost public research university, the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities is the oldest and most prominent public university in the state, and one of the ten largest in the nation. Founded in 1851, UMN is known worldwide as a global leader in STEM research and development, as well as the Midwest’s premier professional educator. UMN is the alma mater of many of Minnesota's most notable leaders, artists, writers, and scientists, and has been recognized as a Public Ivy for its quality, value, and influence. From medicine and engineering to law and business, UMN creates a large footprint throughout the Midwest and the US.
Students have two option for earning the University of Minnesota’s Actuarial Science degree. Students who prefer a BA (which may be more suited to business and management) can earn their degree from the College of Liberal arts, while students interested in a BS (more highly technical) can turn to the College of Science and Engineering. Students earn not only a foundation in math and statistics, but also take part in actual ongoing research studies and work with mentors directly engaged with the field. The actuarial exams are no trouble for UMN graduates, and the job market in the Midwest and beyond trusts the University of Minnesota like no other.
The most prestigious public research university in the Appalachian Mountain region, Appalachian State University has put the needs of its people up front from the very beginning. App State began with a groundswell of support from locals who needed education, founded in 1899 as a normal school to train schoolteachers. In just a few years, the importance of education for the mountains had become clear to the state, and Appalachian grew into a full state university. Today, Appalachian is known as the foremost educator for professionals in the region, and is ranked one of the top 10 regional universities in the South by U.S. News & World Report.
Appalachian State’s Actuarial Science BS degree program prepares students for the actuarial exams in an interdisciplinary, market-focused format. ASU has been named an Advanced Curriculum program by the SOA, promising students the highest order of preparation for the actuarial exams. Students in the Appalachian Actuarial program also take a senior seminar under the mentorship of a working professional in the actuarial field, building a network for employment after graduation, and experience in real-life actuarial analysis. App State has a trusted reputation throughout the South, and graduates can enter the job market with total confidence.
Founded in 1848 in the new state’s capital, Madison, the University of Wisconsin is at the heart of Wisconsin’s life in many ways. Its connections to the government, industry, and culture make UW one of the most influential institutions in the state. When the university became a land-grant institution in 1866, it also set the stage for UW to become one of the Midwest’s leaders in STEM and professional studies as well. Today, UW is not only ranked one of the dozen best public universities nationally by U.S. News & World Report; the UW School of Business is also one of the oldest and most respected schools of its kind in the US.
The University of Wisconsin BBA in Actuarial Science degree program is an SOA National Center of Actuarial Excellence, and one of the most advanced actuarial science programs in the nation. Students contribute to the Technology Enhanced Learning Project, using their analytical and technical skills to develop educational support systems. With a full preparation for the actuarial exams and deep connections to the insurance, finance, and government sectors of Wisconsin, UW offers actuarial science graduates a prime opportunity.
The University of Northern Iowa is a well-regarded regional university dedicated to providing valuable professional and technical education for Iowa’s people. UNI was founded in 1876 as a normal school, preparing schoolteachers for the rural schools, but it had its roots in an orphanage for Civil War orphans. The normal schools began as a 2-year, hands-on training program, growing into a teacher’s college as standards for teacher education changed. However, the demands of the 21st century job market have pushed UNI even farther into professional education, and UNI has earned Princeton Review recognition as one of the top regional universities in the Midwest.
The University of Northern Iowa’s Statistics/Actuarial Science concentration is one option for students earning a BA in Mathematics. With a regional university’s focus on preparing students for the job market, UNI’s actuarial science program steeps students not only in math and stats, but in the technology and real-world application of their knowledge. The UNI program is intended to be adaptable to a wide range of fields where actuarial science is useful, from government to insurance and finance. Plus, UNI is widely ranked as a value, meaning that students get a stronger return on their investment than the average.
One of the world’s premier names in business education, Baruch College is a senior college of the City University of New York, dating back to the Free Academy of 1847. As part of CUNY, one of the most prestigious public university systems in the world, Baruch College has been central to New York’s development as an international business center. Originally the City College’s School of Business, Baruch is today a full college just around the corner from Wall Street, where many of banking and finance’s most powerful leaders were educated. The Zicklin School of Business is regularly ranked as one of the best in the world.
Baruch College’s Actuarial Science major is tied to the real world of actuarial science like few other programs. With business and economics courses from the Zicklin School, and the Mathematics Department’s statistics grounding, the program prepares students for the real work of actuarial analysis, and for the actuarial exams. More so, Baruch College’s intense connections to New York’s business world means students are within reach of the most rewarding careers in the field. It’s fast company, and a perfect launchpad into the future of actuarial science.
The University of Wisconsin system is one of the finest public university systems in the US, partly based on the excellence of the flagship in Madison, but primarily because of its model regional universities. UW-Eau Claire began as a normal school in 1916, training Wisconsin’s schoolteachers, but the need for higher education in the Chippewa Valley region helped UWEC grow to a full state university by the middle of the century. Today, Eau Claire is ranked in the top 5 public regional universities by U.S. News & World Report, and provides opportunity across professional fields, including actuarial science.
The UW-Eau Claire Actuarial Science degree program is named an Advanced Curriculum program by the SOA. With small classes and close mentorship, as well as deep connections to the field in the Midwest, UWEC provides students with a full understanding of the profession. From risk management to predictive analysis, students from UWEC’s actuarial science program are ready for the current field. They’re also ready for the job market, with a strong rate of success passing the actuarial exams before graduation, and nearly perfect job placement for recent graduates. It’s all quality, no fooling, from UW-Eau Claire.
What To Expect From Bachelor's in Actuarial Science Programs
At the undergraduate level, actuarial science programs focus on preparing learners to pass licensing exams. Degree-seekers also develop professional aplomb with the commercial applications of probability and risk management.
Like most bachelor's programs, actuarial science programs usually require four years of full-time study. Most U.S. colleges use a weighted credit system that assigns three credits to each full-length, semester-long course. Under this system, actuarial science programs usually cover 120-126 credits, which equates to 40-42 semester-long courses.
While specializations more often apply to master's programs, some bachelor's programs in actuarial science also support them. Most bachelor's specializations apply to specific industries or segments, such as life insurance and retirement, property insurance, healthcare, and data analytics.
Actuarial science program costs usually align with the host institution's standard tuition rates. According to the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), tuition at four-year schools averaged $20,050 for in-state public institutions and $43,139 for private schools in 2018.
Admission policies vary by school, but actuarial science programs generally maintain challenging standards. Applicants need a high school or GED diploma, and many schools require a 3.0 GPA.
Most programs also typically require secondary- or college-level coursework in probability, statistics, linear algebra, and calculus. Candidates without the necessary academic prerequisites may need to complete a set of foundational courses.
Key supplementary application materials include SAT/ACT scores and two or more recommendation letters. Students with associate degrees in actuarial science, accounting, mathematics, economics, or another related subject may qualify for advanced program standing.
Education experts recommend researching and applying to multiple schools. CommonApp can help with this process.
Most actuarial science programs culminate in a bachelor of science (BS) degree, but some programs lead to a bachelor of arts (BA). Some schools allow enrollees to choose between the two, making it important for students to understand the similarities and differences.
BS and BA actuarial science programs both maintain functionally identical core focuses on financial mathematics, probability theory, applied probability, regression modeling, and time series analysis. The degrees differ in their elective requirements and supplemental learning tracks.
In BS programs, students must usually commit to one or more minors or supporting credit sequences in quantitative, analytical, or scientific disciplines. For instance, many actuarial science degrees include built-in minors in finance or economics, but BS students may need to add another science minor, such as computer science or data science. Conversely, BA programs usually guide learners to supplement their actuarial science cores with course sequences or minors in the humanities or social sciences.
BS programs usually appeal to students seeking to add depth to their actuarial science studies, while BA programs suit learners who wish to explore secondary interests in other subjects.
Employers do not prefer one degree over the other. Qualified actuary licensure is typically the sole definitive consideration.
Comparing Actuarial Science and Accounting Degrees
Notably, candidates do not need a degree in actuarial science to take the profession's licensing exams. Actuarial science programs generally prepare enrollees for these exams, but many practicing actuaries come from other academic backgrounds.
Accounting is one of the most common alternatives to an actuarial science degree. Accounting degrees open doors to many career paths in the financial services industry. Actuarial science programs offer targeted education that builds core proficiencies with greater precision. However, they also feature more limited professional applications than accounting degrees.
The following table highlights the main differences between actuarial science and accounting bachelor's programs:
|Bachelor's in Actuarial Science||Bachelor's in Accounting|
|Academic Prerequisites||Advanced high school- or junior college-level mathematics, including algebra, calculus, probability, and statistics||Advanced high school- or junior college-level mathematics, including precalculus and calculus; courses in business, economics, and finance|
|Core Subjects||Financial mathematics, probability, statistics, risk modeling, risk analysis, and data analysis||Accounting methods, financial reporting methods, auditing, tax policy, and taxation|
|Career Paths||Actuary, risk analyst, insurance claims adjuster, insurance underwriter||Accountant (general or specialized), tax examiner, auditor, actuary|
Explore Bachelor's in Accounting Programs
Popular Actuarial Science Courses
Actuarial science requirements and electives vary by program. All accredited actuarial science programs include a comparable set of courses that develop the professional proficiencies actuaries use in their careers.
Examples of common core and elective courses in actuarial science programs include:
Actuarial science degree-seekers usually take this required course in the second or third semester. The course examines probability modeling and distributions, random variables, multivariate distributions, and other probability-related concepts with direct applications in risk analysis and financial mathematics.
Also a required course that falls early in a bachelor's program, mathematical statistics covers analytical methods for organizing and drawing insights from numerical data. Specific concepts include distribution of functions, random variables, hypothesis testing, point estimators, linear modeling, the central limit theorem, and sampling distributions.
Regression and Time Series Analysis
Regression analysis systematizes the relationships between covariate and predictor variables and outcome variables, functioning as a critical aspect of enterprise risk modeling. Time series analysis and forecasting helps predict future outcomes by analyzing past data, thus also guiding risk modeling objectives.
Life Contingency Modeling
An upper-years elective, this course introduces emerging actuaries to life contingency modeling applications, including life tables and survival distributions. Degree-seekers learn how to apply these concepts in configuring insurance and benefit payouts such as pensions and annuities.
Topics in Actuarial Mathematics
Another upper-years elective, this course allows students to pursue their interests in one or more specific branches of financial and actuarial mathematics. Course content changes from one semester to the next. Some programs allow learners to enroll more than once to maximize their exposure to covered topics.
Many programs require a capstone or thesis as the culminating experience. These courses usually carry double-credit weighting and fall during the final year, requiring students to synthesize their learning.
How Much Will a Bachelor's in Actuarial Science Cost?
According to NCES data from 2018, the average cost of one year of undergraduate education at a four-year institution was $27,357. In-state learners at public colleges paid an average of $20,050 per year, while their counterparts at private and for-profit institutions paid $43,139.
Most schools apply standard tuition rates to their actuarial science programs. However, some colleges apply variable rates to programs in various disciplines, meaning that actual costs could be higher or lower than school-wide averages.
Online learning offers significant cost advantages, as does attending a public institution as an in-state resident. In addition to using cost-cutting student financial tools and strategies, learners can pursue scholarships, grants, and fellowships. Degree-seekers can apply for federal or private loans to close any gaps.
Actuarial Science Degree Salary and Job Opportunities
Many actuarial science graduates work as licensed actuaries, but graduates can also work in risk analysis, probability, statistics, and financial mathematics. Employers in insurance, finance, and banking industries hire these professionals.
Learners can also consider other professions, including:
- Financial Analyst
Financial institutions, investment banks and brokerages, insurance companies, and other finance-oriented businesses employ these professionals. Financial analysts crunch numbers to identify strategic opportunities and provide advice on finance and investment decisions.
- Business Analyst
Actuarial science has strong applications in business analysis and management consulting, especially among employers whose enterprises deal in risk and uncertainty. This career path is an alternative option for experienced actuaries.
- Insurance Underwriter
Underwriters evaluate insurance applications and consider whether their company or partners should offer coverage to a particular applicant, and if so, under what terms and conditions. This profession is becoming more specialized as machine learning and artificial intelligence continue to reshape the underwriting process.
Choosing the Right Actuarial Science Program
Actuarial science rankings allow prospective students to review top programs, admission requirements, and curricula. Ranked lists draw on an impactful but general set of mostly quantitative criteria. Prospective enrollees may also want to consider:
- • Delivery formats (on campus, online, or hybrid/blended)
- • Admission competitiveness
- • School prestige and reputation
- • School size, typical class sizes, and the institution's student-to-teacher ratio
- • Post-graduation placement rates and average earnings of actuarial science graduates
Learners should always ensure that their chosen school holds regional or national accreditation. Actuarial science programs may also hold optional programmatic accreditation from agencies like the Accreditation Council for Business Schools and Programs or the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business.
Should You Get Your Degree in Actuarial Science Online?
Actuarial science programs primarily cover mathematics and methodological concepts. Since course content does not require interactive exchanges, the topic translates well to the virtual classroom.
Enrolling in an online program brings many benefits. For example, online students do not incur relocation or commuting costs. They can also save money by attending an institution that offers tuition discounts to virtual learners. Most online actuarial science programs run asynchronously, enabling enrollees to complete their degree around work and personal commitments.
Online learners need strong time management and organizational skills to succeed. They also need high levels of self-discipline and independence. Before committing to a delivery format, students should consider their learning style and personal strengths.
Frequently Asked Questions
- Is a degree in actuarial science worth it?
- A degree in actuarial science provides a targeted, discipline-specific preparation for aspiring actuaries. Actuarial science schools generally do the best job of preparing students for the profession's required licensure exams.
- What can I do with a degree in actuarial science?
- Most actuarial science graduates work as actuaries while some work as financial analysts or management analysts. Others pursue analytical or executive roles with insurance companies.
- What is the best degree to become an actuary?
- A BS or BA in actuarial science, accounting, or mathematics offers the most direct educational preparation. However, candidates can take licensing examinations with a bachelor's degree in any field.
- How long do you have to go to school to become an actuary?
- To qualify for licensing examinations, students need at least a bachelor's degree, which typically takes four years of full-time enrollment.
- How much do actuaries make?
- Actuaries earned a median annual salary of $108,350 in 2019, according to the BLS. According to PayScale salary data from April 2021, actuaries earned an average annual salary of $96,515.