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I am applying to a grad school for the Masters in Actuarial Science. Now i am getting cold feet.

I do love math, i was always good in math (not excellent or a genius). Did all adv. calculus classes in College, financial, economics. I have degrees in Computer programming (AAS) and Information System Management (BS) in 2002. Worked in the financial world for a quite a while. I was always interested in getting a degree in that field, even if i don't become an actuary.

My problem: I think i forgot everything about maths, it has been over 10 yrs.I don't even think i might get admitted in the first place with this background. do you really have to be super excellent in maths or statistic to even think about embarking in that journey?

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3 Answers

One thing that should be made clear here, for those of you who don't know (possibly even the OP), is a masters in actuarial science is not at all necessary. The whole purpose of such a degree is for someone who already has an undergrad degree but does not have the necessary background to pass the exams. A masters in actuarial science is basically equivalent to an undergrad degree in actuarial science at one of the top undergrad act sci schools. A masters will probably cover all the background needed for the first 4 or 5 exams.

But, you don't need to pass 4 or 5 exams to get a job. You need to pass 1 or 2, or sometimes 0 is enough. And, Exam FM isn't all that heavy on math. If you could pass that one exam on your own, you would show companies that you are interested in the field and are capable of passing exams and you could get a job somewhere (assuming you have other necessary skills). And, then you would get paid study time to study for the other exams. This is another viable option. A masters in actuarial science will cost you a lot of money but help you pass exams faster.

I googled "masters in actuarial science" and Boston University's program was first. The prereqs for admission are just 3 semesters of calculus. That's it. I have no idea how hard it is to get in to such a program and I have no idea if you would get in. But, you can self study most of Calc 1 through 3 by yourself and be plenty prepared to start such a program. If you think this is too hard, then go take these classes at a community college. I must disagree with Mark Higgins. If you have taken "advanced calculus", then I believe you could relearn the basics of 3 semesters of calculus. When I say basics, I mean basics because you don't need to know Stoke's theorem or how to do surface integrals or anything.

Just to be clear, I'm currently teaching an Exam FM test prep course and the math we have used in it are some derivatives and integrals, but no trig has ever shown up. We have dealt with geometric sums (finite and infinite). I did integration by parts once (literally, once) in class. That's about it. When dealing with probability and statistics, you will at some point do multiple integration and things like that.

Just to be clear, getting a degree in that field without becoming an actuary sounds like a huge waste of time. I'm guessing it'd cost you around \$60,000 to \$80,000 in tuition, over 2 years, to get such a degree, not to mention you probably won't be working so you lose any money you would be making otherwise. That's a total of \$150,000 to \$200,000 you lose to get a degree that you don't even know if you want to use or not. Can it be interesting stuff to learn, and could it be worthwhile to know even if you don't become an actuary? Sure, but not for that much money. Buy the books and read them yourself.

You need to make up your mind if you really want to do this before you make any decisions like this. Companies won't hire people who aren't really sure if they want to be an actuary or not. They have plenty of good candidates who are sure.

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Honestly I think you're going to struggle. I've worked as a professional mathematician for 16y and have interviewed many people in your situation: mathematics in school, then not done math for 3y+. Many of them claimed they'd be able to crack open their old textbooks and remember everything. Zero of them were successful, even when I told them which fields to focus on and gave them a couple of months to bone up.

It's very hard to get familiar again with all the grungy details you need to actually be proficient - you need to keep exercising those muscles or they atrophy, and usually die.

It sucks, but that's my honest experience.

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Had the people you talked to had advanced calculus? And, did they only need to learn regular calculus? It's one thing to need to relearn the most complicated math you have ever done. It's another to have to relearn something that is quite easy compared to the most difficult mathematics you have learned. I'm interested in more detail here! –  Graphth Apr 14 '12 at 18:56
Just for the sake of throwing this out there, I completed up through multivariate Calculus before entering college, then did absolutely no math for the duration of my undergraduate career. At the end of it I decided to go into actuarial science despite having not done any math for 3+ years and was very successful getting my math chops back, though I'm now doing Statistics/Machine Learning and not AS. As they say, the plural of anecdote isn't evidence, and this story isn't even plural, but I don't think it is a foregone conclusion that the OP will fail. –  guy Sep 18 '12 at 17:46
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You don't have to be "super-intelligent in maths" but you do have to understand it. Some things will come back fairly quickly if you formerly understood them and exert reasonable efforts.

Your second paragraph seems to say you're sufficiently qualified. Provided you work hard in graduate school. That last proviso always applies.

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