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What is actuarial science?
Actuarial science is a discipline that uses math and statistics to assess financial risks for companies. Actuaries apply the methods of probability to predict the financial implications of uncertain, future events.
One example of this is in the health insurance industry, where risk management determines a business’s viability. Actuaries analyze mortality and produce life tables to describe predicted health outcomes for a group of people. Insurance companies use this information to formulate policies, rates, and coverage.Footnote 1
Another example of actuarial science is pensions. Actuaries in this field must design and test pension plans to determine if enough funds will be available to meet future benefits payments. Actuaries must be able to predict future events and apply statistical methods to make those sorts of predictions regularly.
Joining the actuarial profession requires a blend of professional and educational experience. Typically, an actuary has a bachelor’s degree in an analytical field and all actuaries must pass a series of certification examinations.Footnote 2
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Actuarial science course curriculum
Businesses rely on actuaries’ expertise to accurately assess risk and predict future events to prepare appropriately for the financial reality of those events. The career requires a substantial understanding of mathematics and statistics, as well as probability models. In the age of technology, an understanding of the programs used to design these models is also critical. Actuaries leverage data and technology to make predictions.Footnote 3
An introductory course in actuarial science may cover:
Valuing cash flows
Incorporating uncertainty in cash flows due to mortality and investment
Predicting human life expectancy
Applying actuarial science in insurance, finance, and banking
Additional courses could focus on the mathematical techniques used in actuarial science, such as probability and predictive modeling. Other online classes that may contribute to a strong background include finance, microeconomics, business, and professional writing.
Explore jobs in actuarial science
There are a few industries which use actuarial science heavily to assess risk and support day-to-day business operations. Some examples include:Footnote 4
Banking and financial services: Actuaries in this field assist with risk analysis, capital management, and product portfolio development.
Health and retirement financing: Actuaries in this industry advise on social insurance policies, including determining funding levels and making population projections.
Investments and fund management: These actuaries focus on asset risk management for investors and contribute to hedging strategy and derivatives structuring.
An undergraduate or graduate degree is not required to become an actuary. However, many professional actuaries have a degree in a field such as mathematics, statistics, actuarial science, or another analytical discipline.Footnote 5
An online degree could be one way to gain the skills needed for this field. For example, an online bachelor’s in a business degree program will teach learners the practical application of finance and economics. An advanced degree, such as an online MBA, could do the same for learners who already have an undergraduate degree.
Begin learning the skills you need to work in this field. edX offers a variety of learning opportunities ranging from full degree programs to specialized boot camps. Find the right learning path that can help you achieve your professional goals.