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Actuarial science ranked as most valuable college major (bloomberg.com)
231 points by petethomas 6 months ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 187 comments

As an actuary, I can not recommend it to anyone with a technical background.

I have degrees in mathematics and actuarial science, and I consider my actuarial science degree completely worthless. A mathematics and/or computer science degree will teach you more in terms of how to think than anyone with an actuarial science degree. If you’d like to take a major where your professors literally teach to the exam/test, then you’re in luck, because that’s what your degree will get.

Having been in the workforce a handful of years now, there are a lot of intelligent actuaries and also a lot of arrogance about the work they have done.

I personally am frustrated with the career, but the salary in a low cost of living area makes it difficult to transition into something else.

Given all of this, the valuation of how majors are ranked is silly to me. The criteria almost automatically weight actuarial science as the favorite.

As the brother of an actuary, one of my favourite jokes is "Actuaries are people who tried accountancy but found it too exciting." :)

I started my programming career at an actuarial consultancy. My favourite was "There was once an actuary who was so boring, all the other actuaries noticed".

Actually I found the partners to be great people. I think some went out of their way to be unlike the image. I also think their particular skills can be applied more widely than the profession normally encompasses. A lot of the actuaries I met backed horses and I'm sure they had an unfair advantage!

AIUI, in the UK at least, it, along with veterinaries, require the longest period of training before chartered qualification.

my dad always phrased it as "Actuaries are people who wanted to be CPAs but failed the personality test"

I'm also an actuary, and I agree with all of this. I personally had a better experience with my undergraduate coursework thanks to a flexible program - I took no exam prep courses and close to 30 credits' worth of CS courses - but it's definitely the norm for an actuarial science major to essentially be an exam prep major.

There are lots of data science roles at insurance companies, many of which seek out current and former actuaries, so that's probably the easiest foot-in-the-door role to transition out of the field if that's more in line with what you're looking for. However, I'm sure those roles are pretty boring as data science goes.

I started an actuarial science degree too and this is exactly my experience. But I then ditched it and took a different path. It was quite a risk at the time (not an actuary joke, oh my god just no).

I was 18 and dumb and knew I was good at mathematics and that it was a good career. But it was actually quite dull and, like you say, very robotic. So I was able to switch degrees to pure math and then computer science and then crypto. I’m glad I did. It’s more interesting, challenging, and despite it never being my goal, more well-paid anyways.

Basically it just strikes me as a very safe, stable, dull job. Also what kind of 18 year old was I to want this?!

I also did the same as an 18 year old. It wasn't the math that got me at the time, it was the hardcore statistics. This isn't the mid-tier stuff the data science people get paid for, these are the ridiculous sort of probability problems that just bend your mind trying to wrap your head around it.

I think it's a very powerful job background to have if you ever want to get into investing hardcore. The financial background it gives you is incredibly helpful for making investment comparisons. I still use the stuff that I learned when studying for the FM test for personal finance decisions like paying off mortgage vs student loans vs various basic investments.

what do you do in crypto? As a programmer I find bitcoin really fascinanting and was thinking about learning the codebase and trying to contribute something to community but I find it really hard to do so...

A couple years ago, "crypto" would have been short for cryptography. These days, it can be that or the cryptocurrency madness.

In this case, I thought Moodles meant cryptography. Also, I'm not sure whether you're joking by choosing to understand it as cryptocurrency. Or perhaps you're both talking about cryptocurrencies and I'm the only confused one here...

I mean cryptography.

I am guessing it's easy to transition to machine learning / data analysis and make 20-40% over what senior devs make. At least that's what I see in my area.

I would be really impressed if someone with an actuarial science degree has any experience with machine learning. That is not a skill that is taught outside of self learning or an absolute need. It may be more applicable in a property casualty company where there are things like telematics.

The society of actuaries is now testing basic analytics and R programming as part of the exam system. The Introduction to statistical learning book is on the exam syllabus.

You are correct, and I view it as an attempt to remain relevant in an area they feel threatened by. We will see what the exam ends up being like, but I have little faith in the SOA being able successful test someone’s experience in “predictive analytics” with a five hour proctored exam.

Yeah. Definitely seems like their “predictive analytics” push is reaction to the rise in popularity of “data science”.

It also doesn't factor in the completion % as risk. The harder the degree, the more chance you have of being saddled with debt and no prospects. ( I may have gone the actuarial science route, meanwhile tinkering with websites as a hobby, without considering websites as a career, circa 2004, then failing out of actuarial science, later getting serious about the web stuff ).

I also tried actuarial science out, just barely failing the first test twice (you need 6 out of 10 to pass, I got 5 both times). I say this as a software engineer: actuarial science is hard. There is a ton of material and the tests are easily the most insidious you will ever take.

To give an example of the insidiousness, imagine a calculus problem that has about 6 or 7 steps required to solve this - calculate the derivative, then reduce it, and maybe a sum after that. Actuarial science problems are like that as well. The tests (at least the first two) are mutiple choice, 5 answers. Each “choice” has one of two situations for wrong answers.

- The answer is the correct number but it’s the number you arrive at stage 5 of solving the problem (instead of the final stage), so you are tricked into thinking you are done when you actually have more steps to go

- the number is what you arrive at when you make a common mistake

- some combination of the above

I will say I was told (at least) that passing one or two of the tests is enough to land you a full time entry level job (and entry level for an actuarial scientist is still really good)

If you think that's fun, the FSA exams are a whole new level of crazy. The math mostly goes away outside of financial statement type stuff, and in comes thousands of note cards on bland regulations (stuff like FAS106).

But, people have to be weeded out in some way, amirite?

Former actuary here. Let me try to explain some of the frustrations that occur in the profession:

Technical ownership is distributed from the top down and can not be overridden from bottom-up process improvements. Even if it made sense to integrate two departments that regularly pass each other data, that will be fought because that interferes with someone's corporate fiefdom.

There is no clear high-level diagram of how the whole company functions. So unlike a web-app with a client-frontend-routing-backend-database pipeline that a smart 15 year old could learn to conceptualize, instead you're expected to learn the inter-process requirements in a piecemeal fashion, one detail at a time as it arises in a weekly task. In the best case, this big picture starts to emerge ~5 years into a full time job. In the more likely case, your tasks never expose you to some part of the company's operations and they remain a blackbox and you'll be unable to reason about.

While inter-process communication remains opaque, complexity within each process proliferates. If you do life insurance, you need to support every product you sell for fifty years, so you deal with often poorly documented product rules and hard core legacy systems. Note - you can't deprecate anything because must honor those complicated agreements made decades ago.

Basically the frustrations boil down to doing interesting systems/data work but with being forced to do it in a worst-practices fashion.

"Completely worthless" is not what comes to mind, when it provides your living.

If it doesn't fulfil you, and you have a math degree, why not change careers?

Completely worthless is in the context of my degree in actuarial science. As someone else said, it’s an exam prep major. I learned more problem solving and critical thinking skills in mathematics, and I’ve found that much more helpful in my career.

I went into actuarial work very long ago, and I cannot say anything about how it goes now, as I have long been away from it. When I started, an actuarial degree was a rarity for an actuary. I was glad to study something more challenging and engaging in school before entering into a profession that so rarely requires any knowledge of anything more than the conventions of an arcane art. How is it different now? What do life insurance actuaries do now that there are so few life companies? Same question for casualty insurance companies? What do pension actuaries do now that there are so few defined benefit plans? What percentage of practitioners now have actuarial degrees? How do you stay awake at the professional meetings?

I have worked as a health actuary for the past 6 six years with degrees in both math and computer science. I am happy with my career choice. Prior to this I did work several years as a programmer and decided while I enjoy programming it is not something I want to do all day every day.

My current position allows me to make use of some of those skills along with learning a wide variety of other skills. Although from the sounds of other people's posts I might be lucky in my current position, where I do have variety and challenges and more than only routine work.

But from an education stand point I am glad that I went the route that I did given the additional skills rather than an actuarial science degree. The one downside is that it has made the exam process a little longer.

How was transitioning from programming to an actuary?

What if you don’t want to “learn to think,” whatever that means, but instead want to learn how to do a well in a low cost of living area?

By all means, if you can get through the exams, you will be left with a low stress, well paying job at an insurance company, and you’ll likely have great job security. There is absolutely nothing wrong with that. But as Christensen talks about in one of his books, those are hygiene factors. You can find fulfilling, motivating work as an actuary, but salary should not be the main reason for choosing a career.

> salary should not be the main reason for choosing a career.


Because of the law of diminishing marginal utility as applied to income [1]? Once you hit a certain level of income, other factors can start to outweigh the marginal utility of a higher salary.

For example, I could maybe make more money working in high frequency trading, but I don't want to. It wouldn't be a life-changing amount of money, and I value the ability to work on interesting problems in the open, with less concern for ethical issues†, over the potential additional income.

[1]: https://qz.com/1211957/how-much-money-do-people-need-to-be-h...

†I don't want to start an argument about whether HFT is unethical; in fact, I don't think it is necessarily unethical. I'm just saying it would always be at the back of my mind.

Professor Christensen says it better than I ever could: “Motivation factors include challenging work, recognition, responsibility, and personal growth. Feelings that you are making a meaningful contribution to work arise from intrinsic conditions of the work itself. Motivation is much less about external prodding or stimulation, and much more about what’s inside of you, and inside of your work.“

Having done my BS in Match and CS at a school with a parallel Actuarial program, I got a good look at what being an actuary is about. If you're good at math, and really good at standardized math exams you can advance through the various levels and work your way up the pay-scale ladder. I think this really appeals to people who are good at math, but maybe don't want to go into academia.

That said of all the actuaries I went to school with, none liked their jobs and all eventually moved on to do something else.

> If you're good at math, and really good at standardized math exams you can advance through the various levels and work your way up the pay-scale ladder

I was able to more than double my starting salary (ending at around 135k with bonus) 3 years out of school.

I worked in consulting and thought the work was incredibly boring. The main issue is that a lot of people in the field, even those good at passing exams, aren't particularly good at advanced modeling or programming. This means no one can or is interested in peer-reviewing complex models and as a result you end up spending most of your time shoveling numbers around in Excel. It was also very stressful. Leaving the profession, despite the time I sunk in it, was the best decision I ever made.

>> If you're good at math, and really good at standardized math exams you can advance through the various levels and work your way up the pay-scale ladder

> I was able to more than double my starting salary (ending at around 135k with bonus) 3 years out of school.

Have you considered software engineering because current pay starts at around 150k in big tech and I'm now making 215k 2.5 years out of college? I say this because I work with a bunch of math and physics major people so it is definitely possible to switch careers (a lot of the advanced software we use utilizes complex concepts in physics and math so they are highly valued, though, you will definitely need to know basic algorithms and data structures but that isn't too hard to learn especially compared to advanced math and physics in my opinion).

> Have you considered software engineering because current pay starts at around 150k in big tech and I'm now making 215k

This is highly area dependent though, surely?

In the UK, outside of London, those figures would likely be $50k and $60k

Yeah, I work in Gherkin area of London, many insurance companies there. The actuarial types I overhear at the coffee-shops are earning around 3x my software dev salary.

/waves from just behind St Kats Docks by Tower Bridge

As a contractor, I'm making about 3x what I was for my last perm salary. But only if I work in London. I'm lucky to get two thirds of this near where I live, and AFAICT the perm staff in most places I've contracted nearer to home get paid really terribly.

Ah, nice, I used to work there, in the royal mint. /wave Enjoyed watching yachts prepare for races; now I watch insurance people.

Or inside

What kind of systems are you working on that require math and physics? Aviation? Rockets?

I actually made the switch to software almost 5 years ago!

> I was able to more than double my starting salary (ending at around 135k with bonus) 3 years out of school.

Care to disclose locality?

Mostly the midwest and not in any major cities like Chicago. The key is finding a good company with a strong student program.

What did you leave the field for? What do you do now and are you happier since leaving?

I left for software development and am now working on a PhD in CS. It was the best choice I ever made. Being an actuary was a valuable experience though, mainly because I learned money really does not make you happy (as long as you have enough to live comfortably) and I won't be happy in a job where I do not feel challenged mentally. I also got really good at self-study, which has turned out to be an incredibly valuable skill.

"money really doesn't make you happy"

I've come to this conclusion as well after losing a loved one, helping others makes me truly happy. Good luck in your future endeavors.

Anecdotally, I just came back from New Zealand and was staying at a farm house rented out on Airbnb. The owner was previously an actuary in Sydney, and hated his job so switched mid career to farmer. Pretty large change.

But was he an actual farmer, or just semi-retired to a farm house and got to play farmer? Quite a difference.

It's not all that surprising when you think about this, the whole actuary field is basically taking people who love doing something, and trimming it down to a factory job for money making companies. As far as I've heard, there is no joy, no creativity and no sense of accomplishment; yet for people who rank salary and perceived status derived from a job title higher than those things, it's the perfect place to be.

(ironically, the people with the capabilities and the people that actually enjoy the lifestyle inside an insurer, bank, or other hypercommercial/hypercapitalistic instance don't overlap that much)

That's pretty cool! Manual labor, personally, is appealing after a week of desk work in front of a computer - the sun, the frequent breeze, sweating, etc. It's one of the reasons I added philosophy as another major I'm pursing along with computer science - makes think about something other than computers and it gets me off the computer, even if it's for a tad bit.

"Manual labor, personally, is appealing after a week of desk work in front of a computer"

"It's one of the reasons I added philosophy as another major"

Couldn't help but LOL at that juxtaposition, sorry :)

No worries! It's a foolish mistake. I often don't know what I'm saying.

I suppose what I was trying to say is that by manual labor, I like being outside, and by adding a philosophy major, I get to do work that doesn't always require using the computer so I can do work under a tree and I get to think about something else. If I didn't add a philosophy major, I would just be inside and engulfed in front of the computer, thinking about computers. If any of that makes any sense and has any correlation to each other whatsoever.

Yes, I even understood the feeling you were conveying the first time around, because I think every last one of us reading this has it - but it also felt so familiar to read your 'solution' to the dilemma. 'Hmm I hate sitting down behind a computer all day, I'd love to do something physical, hey you know what - I'll just start doing that one thing besides programming that requires no physical effort at all!' (that's what it reads like, I know it's not actually like that). Not mocking you, it's funny because it's so relatable :)

recently i lost my developer job and took a temp position in a warehouse after difficulty finding a new dev position. i think it is easy to romanticize manual labor when you're sitting at a desk. when you actually have to do it to survive, there really is nothing romantic about it. not fun!

Isn't it sort of a truism that high-paying jobs are not fun?

Know who gets paid a lot (relative to education)? Sanitation workers.

You know who doesn't? Pilots

Data science is pretty fun and quite well paid. I enjoy my work a lot and manage a good work life balance.

There are certainly outliers (I'd argue that programming in general qualifies) but they also tend to be in things that - while I won't say you can't learn them - are things that a certain subset of people are just sort of naturally wired for.

I'd say programming is an acquired taste.

I loved programming naturally when I got an old pocket computer with built-in BASIC (Sharp-PC series) and some books for it from my father who did not need it anymore.

I would add a third dimension to that chart: probability of success. I'm sure being a Hollywood actor or a rockstar are both fun and well-paying, but the chance of success is tiny

It depends on your definition of fun; some people enjoy office work, others don't. Some people derive joy from the status they assume from their job, others don't.

Most 'workable' jobs have one thing in common: you get something out of it. If you are lucky, you get both material and immaterial, but often, people chose to deny themselves one for the other, instead of balancing it (and in turn often don't find themselves in a good work/life balance either).

What do actuaries do from day to day? Are they old-school original data scientists, or something else?

The day-to-day is basically a combination of:

* Moving data around - mostly using Excel + SQL, though R is growing in popularity

* Using that data to calculate figures that are significant to the business - including premiums, IRRs, profit margins, and the value of future claims

* Presenting the results of those calculations to management and recommending a course of action

I'm not sure what "old-school original data scientists" do/did or how similar this is.

How is this not automated by some type of QuickBooks/Intuit type bookkeeping plug and chug numbers software? Startup opportunity?

At least at my company, the vast majority of bullets 1 and 2 is automated already. Financial information is calculated and fed to the financial statements automatically every reporting period, all of the recurring analysis supporting those results is generated with one button click, etc. The manual parts of 1 and 2 are centered around ad-hoc analysis when results aren't as expected, updating our automated systems when we add new products or product features, refining and adding granularity to those calculations as needed, etc.

But actuaries' main value-adds are (1) building and pricing new products and product features and (2) helping management understand the financial results and their business implications. If you're just re-pricing a commodity product like term life or home/auto insurance, a lot of the pricing can be (and is) automated. But that's where companies have started building out more complex ML-based pricing, and actuaries are heavily involved in building and steering that functionality and explaining the results.

If you can come up with a compelling way to automate a significant portion of that work while still providing results that insurers' CFOs and Chief Actuaries will sign off on, sign me up. But in general, if you're looking for automation opportunities in insurance, there's far more low-hanging fruit on the operations side than in actuarial. Same goes for finance and accounting, though to a lesser extent than operations.

Look at something like Tower Watson. I would say high barrier of entry.

Edit: this isn’t about the day-to-day, but it gives perspective from an actuary I know who has served other roles.

My mother is an actuary. She was a stay at home mom for 25 years but returned to the workforce about 5 years ago and recently became VP at a large insurance company.

She says she’s always enjoyed her work as an actuary, and she preferred it over college math instruction, which she could do because FSAs are considered PhD-level. (And did while her 6 children were home.)

Does Karen have 36 hour work days? It's either that, or she should prefix every thing she did with 'dabbled a bit in ...'.

I don't know any actuaries, but it always struck me as odd that the hardest working people in my last company were the actuaries.

I mean these guys were on presumably amazing salaries, were some of the smartest people, could work at any related insurance/finance/whatever company (of which there are a LOT hq'd in Sydney) and had worse hours than most other teams. I just don't understand it.

Is it implausible that they might be getting amazing salaries because they are the hardest-working? (Why?)

There's often an inverse correlation between hard work and salary. People who have to work extra jobs to make ends meet work harder than anyone else. If you have a salary that makes you comfortable, you're less likely to try and kill yourself for the marginal money.

Generally, rewards come from working smarter, not harder. Also, it's hard to make a lot of money purely on a wage. You usually need capital appreciation or other income streams for that.

Extra jobs kind of misses the point... we're talking about working harder on your job in a given company, not working harder as a person in general on whatever life throws at you.

To be honest I'm not even sure how you'd measure how hard someone is working when you're comparing across different jobs, but I would find it interesting if there was any kind of data on this. I'm not sure if I'd find it more surprising if the correlation was positive or negative, but what I do know is that in an ideal world the correlation would be positive...

The better paid your job, the more unique it is, almost by definition: limited supply means the price of labour is higher. Well paid jobs aren't very fungible.

Even within a single company, people with the same title don't do the same work. And working smarter - aligned with the company goals - still pays much more than longer hours.

While it's a stereotype, there's a bit of truth to the idea that actuarial jobs appeal to people who want a steady, non-adventurous 9-5. At most places, innovation is not prized in an actuarial position. A certain conservativism is demanded (I'm not talking politics here; I'm talking a cautious nature).

That's one reason it's rare to see someone switch from actuarial science to machine learning, for instance. A lot of actuarial students just want to check some boxes and have a job that pays well without requiring a lot of attention. This is not true across the board, but it is a certain subset. Most people reading Hacker News don't have this mindset -- why bother reading things here if you do?

seems like a nice way to make good money, while being able to pursue your hobbies after work.

My sibling is an actuary (5-6 years work experience) on a break to pursue passion projects. The only issue with that comment is you need to continually study/take actuarial exams on a frequent basis. Though others in this thread are probably far more knowledgeable then me on this.

So his 40 hour work week turned into +15/30 hours with studying/exams for a number of years - perhaps not always consistent, but frequent enough to cause a bit of burnout.

But is it? Being an actuary at a big 4 consultancy would expose you to the same stresses and resultant lifestyle than others at such a firm, I'd imagine (although I don't know anyone who is actually an actuary, just extrapolating from others who I'd thought could have a quiet life at bigco's yet are still sucked into typical bigco lifestyle (or 'lack of', rather)).

> That said of all the actuaries I went to school with, none liked their jobs and all eventually moved on to do something else.

Part of that, from my perspective, involves the slow pace imposed by overbroad regulations on the applications of actuarial science.

I personally think that a diverse market of specialized insurance products would be an immense moral good, but in the established jurisdictions where demand for such a thing is high, it is hard to gauge whether your novel insurance products are even legal to sell. My (admittedly anecdotal) impression is that this contributes a great deal to the drudgery and stagnancy of actuarial work.

Your comment points out something important. In finance, there are situations in which you can implement any investment strategy you can reasonably argue will make more money. Great returns are rewarded. Actuarial science has a much more defensive nature. There are many external regulations, but there are also many internal regulations, both on company levels and in the actuarial profession itself. It's still very much a guild and there is an actuarial code of conduct.

I've come to appreciate the value of this drudgery and stagnancy, even though it's not my cup of tea.

Yep, that’s what the product is. Reliable defensiveness. So making it more fun, doesn’t necessarily mean it’s what the customer is buying.

As an actuary I don’t think I would recommend it for most people. At the very least, keep your options open by getting a math or CS degree and passing a couple of exams on the side. I feel like this really glosses over the weight of the credentialling process. It also doesn’t appear to talk about the oversupply of entry level applicants.

Interesting. Do you have any articles about the oversupply of entry-level actuaries? Actuarial science was a career path I considered, but I ended up in systems/network/devops instead.

No, just a general sense. I think the career got publicized at a time when a lot of people were struggling to figure out what to do.

Annecdotal, but I've experience this personally. These rankings grossly neglect the availability of entry level jobs. And you end up studying a bunch of stuff that is borderline useless for any other career path on a practical level.

I consider trying to become an actuary one of the greatest mistakes and waste of time in my life.

When I switched to programming, it was like some kind of magical door opened and all of a sudden and the process of finding an entry level job was no longer the equivalent of banging my head against the wall, repeatedly.

Putting it in another perspective, perhaps that experience made you appreciate programming and software industry more. It might be a high price you paid (the years of pseudo useless studies), but you'll think twice when considering to change industries.

I worked in sales for a few years and even became a regional sales manager before switching to programming 12 years ago. Now, whenever I see the IT related problems (like bad programming parctices, lousy code, bad architectures and so on), I remember how bad and really unfixable things can be (for me as an employee) in the rest of the industries and love programming even more.

How long did it take you to complete the exams? I think I read a lot of actuaries actually finish them while on the job

Think it's possible to self study the exams? Not a likely path for me, but interested in seeing if anyone has done that

Most people get started before their first actuarial job, get a “student” position two to four exams in, and then finish up on the job. I had a math degree and three exams coming out of college and it took me about five years to finish the whole exam sequence. Self study is a viable option, but it helps to have the math and business background.

how much does it pay, as an FSA? I'm considering it as a backup to my dev career.

Self-study is entirely possible. I worked through about half of the P1 material as a way to strengthen my probability/stats background. It's a lot of hours of work to be able to pass it if you don't have good knowledge of it already though.

Full dataset is here: https://www.scribd.com/document/388081338/BANKRATE-Most-Valu...

For those of you who are wondering, Computer Engineering is 14th, "Mathematics and Computer Science" is 23rd and Computer Science is 30th. If I had to guess, CS has a wider income distribution than many of the higher ranking degrees, which are dominated by engineering degrees (many of which have lower unemployment rates too). The non-STEM degrees that beat out CS (assuming we don't count social sciences) are Finance, Public Policy, Economics, and Agricultural Economics. Cool dataset!

I can't imagine finding a decent job in Finance without connections, I say this as a CFA.

People overestimate how useful the degree is in general. Like, a lot of it is likely folks with connections choosing to get a Finance degree to leverage them. Or for the CS degree, some of the increased income is explained by average IQ (rather than the choice to get into computer programming vs other activities)

I'm very surprised that economics and finance are higher than computer science. I would have expected that corporate finance jobs would have brought the average below that of CS.

It's possible that the ability to get a programming job without a CS degree depresses the earning power of that degree simply by increasing the size of the applicant pool. Also, someone who can short circuit the higher education route by getting a job without a degree might be willing to work for a lower starting salary, and still come out ahead.

The value of any degree is always going to be measured against supply and demand. There has been a huge push to get more people into computer science, thus increasing the supply beyond the rate of demand. Declining wages would be the logical conclusion (and motivation) for this.

Do you have a source saying that they're declining?

My comment was referencing the fact that computer science is ranked 30th by their metric of 'value', which does indeed seem to be much lower than one would have expected not that long ago. In terms of specific numbers, I'm also very curious but it's surprisingly difficult to find precise numbers. So what I did was grabbed an archive of the Burea of Labor services page on software developers. Here it is:


Unfortunately that only provides 3 data points. The first number is the nominal value, the second is the inflation adjusted to 2016.

2010 = $90,530 = $99,643

2012 = $93,350 = $97,584

2016 = $102,280 = $102,280

Not sure what can be taken away from the numbers as there's only 3 points and with mixed directionality. But probably better than nothing. Do let me know if you find more indicative figures.

They are using "weighted" salary data without specifying how the data is weighted. I suspect this is what is skewing the data.

Like, do most zoologists really make >$110k/yr?

I'm guessing Bankrate is taking people graduate degrees and applying salary information to bachelors degrees. The zoologist with high salaries probably have Ph.Ds in veterinary sciences. Same with Health&Medical Prep; the high salary is likely the result of most people pursuing an MD.

Finance people in IB/PE would be pulling it up. It’s impressive that programming is that high.

Having worked in trading (not IB, but the recruiting process is similar) - it's useful to know that relatively few people get into IB and fewer stay in IB or go on to MF PE.

Corporate jobs pay significantly less and make up a much greater portion of the jobs. IB is a low headcount industry.

Having seen that industry as well, the numbers there are very high, and can skew true ever loving crap out of any average.

Most of them seem to make sense, but why is Zoology #2?

I had a friend from college who became an actuary (he was a business major in college). It sounds like, once you finish the first several actuarial exams, you are pretty much set. You don't even need a degree in actuarial science, but it probably makes the exams easier.

His job was pretty easy, and since he knew some basic programming, was able to build some Excel macros and wow the people he worked with. The work sounded less exciting than being a programmer working at a startup, but pays well and he has lived in Bermuda and London.

>It sounds like, once you finish the first several actuarial exams, you are pretty much set.

Typically you need ~3 exams to get a job in the field. Then it's a total of 7 exams for associateship and 10 for fellowship (for candidates starting today - it used to be fewer), plus various online courses throughout the process. You can stop at the associate level, but it limits your advancement opportunities at most companies.

If you're reasonably good at both math and memorization, the exams range from ~50-100 hours of studying each for the first few to ~300-400 each for the later ones. Usually about half of those hours are on company time once you're working in the field, though exam season is still pretty miserable.

>His job was pretty easy, and since he knew some basic programming, was able to build some Excel macros and wow the people he worked with.

This is still common, but it's getting rarer every year. At a minimum, every entry-level candidate my company hires nowadays has taken a couple of intro programming courses (usually in Python or Java) and knows a bit of VBA, SQL, and/or R on top of that. The field has been attracting lots of young people who might have otherwise become programmers, myself included.

>The work sounded less exciting than being a programmer working at a startup

Probably true in general, but some actuarial roles are more exciting than others. I was bored to death in my first actuarial job (financial reporting) but transitioned pretty early to a much more interesting role. It helps that I'm doing some ML-heavy modeling, meaning that I get to learn new frameworks in addition to the standard Excel + RDBMS stuff. Working half the hours of a programmer at a startup for the same pay and better benefits is also a plus.

With all of that being said, I'm still semi-actively looking to leave the field. While I love what I'm working on right now, I'm concerned about getting pidgenholed into the field (and into insurance more generally) in the long term, especially since I'd likely end up in a much less interesting role at some point.

So, what's the "light at the end of the tunnel" here? What's the expected, realistic salary after all ten exams?

The lure of the CFA is that $250,000 is not unusual. Except most people finishing their CFA never get an analyst job, so it's kind of a moot point.

$120k-$150k is the norm for new fellows in my area. People typically reach that level around 5-7 years of experience nowadays. If you can't or don't want to manage people, your salary probably won't get much higher than that, but directors (managing teams of ~10-15 actuaries) make ~$250k-$300k at my company and VPs (managing ~2-4 directors) probably make ~$400k-$500k.

Also, keep in mind that the hours are much shorter than what CFAs would typically work - most actuaries outside of consulting rarely work over 45 hours a week.

The average income for biochemists and molecular biologists is >$100k? Is this heavily skewed by doctors who did biology as a pre-med degree?

This result tells you the whole study is garbage. Anyone who claims that the life sciences are the way to riches (outside of medicine) is off with the fairies.

Yes, this is extremely misleading. You can download the data set and do the analysis for yourself. I have--the average income for science majors (biology & chemistry) with BS only is more like $55k as I recall.

Yes they are rolling people with advanced degrees into their respective undergrad

long ago when I was considering majors (1991) molecular biologists made $70K. This makes sense to me- a scientist at a major pharma is going to make over $100K if they are an expert in their field and have 5-10 years experience ($100K in the bay area is a starting salary for many software engineers).

Mol Bio has several job outcomes- the worst is lab tech, which alone in the bay area can be $60K, the best is CEO/Founder ($1+M/year), with professor ($150K) in the middle.

Most numbers I've seen put the average salary for a biology professor around $95k, $150 would be on the higher end.

Could it be a question of 9 month salary? If you have a couple of grants, you can pay yourself a summer salary. It's a strange system

Most likely. I'd say half or more of the biochem and neuroscience students at my school were pre-med, and the rest planned to start a PhD. There's also good (and potentially lucrative) jobs in sales for someone with that background.

Students of financial decision-making come out top of financial decision-making tree.

Surely it would be embarrassing if they didn't.

One thing missing from this discussion is the effect of the well-established exam-based credentialing system on the profession as a barrier to entry.

Does it counterbalance at all the kind of ageism that folks working as 45+ software engineers sometimes encounter?

This is a sincere question, as I can also would not be surprised if insurance companies' CFOs would be the _first_ people to recognize the additional costs associated with insuring older workers with families, especially in the post-demutualization era.

In my experience (as an actuary) dealing with CFOs - this thought never crosses their mind. Even the most incompetent C-suite execs I have dealt with understand the value of hiring the best people they can find.

In general, companies don't deal with rising healthcare costs by hiring younger, less experienced workers. Instead, they restructure their insurance plans to alleviate the increase in insurance premiums. This part of what health actuaries (at least on the consulting side of things) do on a daily basis.

these metrics are always pure garbage. Someone comes up with an equation like:

(start salary) + (median salary) + .5 * (job availablilty) + .75 * (growth) ... etc

then they rank everything, tweek it, make an article.

The scary part is people will read this and parrot this information for potentially years, "did you know actuary is the best job???"

This is actually how misinformation spreads.

Bingo. They've been saying this about actuarial science for a very long time. But they fail to mention that (1) there aren't that many positions available, (2) for students smart enough to qualify for the positions (passing the CAS etc) you are far better off going into finance or economics as an undergraduate, and (3) most importantly, actuarial science sets you up for a very specialized and narrow career path.

FWIW, I think there is a risk-reward trade off involved for many of us that end up going the actuarial route. I was broke coming out of college, without much of a network or pedigree to fall back on and the prospect of a solidly middle-to-upper class income drew me in. No regrets (other than no multimillion dollar startup exit), but I wouldn’t recommend it for most people.

I'm fine with metrics, as long as when people say "best", they'll quote an interpretable formula -- you have to start somewhere. The issue with this metric, however, is that there seems to be no given weight towards the population size. What is the point of a metric if it isn't generalizable?

I have the same grip with college rankings. When you look at the top 20, and then at the total student population, you'd realize these rankings are useless for the majority of Americans since only a small fraction will attend these schools.

Don't forget their inevitable spreadsheet errors.

I’m an actuary (not of the qualified variety) and don’t share the observations made in most of the comments here:

- I get to spend most of the time in R working on cash flow modeling;

- We get to use a lot of data which makes for interesting challenges;

- I get a say in how we solve problems IT wise;

- We need to understand the business to do our own modeling correctly;

- Pay isn’t that great.


P.S. I’m in Europe

I suspect this is very much dependent on the country.

My bachelor was in stats & actuarial sciences (though I never worked in the field), and in my country there's a big shortage of qualified actuaries. So the average salaries are pretty high and it's a safe and stable work (albeit dreadfully boring, which is why I never went into the field)

I think I'm most surprised that zoology is ranked second. Wondering how common an occupation that could possibly be?

It's the number one undergrad degree for veterinarians. Private vet practices in upscale areas are insanely profitable.

And for some it is a very stressful job. They have a very high suicide rate:


"The rate of suicide in the veterinary profession has been pegged as close to twice that of the dental profession, more than twice that of the medical profession (2), and 4 times the rate in the general population (3)."

Unlike doctors, vets euthanize animals every day. They're comfortable with the idea of a medically induced death. Ask any vet if euthanizing animals makes them uncomfortable and they'll tell you it doesn't bother them at all because they know they are ending the animal's suffering humanely.

On top of that, they have access to lethal drugs and know precisely how to use them, how to end their life quickly and painlessly.

Those two together make it very easy for me to see how a vet would rationalize suicide.

Or maybe if you become a vet it’s because you love animals, and killing them day in, day out takes a massive toll.

And I bet you rarely encounter awesome, happy pets. You might get the occasional cute puppy/kitty in for theirs shots (which the vet techs probably do), but I bet most of the pets you deal with are sick and/or dying.

Even if you grow callous to the death of animals, encountering the related human suffering must be miserable. I imagine the people most likely to take their pet to a vet are the ones most attached to them, therefore the most affected by their suffering and death.

correlation or causation?

I could easily imagine that more depressed people pursue veterinary jobs because being around animals makes them less depressed.

The debt load of veterinarians is pretty staggering. Going to vet school is as expensive as going to medical school, but the pay is considerably less than an MD makes. It is not at all unusual for a vet to graduate with $300k+ in student debt, and to still be paying that debt down well into their fifties or even sixties.

You also have to deal with pet owners who are... let's say irrational. People seem to be even more willing to believe in homeopathy or nutritional fads or essential oils when dealing with their pet's health than with their own. The bills for veterinary care are not as high as for human medicine, except that most people don't have pet insurance and so pay much higher out of pocket bills than for their own health care, which makes the emotional stakes even higher. And owners will not hesitate to trash you on social media. The issue here is that to a much greater extent than doctors, veterinarians gain new patients by word of mouth and recommendations. So reputation is even more important than it is to doctors. A few ugly, well-placed reviews in Yelp or Facebook can do considerable harm.

All of this leads to an extremely stressful job, especially for younger vets or vets with young children.

I imagine vets have to frequently put animals down and have those talks with the owners, I could see that being a huge buzzkill

Especially if they owners simply can't afford to pay to keep the animal alive.

Imagine being a surgeon and telling someone that their child needs their appendix removed, and the parent sees the cost and says "eh, let's just put them down".

Vets have to deal with that all the time.

The linked article goes through a list of qualitative factors which could be linked (though it does not seem to attempt to quantify their correlation).

I can see how being a vet could be a sad job, but my real question is why dentists are more suicidal than doctors. I would imagine the latter to be exposed to a lot more stressful/tragic situations.

Some of the agricultural vets have a stressful gig.

I also heard vet school is pretty expensive.

Causality can't run from vet school being expensive to veterinary practices being profitable. It can only go the other way - profitable practices lead to school being expensive.

> Causality can't run from vet school being expensive to veterinary practices being profitable.

Yes, it can: expense of getting into the field limits competition.

Now, long-term steady-state eventually the market should adjust so that the people are willing to pay the up front cost because of the actual rewards, but real meaningful effects are often not long-run steady-state effects.

I've also heard that it's even more competitive than human medical schools.

I hear a lot of failed vets become doctors.

Veterinary school is harder to get into and their is a lot of overlap in background materials. Med school has a lot of overlap so if somone desideds to swap carriers it’s an easy transition into a high paying job.

This may well be true. While there are hundreds of medical schools in the United States, there is only one vet school per state. And some, like Virginia and Maryland, combine - so there are in fact only about 30.

Beware, actuarial science will be replaced by AI and the incentives of insurance is high to replace this workforce with AI. Believe me, I have been doing an AI startup in exactly this space

I wouldn't be too confident in that. Actuaries are not able to implement the models they'd like to. Regulators don't like complex models and they don't like models with disparate impact. Or models that make some risks (accurately) expensive.

I'm a developer now but by last few years in actuary work were mostly spent helping insurance companies deal with regulation. We did some modeling with with machine learning but ultimately the models that got approved had to be simple (compared to machine learning). My job before that was a lot about internal negotiations with other departments.

Better models were not the main bottleneck.

Absolutely, great points.

I think there could be scope to use ML on the pricing side however, while leaving the reserving models explainable to regulators.

You'll be hard-pressed to get business people to use AI for actuarial work.

If the intent is to codify rules in an AI that performs actuarial work, then it is far less error-prone to simply write a program that uses the rules directly. AI is not the proper solution, if I understand from your post what you are trying to solve.

May I ask who will lose his professional credentials, when your AI does not follow established practises and insurance coverage goes belly-up?

I am reminded of https://xkcd.com/1831/

The remember this tidbit from college, where actuarial studies was ranked as the highest earning qualifications.

I think this comes down to a combination of (1) being relatively difficult and/or esoteric, so the pool of people is small and (2) having a strong guild structure which ensures a "market" structure that favours qualified) chartered individuals. Apart from being operationally important, actuaries are part of insurance companies CYA.

Ultimately, even today, when a profession can impose structure on itself (eg lawyers, doctors, accountants, etc.) that both admits/certifies a limited number of professionals and requires certified professionals for certain tasks... It still tends to work out well for members.

For the most part this is legacy, and is found in older professions.

If insurance was invented today, actuaries would probably be data scientists.

Interesting to see, how the usually data driven crowd on this site largely dismisses a data point and the usual talking points are reversed:

40h work-weeks that pay great -> Must be boring.

Economics study is done by economists -> Probably skewed.

How dare these people * equating carreer value with expected profits * using a weighted average to come up with a number * expect candidates to pass hard stats tests before constructing insurance products

Programming in JS web frameworks is clearly superior to any work done using Excel and be it supplying the nation with health coverage. /s

This is partially a reporting bias issue, because these are average values across all colleges. The actuarial exams set the bar high for everyone regardless of college. Looking at degrees only across top colleges would paint a different picture, probably with law and business jumping significantly. Ivy Leagues don't offer act sci majors, students just take economics instead.

I did a stats undergrad at one of the few schools to offer that kind of program. Many of my peers went on to be actuaries.

I'd actually recommend any undergrad program that has a strong underpinning in statistical thinking. It's very difficult to learn without formal education and is oh so very useful in so many fields right now.

I was gobsmacked by the ranking for zoologists. What sorts of jobs do they have to put them at #2?

Veterinarian. Though you need advanced degrees for that and it also helps to be entrepreneurial, as you make more starting your own practice than joining someone else's.

Pre-med should be up there too for the same reason, though there's more diversity in degrees for people who go on to become doctors.

Thanks. Didn't think of that. But right, a zoology BS is the obvious prerequisite for vet school.

But the data would be a lot more useful if aggregated by terminal degree. I tried to look at the data,[0] but it won't display for me. Too much stuff blocked in my Firefox, I guess :(

0) https://www.scribd.com/document/388081338/BANKRATE-Most-Valu...

Yes, data by terminal degree would be a lot more useful. Zoology is basically useless at earning more money than a generic degree unless you go onto becoming a full-on vet, so it's not the zoology degree that's increasing income but the graduate degree. And that graduate degree is expensive. Contrast with CS, which didn't make this list, but which by itself does substantially increase income over the generic undergrad degree.

The problem with an Actuarial career is that there is no room to advance. When my father finished graduate school, he became an actuary. Fortunately, the insurance company went under, and he moved to finance only a few years later.

A good proportion (often all) of C-level insurance executives were actuaries that moved up the ranks. I would say it has quite good advancement opportunities.

I had a friend who wanted to be a radiologist because he uses some income calculators and decided that would be what would give him the biggest return on his investment. Guy had trouble passing Anatomy I; think he had to take it twice. From the way he talked, I don't think he realized it was a full MD position; residency and all. Guy was not suited to be a doctor.

It took him years, marriage to an abusive woman, the Air Force and a divorce to finally get out of the idea he would be a doctor. Recently he tried to hire me to write software for a "Crypto currency hedge fund."

TL;DR If you chase after money, you're going to miss out on life. The US market wants to turn University into a huge investment you need an ROI on to lock you into a career path you'll probably hate. It was not like that for me, and I only graduated 12 years ago. Small state schools were affordable.

I learned a lot in school, but today I can't even recommend it to people starting out, unless they can do it with little to no debt. I cannot recommend bootcamp or other for-profit schools.

I wish it was easier for people to find something they love doing and not have to worry about money.

Actual breakdown of all the majors they found


Amazingly enough, Bankrate.com uploaded it to... scribd.

Consulting actuary here. I majored in Econ, started taking exams after I graduated.

I don't really see the value in the actuarial degree, but I do see the value in taking the exams. Some people might be frustrated with their place in a given company, but overall it is a great career. One of the keys is to stay up on current tech and always be learning new things. It seems pretty easy to get stuck into a position where you are making baskets all day.

I started out wanting to be an actuary. Did all the preliminary tests I was able to do before associate level. Like many I bought into the 'actuary is a great, high-paying career' line that was touted during my university.

The job market in Canada is incredibly saturated though. Having all tests out of the way was not even enough to stand out it seems. And I ended up moving to Europe to work in data science.

To offer a dissenting opinion, I have found stimulating work in actuary - having worked in economic scenario generation and market risk modelling.

But I have also had actuarial work that was closer to accounting than I would have liked. Certainly you have to pick your roles carefully - which is perhaps only feasible in large markets.

I find it a bit sad that "valuable" is, without any comment, treated as synonymous with "profitable".

What interpretation of "valuable" do you propose instead? A discussion of remuneration was exactly what I expected when reading the headline.

First of all, there doesn't have to be a single definition. Here's some other factors that could be part of "value":

- degree of job satisfaction

- how much that sort of work benefits the world

It's very narrow to equate value only with money.

And because I know someone is going to misinterpret what I'm saying, I'm not saying there's anything wrong with equating value with money. It's just a bit sad when that's all value is equated with, and more so when it's just an unstated assumption like in the article.

You can compare all this with how college degrees used to be about more than just getting a job. The goal used to include making the person a well rounded person. These days it seems treated solely in financial terms.

I was thinking along these lines, too. But the problem with job satisfaction is: Do you rely on self-reported job satisfaction or objective quantitities like absenteeism or turnover?

Both are hard to make comparable between different fields: In some (think med, law etc) the cost of education will prohibit changing careers, regardless of if you make millions as patent lawyer or heart surgeon (assuming that the latter adds more "value to society"). So I think it is hard to come up with a consistent objective measure of satisfaction. On the other hand, if you poll people, you might find, that fine arts majors were very happy with their college life, but actually work in a different field to pay rent (I happen to know some music majors).

The problem with the societal benefit definition is: It very much depends on your own system of beliefs. Is an education in business and employing 5 people, more or less valuable than a job as a veterinary? Since most of the undergrad majors also have a variety of possible jobs they could lead into, this is even harder to quantify.

So maybe just do away with rankings :-)

Just because something is difficult to quantify doesn't meant it doesn't exist or is unimportant.

Where’s computer science?

There is no longer any science in computers. Going forward everything is going to be involving some combinations of Javascript, distributed systems and machine learning.

Next study: "Distributed machine learning javascript transpilers ranks #1 in jobs for 2019)

We're all in the cloud trades now.

It's ranked at 30th

applied mathematics perhaps? That's what it used to be called in my area back in the 90's

Are there any software engineering projects for undergrad CS students that will get them exposure to actuarial science? I know very, very little about actuarial science, but I think helping my students learn about it could really benefit them.

They would be better off getting exposure to anything and everything related to finance, statistics, and operations research. Actuarial science specific topics include pricing and reserving of insurance products. I would love to see more CS students with an understanding of finance and time value of money.

Yea i was wondering how pharmacy is higher than computer science, that degree is over flooded and the way cvs and walgreens work not a lot of room for pharmacist, that unemployment has to be wrong

I studied mathematics in college with the express intent of becoming an actuary when I graduated. Once I had graduated, I decided not to be an actuary mostly because I was sick of taking tests.

They also recruit right out of Statistics programs. So you might be able to pursue alternatives in Data Science if you find the field not to your liking.

According to analysis performed by bank actuaries.

Reminds me of the movie Kafka. Must watch!

that short-lived moment of hope when I misread the beginning of the title as "actual science"

What are all the zoologists doing?

This smells suspiciously like a flimsy study designed to reach a predetermined conclusion so as to boost the pool of applicants for systematic salary suppression. Similar to how the STEM "shortage" was manufactured despite no attendant rise in salaries from the supposedly limited supply of workers.

Please don't make inflammatory claims based on "smells". That's unsubstantive and just leads to people repeating the same flamey things in every thread. It also breaks several of the site guidelines, such as the ones against flamebait and shallow dismissals.


>Actuarial science majors earn an average annual salary of $108,658

Uh, so where is engineering here? 115k/yr

I have the ability to engineer solutions to problems, not saying an Actuarial Science student cant build things or root cause issues- but there is a thought-process.

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