Mackenzie Carr is a junior at Austin Peay State University in Clarksville, Tennessee, where she is majoring in mathematics with a concentration in actuarial science. We spoke with Mackenzie in April 2021.
Tell us one thing about yourself that’s not on your resume.
A big part of my identity is being a musician. I’ve played alto saxophone for about 10 years, and a lot of my free time during middle school, high school, and college has been spent either playing, practicing, or just listening to different jazz pieces.
One of my most notable performances was in 2016 when I got the opportunity to play with the United States Air Force band. They came to my high school and you had to audition to get to play with them. Being a musician is not something that I put on my resume, but it’s a big piece of who I am.
What has your experience at Austin Peay State University been like?
My experience at Austin Peay has been overwhelmingly positive. I began connecting with my peers and professors on the very first day. Ever since then, I’ve gained a wide variety of networking connections with students, faculty, staff, professors, and even others outside of the university that have given lectures.
I’ve largely attributed this to the small class sizes of Austin Peay, particularly in the mathematics department. Before, during, and after classes, I’m able to ask as many questions as I’d like. That’s not always possible at other universities with a larger student body.
Aside from the academics, I’ve come to enjoy the number of student organizations that Austin Peay has to offer. My biggest role on campus is being part of the Student Organization Council. It’s a pretty big leadership role for me, and it’s allowed me to take my networking even further.
Actuarial science can be very challenging, but if you truly enjoy mathematics, and you’re a very driven individual, it can be a really rewarding major. It requires outside-the-box thinking that is not typical of many other majors.
What other schools were you considering, and why did you choose Austin Peay State University?
Initially, I was heavily considering Ohio State’s actuarial science program because it is very developed. It’s one of the most notable programs with Ohio being one of the largest states for actuaries. But after weighing my options and realizing how many in-state scholarships I would be giving up and the distance from my family, I decided to go to Austin Peay.
I chose to do a formal tour my senior year of high school, and I fell in love with the campus. There are dozens of study spots and different services like free tutoring, mock interviews, resume building, and even health services, which are all included in the tuition. Everything is accessible to us, so if I don’t want to run around the city, it’s all right there. I can focus on my academics and not have to worry about traveling long distances to go to the doctor or go somewhere else for tutoring. The most important thing I learned from the tour was that Austin Peay just felt like home, and that decided it for me.
What influenced you to pursue an actuarial science program?
I didn’t know what route I wanted to take in college until my senior year of high school. I always knew that I wanted to go to college and get a degree, but I never knew what degree until I took a calculus class my senior year. I learned that I had a deep passion for math, and I was really good at it.
I’m a big planner, so I researched different careers that would involve mathematics daily, and I came across actuarial science. I saw that it was a field that was lucrative, but it was also highly essential to businesses. I felt like a career in actuarial science would involve the mathematics that I was passionate about, and I would be able to help people as well.
The biggest thing that I looked forward to was actually the exam part of being an actuary because continuing my education outside of school is very important to me. Since studying for the exams, I’ve had to do that a lot so it keeps me sharp.
Why should other students consider a focus in actuarial science?
Actuarial science is definitely not for everyone. It can be very challenging, but if you truly enjoy mathematics, and you’re a very driven individual, it can be a really rewarding major. It requires outside-the-box thinking that is not typical of many other majors. In addition, you’ll pick up skills that you might have never known otherwise, such as coding.
Another benefit is the students that you’re going to be surrounded with. I have yet to meet an actuarial science student who is not brilliant-minded and driven towards success. This is a key factor in making it through the program. If you have other people that are going to be just as driven as you, they’re going to push you to that finish line even when the classes get really tough. It’s a very great major to consider.
What has been your experience with the actuarial science program at your school?
The program at Austin Peay is a little bit smaller than other schools because it is newly developed. It was started only a few years ago, so I’ve been able to see it grow. We’ve gotten more professors and more resources. As far as funding, our school refunds us for passing the first two exams, so that’s a great resource considering the costs of the exams.
We have tons of study materials at the library and really great professors who have had experience in the finance field and experience with the exams. They can tell us firsthand what it’s going to look like. I get one-on-one advising with individuals who are very skilled in actuarial science. Right now, there are only 20 or 30 students in the actuarial science program, but even with that, I’ve gotten to network so much. Everything I have to say about our program is positive.
What is your favorite class so far and why?
I’m currently in a mathematical finance class that is geared towards exam FM. I guess that’s one of the reasons why I like it so much because I’m studying for exam FM and the course is going right along with my study material. I have someone that’s teaching me the material every day, and I can go home and study it on my own. It covers a lot of investments and teaches students how to calculate the price of bonds. The stock market interests me heavily, so it’s helpful to understand how to calculate these things. When I go to buy a bond, I know how to calculate my expected return.
What is unique about focusing on actuarial science relative to other majors you could have chosen?
I find that the wide variety of subjects that actuarial science encompasses is unique, particularly at my school. Within my program, I’ve had to learn about coding, finance, accounting, calculus, and even business management. The major has covered a broad spectrum of topics, so I feel really informed. It’s not just math, and it’s not just doing calculations. I’m learning a lot of different investment strategies of companies and different business models that they may use, particularly in the insurance world. I feel like I have a really well-rounded education.
What has been most challenging about studying actuarial science? Is there anything you wish you would have known ahead of time?
The most challenging thing is the amount of coding involved. Computer coding took me by surprise a little bit. I knew I would have to take coding classes, but I didn’t realize how heavily actuaries use coding. As far as homework goes, you spend six or seven hours working on one coding assignment to get something to run properly. There are a million different ways that you can code something, so it was really challenging at first because I had no experience with this coming into college.
There was definitely a learning curve, so I wish I would have been able to prepare for that a little bit better with a coding class in high school that introduced the basics instead of jumping right into a college class. Nonetheless, it’s still been enjoyable.
What are the latest developments or trends in insurance?
In the insurance field, there are so many customers and clients that insurance adjusters, underwriters, and even actuaries have to deal with on a daily basis. It can be overwhelming, so what they’re trying to do is incorporate more artificial intelligence into the insurance field.
People can go to a website and do a simple claim completely online with artificial intelligence behind it. This frees up a lot of time for underwriters and insurance adjusters to focus on bigger claims, and it would also allow insurance companies to get more done in a smaller amount of time. It’s not a huge thing in the insurance field because of how complicated it can get to fill out claims, but they’re working on it. Hopefully, by the time I graduate, it’ll be more prevalent. I’m definitely excited about that development.
What are your future aspirations or career plans?
I would like to graduate with two exams under my belt before I start my career. I would like to go into either the investment side or the life insurance side of being an actuary. Once I get that entry-level job, I would just continue to study hard because I want to become a fellow.
Once I do that, I’m really interested in leadership. I would like to take my career further and hopefully become a chief actuary for a large company somewhere like New York. That’s been my ultimate goal before I ever even knew that I wanted to be an actuary. I’ve always wanted to live somewhere like that and work in a bigger city with a bigger company.
What advice would you give someone interested in the insurance field?
I would tell them to do their research and find what is right for them. Actuarial science is not going to be for everybody. For some people, once they get done with college, they don’t really want to have to think about studying for exams and continuing their education in that aspect.
There’s plenty of resources online where you can look at interviews from different people in the insurance field and see what their take on their job is. I definitely did this before I even decided that I was going to go into actuarial science. I talked to actuaries and people in the insurance field. You just want to do your research.
Do you have any favorite books, websites, or media that you would recommend for someone interested in insurance?
I find myself going back to the SOA page a lot because that’s the all-in-one place for actuaries. They highlight different internship opportunities, give you educational tools, and answer frequently asked questions. It’s a great tool to use if you are planning to become a future actuary.
» If you liked Mackenzie’s interview, check out our other actuarial science student interviews.