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Actuarial Studies (1 Viewer)

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Aug 21, 2002
Here are some responses to FAQ about actuarial studies. Although obvious, the following are just my opinions.

Difficulty and Maths
Macquarie vs UNSW

Difficulty and Maths

For most actuarial students, the actuarial program is difficult. But it is nowhere near impossible. If you can manage your time well, you can do well and do plenty of other things while you're at university.

At Macquarie University, most students persevere with actuarial studies even if they need to repeat a few subjects. The drop out rate, which we'll define as transferring out of actuarial studies, is not as mythical as most numbers I've heard. Some people say that a third of the people who start out will graduate with an actuarial studies degree. My estimate is that its at least two thirds.

We say that 4U mathematics is 'an' indication of a student's ability to think. This is because actuarial studies is more about thinking than number crunching. Actuarial studies is about solving business (often insurance) problems and effectively communicating the solutions. Mathematics is an important skill, however to be a successful actuary you will need plenty of other skills. As for the other HSC subjects, they don't matter because you'll be taught everything from scratch.


To qualify as an actuary, you need to complete a series of exams. In Australia, we group them into Part I (8 exams), II (2 exams) and III (4 exams).

If you pass Part I and Part II, you become an Associate of the Institute of Actuaries Australia which does not allow you to sign things as an actuary. If you pass Part I, II and III, you become a Fellow of the Institute of Actuaries Australia which allows you to sign things as an actuary.

In Australia, the term actuary is reserved for a Fellow of the Institute of Actuaries Australia. So you technically can't call yourself an actuary unless you've passed all those exams.


The actuarial programs at ANU [ACT], Curtin [WA], Macquarie [NSW], Melbourne [VIC] and UNSW [NSW] are accredited by the Institute of Actuaries Australia. This means that if you achieve a certain standard in certain subjects, you can be exempt from sitting certain exams in Part I and Part II. Note that Curtin does not have Part II accreditation (yet). The single three-year degree can offer all the Part I exemptions, while the four-year degree can offer all the Part I and II exemptions.

A double degree in actuarial studies and finance seems very popular at Macquarie University. But in my opinion, if you want to work as an actuary, the double degree won't matter much at all; if you want to work in non-traditional actuarial roles, the double degree may be much more helpful. The only real benefit of doing a double degree is that you have more time to gain exemptions and you can boost your GPA or WAM. The main downside of a double degree is that you spend an extra year at university, when you could be gaining valuable experience and some income.

Macquarie vs UNSW

The actuarial program at Macquarie University has been established for well over three decades, whereas the actuarial program at UNSW has been established for less than a decade. And so, Macquarie has a better reputation when it comes to actuarial studies both in Australia and internationally. Also since Macquarie has been around longer, they have more experienced lecturers.

On the other hand, many people would agree that UNSW has a better reputation than Macquarie in most things besides actuarial studies. This is especially relevant if you are unsure about actuarial studies. Because its easier to transfer within universities, if you transfer out of actuarial studies, it may seem better to be at UNSW from the start.

Although it is true that the UNSW actuarial program has better industry links than Macquarie as shown by its co-op program, its important to realise that these industry links benefit their co-op scholars more than anything else. It is probably worth noting that their co-op program is quality and guarantees the co-op scholar an outstanding graduate position.

There are plenty of other factors which come into play when you pick a university, such as the people, location, scholarships, etc.

Finally, once you start working, no one will care which university you went to; just like once you begin university, no one will care which high school you went to.


The majority of actuaries work in life insurance, general insurance, superannuation, finance and investments, and health insurance (and, I think, in that order).

The 'traditional' actuarial roles are found in insurance and superannuation. In insurance companies, actuaries are generally involved with the whole process of developing an insurance product, with an emphasis on the quantitative aspects such as pricing, capital requirements, reserving, etc. In consulting companies, actuaries are generally involved with... it is hard to say because of the variety.

The number of actuaries working in finance and investments, and other non-traditional areas are growing comparatively rapidly. It is worth noting that an actuarial degree may not be the best way to enter into finance or investments because many employers sadly do not appreciate the actuarial qualification and actuarial expertise in quantifying risk.


With the introduction of the UNSW actuarial program and its co-op program, there has been a relative flood of actuarial graduates into the Sydney market. You could say that the demand for inexperienced actuarial graduates in traditional areas has not quite kept up with the supply.

The QED Salary Survey outlines the salaries for 2006. You can make up your own mind as to what this means - noting wage inflation for 2007 projections.

There are actuarial graduates who don't want to pursue actuarial careers or who want better pay, so they have found work at investment banks, management consultancies or other companies.

Actuarial Terminology

  • actuarial student: a person studying to be actuary
  • actuarial studies: a subject an actuary or an actuarial student may study, also known as actuarial science in other countries
  • actuary: a Fellow of the Institute of Actuaries Australia
  • acturial: a poor attempt at spelling 'actuarial' and often misused as a noun
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