Study Actuarial Science in the US

[Originally published in Deccan Herald, dated 03 Aug 2011]

With the Indian insurance and financial sectors growing rapidly, students doing a Masters in actuarial sciences in the US will have excellent prospects even if they return to India, writes Bhaskar Rajah

There are three key aspects to making the right decision regarding collegiate and graduate higher education overseas: First, is understanding the various niche specialisations that offer a demand-supply gap in terms of employment; second would be the individual and career development benefits of studying at the right university that offer such niche programmes; and third is the interest and suitability of the student vis-a-vis the major and the university.

Let me start off by addressing two related questions students ask me:

I studied something else in my undergraduate studies in India, how will I be admitted to a Master’s programme in a different discipline?

Past education need not be a constraint for your future education.  American education prides itself on flexibility.  Broadly speaking, an engineer can go on to study medicine and a doctor can switch to engineering studies, should he so desire.

As long as the prerequisites for entry to a programme of study are met, your undergraduate degree will not compartmentalise you and prevent you from studying a different major at the graduate level.

Why should I go to the US?  Why not study in India?

I ask the same question to students whom I meet.  Here are the main reasons they gave me for wanting to go to the US for such programmes, and I quote:

  • There are not enough seats in accredited universities in India for such specialised programmes
  • India has become more global and it will give us a competitive advantage to have at least one international degree and then return to India
  • An international degree will offer us prospects for international careers

Having said that, let me introduce you to a niche specialisation, actuarial science, that is currently very popular in the US.

The actuarial profession was included as one of the best careers in US News and World Report. The job of an actuary has also been rated as the second best job in the United States by the Jobs Rated Almanac. The popular reference book lists the actuarial profession above other highly regarded careers such as accountant or attorney.

The Jobs Rated Almanac printed five previous editions between 1988 and 2001. In two editions, actuary was rated as the best job and in two others, actuary was rated second best. Actuary has never been rated lower than fourth, a ranking it received in the fifth edition before climbing two spots in the most recent edition.

The editors compiled statistics on 250 occupations, from accountant to zoologist. The occupations are ranked on the basis of six key criteria: environment, income, employment outlook, physical demands, security, and stress. The data comes from government sources, such as the US Bureau of Labour Statistics and the US Census Bureau, as well as studies from trade associations and industry groups.

There are a few graduate programmes in the US focused on actuarial science.

Typically for actuarial studies faculty members are top-notch: All are fellows, the highest professional actuarial designation, and all have years of practical business-world experience.  When it’s time to seek your first internship or job, you’ll be able to interview with some of the world’s top employers.

Admission requirements

To be admitted to the Masters in the actuarial science programme, you must have a bachelor’s degree with three semesters of calculus, a course in linear algebra, and at least one semester of probability and statistics.

You must meet typical American university entrance requirements, such as, TOEFL, GRE, Letters of Recommendation, Statement of Purpose and so on.

Why is it perfectly suited for Indian students?

Typically Indian students with Math, Statistics, CA or Engineering background excel in mathematics.  Moreover, Indian students excel in applying quantitative techniques in the financial services industry and with insurance applications.  In fact, American universities are surprised by the small number of Indians studying actuarial sciences there compared to the more robust number of Chinese students.

The Indian insurance and financial sectors are also growing rapidly and there is not an internationally ranked Masters in Actuarial Sciences programme in India and therefore graduates would have excellent prospects even if they returned to India.

By Bhaskar Rajah

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