Statistically speaking: Actuarial science offers risks, reward


Senior Alex Smith and junior Rachel Hicks work math problems, a vital skill for actuaries. Photo: Dave Saunders

Although one of the least known of the more than 60 majors at BJU, actuarial science leads to an exciting career — one that involves risk in everyday life.

According to Dr. Melissa Gardenghi, faculty member and chair of the Division of Mathematical Sciences, actuaries are people who know how to understand and control risk.

Actuarial science isn’t a natural science but, instead, falls under the category of mathematics. Gardenghi said actuaries are typically trained as mathematicians and must be proficient in calculus and statistics. “You can’t flunk math and be an actuary,” Gardenghi said. “But you don’t have to have a degree in math to be an actuary.”

According to Gardenghi, actuaries can calculate what to charge for things such as car insurance premiums by using statistics to predict outcomes. They will look at the past and find potential causes of accidents and which drivers would be considered high risk. “This is why guys from the age of 16 to 25 pay higher car insurance than girls,” Gardenghi said.

Other fields associated with actuarial science include health insurance, international business and mutual funds. An actuary can choose to work either exclusively for one company or as a consulting actuary who is hired by different companies to provide guidance when problems arise. Gardenghi also said the business of actuarial science is growing because of the greater amount of data provided through the Internet, and an increase in information lowers risk.

According to Gardenghi, a good actuary needs certain characteristics. Actuaries should have an interest in problem-solving, especially complicated problems, and they must be detail-oriented, willing to look for underlying factors in a scenario.

Gardenghi said John Nash (a notable American mathematician) won the Nobel Peace Prize because he recognized a well-known economic problem as simply a well-known math problem. He was willing to look at a complicated problem and dig deeper for the underlying cause.

Problem-solving is what Gardenghi loves about actuarial science. “I enjoy when you get to do problems that people care about,” she said.

According to Gardenghi, actuaries are credentialed by examination, and the actuarial field has 10 exams. She estimates that an actuary will spend anywhere from 300 to 400 hours studying for a single exam. In comparison, she said, those who take all four parts of the Uniform CPA Examination typically study for 250 hours. To reach the top of the actuarial field, one must pass all 10 actuarial exams.

Gardenghi has passed two of the exams herself, and she said a couple of BJU actuarial science majors are already on their way toward the pinnacle as well, having already completed at least one actuary exam while attending the University. She also mentioned several graduates who are currently working in data and analysis. They were well prepared for their present careers thanks to their actuarial science degrees.