I tried Google but there isn't much information on this and I would really like some insights into actuarial studies, the mathematics involved and how it compars to the mathematics in a bachelor of mathematics for example.

I read that it is a very challenging degree and less than 50% of initial students make it to 3rd year and only about 40% graduate. Is this because most students are in it for the money and can't handle the mathematics or is it just a very challenging degree? I also read that it is basically studying combinatorics and statistics at a very high level. Is that actually challenging?

What do you think is a good way to learn the maths required to do well in such degree? What textbooks and topics do you recommend to prepare for it?

Hopefully this isn't an off topic question but I am asking specifically about the mathematics involved in actuarial studies.


closed as primarily opinion-based by Najib Idrissi, Servaes, user91500, Michael Medvinsky, user147263 Dec 15 '15 at 22:31

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    $\begingroup$ I am an actuary getting close to my ASA. I would try www.beanactuary.com and www.soa.org for good background information into the examination process and the profession itself (i.e. it's history, job outlook, areas of practice etc.). As far as the difficulty goes, like most things there is no single answer for every person. If you are dedicated and enjoy the work you will be successful. Combining actuarial science and engineering doesn't seem practical I'd have to say. But maybe I'm missing an application somewhere. $\endgroup$ – Patrick Aug 17 '13 at 15:30
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    $\begingroup$ I knew students who thought they were good in math in high school, somewhat because they went to a small school and they were the best there. Then, they got to Calculus, especially say Calc 3, and they can't take it. Statistics would be a better overall subject than math. But, sometimes you might think of statistics inside math. As Patrick said, beanactuary.com $\endgroup$ – Graphth Aug 17 '13 at 15:38
  • $\begingroup$ Specifically, at beanactuary.com, look at the preliminary exams. For each one, you can look at the syllabus which lists topics covered on the tests and which books are recommended for study, etc. To pass all of the preliminary exams, you will need math, statistics, finance. $\endgroup$ – Graphth Aug 17 '13 at 15:45
  • $\begingroup$ I need to submit my application before the 27th of Sept to start university in 2014. I thought combining engineering with business (major in actuary) would make me more employable but actuary seems very difficult and I didn't like combinatorics and financial maths in high school so I will think hard about it. Thank you! $\endgroup$ – please delete me Aug 17 '13 at 16:09
  • $\begingroup$ Taking engineering would be pretty much useless as far as being an actuary. If you have an actuarial science major, you do that. If you can't do that, you do math, or statistics, or finance, or computer science, etc. And, in addition, you take classes in the various other fields. $\endgroup$ – Graphth Aug 18 '13 at 13:10

My undergraduate degree is in business, though I had a very heavy mathematics and statistics course load. I took a couple graduate courses in statistics, and I have completed the first two actuarial exams in the US (P/1 & FM/2).

First, to address the high failure rate you speak of. I am unfamiliar with these high failure rates in actuarial science degrees. Without more information, it is difficult to speak on that. Many universities do not offer an actuarial science program. While dedicated programs and courses appear to be increasingly common, it is not uncommon for actuaries to have degrees in related fields such as mathematics, statistics, economics, finance, etc.

Personally, I have not found the material to be very challenging (thus far). Just like anything, you need to have a strong foundation in the prerequisite material and you need to spend a lot of time learning the new material. I think what some may find challenging is the scope of the material. Many topics are covered across all of the exams and specializations. The material is not all statistics, it encompasses finance and economics too. FM/2 exam is essentially precalculus meets finance.

Your question is very subjective so it is hard to give a definitive answer. However, I would say your focus should be on the exams. Exams and experience are far more important than your major. I have heard of people with music degrees becoming actuaries. As long as you can demonstrate proficiency in the tested material, you career pursuits shouldn't be too difficult.


I majored in Actuarial Science and Statistics when I was still in college, and to give you an idea of the flavor of mathematics that actuaries study, I have listed some of my major courses below. (I have included relevant hyperlinks.)

Theory of Interest (otherwise known as Mathematics of Investment)

Life Contingencies

Survival Models

Graduation and Risk Theory

You can check out the Be an Actuary website for more information about actuarial mathematics, beginning and continuing actuarial education, and the actuarial profession in general.


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