Nate Karamon is a senior at Bob Jones University in Greenville, South Carolina, where he is majoring in actuarial science. Nate interned last summer at Willis Towers Watson and will be interning this summer at Milliman. We spoke with Nate in April 2021.
Tell us one thing about yourself that’s not on your resume.
Back in my sophomore year of college, I used to do street performing on the weekends with my old roommate. He would play the guitar and I would play the piano, and we would just go downtown and street perform.
What has your experience at Bob Jones University been like?
My experience has been good. I definitely didn’t know what I was getting into as a freshman, but the professors are incredibly caring and very knowledgeable. One of the best parts of this experience has been getting to know other people here. I’ve been able to get involved in a lot of the student life stuff here with Student Council and as a resident mentor.
I also really like the emphasis Bob Jones places on Christian discipleship. Bob Jones is a Christian university, so it’s very focused on students getting to know each other in terms of their spiritual walk. It’s a great place to be able to reach your potential. The classes are definitely hard, but they’re very rewarding.
My class went through the FM exam course together, and all six of us passed it because of the support group. I would say that’s what makes this program different, and that’s why I am really thankful for the Bob Jones program.
What other schools were you considering, and why did you choose Bob Jones University?
I started considering colleges during my junior year of high school when I was getting ready to take the ACT. I’m from the Detroit, Michigan area, so I was looking into local colleges around there, especially the University of Michigan. I was also really looking heavily into the University of Michigan-Dearborn.
I decided to go to Bob Jones for several reasons. Dearborn campus was just getting their actuarial science program started up, whereas Bob Jones had had the program for about 15 to 20 years. And finances also played a factor. If I had attended the University of Michigan and went below a 4.0 GPA, I’d have to pay thousands of dollars. With Bob Jones, I’m able to attend with many scholarships. I also visited Bob Jones during my junior year of high school. The people I met there and the professors I talked to just knew that I fit well.
What influenced you to pursue an actuarial science program?
I didn’t really know what actuarial science was until my junior year. My dad is a math teacher, so I always knew I wanted to do something related to math. I always thought about the engineering field because other than being a math teacher, that was the only math-related job that I really knew about.
Growing up, I liked to look at the statistics on baseball cards, but I didn’t know if there were careers that had to do with statistics until I started searching for them. In junior year, we started touching on statistics, and I started being more interested in it. I googled majors that had to do with statistics and actuarial science popped up. I had never heard of it, but it sounded fun and seemed like it had to do a lot with probability statistics.
Why should other students consider a focus in actuarial science?
I think students should consider a focus in actuarial science because it’s both broad and highly concentrated. It’s broad in the sense that you take a wide range of classes in different academic disciplines, such as math, computer science, economics, accounting, and business. You get a little bit of every type of major, and there’s still a lot of math.
It’s also extremely concentrated because you get to deeply study data. It’s not just an abstract math major, and it’s not just a surface-level finance major. You actually get to dig in deep with the data to draw conclusions and make data-driven decisions.
What has been your experience with the actuarial science program at your school?
Bob Jones has about 2,500 students, and the actual science program currently has about 20 students overall, so it’s a very small program. When I joined the major in my freshman year, there were only five of us. Compared to where it was four years ago, it’s grown a lot, but it still feels like small class sizes. As an actuarial student, I think that’s something you’re not going to get from a large college. You’re not going to get as much of the one-on-one instruction and even one-on-one office time as you would at Bob Jones.
Dr. Melissa Gardenghi is the head of the program, and she basically teaches all of the math courses like the exam prep courses. The way the program is structured is another unique thing about it. You have courses that teach the theory and also courses that teach all the formulas for the different actuarial exams. We currently have courses on four of the exams.
There are also study courses where you’re graded on how well you are studying for the exam. You meet once a week and study for several hours with all of the other people, and you can work in groups if you’re having trouble understanding concepts. Having that support structure built in has really helped people pass exams.
My class went through the FM exam course together, which is on interest rates and financial mathematics for loans and mortgages. We all took the exam at the same time, and all six of us passed it because of the support group. I would say that’s what makes this program different, and that’s why I am really thankful for the Bob Jones program.
What is your favorite class so far and why?
The Capstone Course. It’s a two-semester course for the LTM exam. I really liked that course because it was so practical. You combined everything that you learned from probability and financial math and rolled it all into one. With the difficulty level, it felt like it was an achievement every time we took a test. It even helped me to pass the exam in the summer as well, so that was exciting.
What is unique about focusing on actuarial science relative to other majors you could have chosen?
There are obviously the exams, and they’re a lot more intense than other majors. With other majors, you have upcoming exams like engineering exams, CPA exams, and nursing exams. But I think the actuarial exam track is definitely set apart as longer. You’re studying for the exams from when you’re in college to well after graduation, depending on how far you want to go.
From what I’ve observed, the difference between actuarial science versus data science is that with data science, you can go a mile wide in all kinds of topics and an inch deep. With actuarial science, you might go a yard wide, but you dig super deep into one concentrated area, like health insurance, life insurance, or property casualty.
What has been most challenging about studying actuarial science? Is there anything you wish you would have known ahead of time?
Time management has been challenging. I hit a point during my sophomore year where I wasn’t managing my time well. I was starting to study for the exams while I was taking multiple math computer science courses at the same time.
Another challenge for me was shifting my thinking from just memorizing a bunch of material before a test to actually understanding the major concepts and being able to speak the language of math. Instead of learning a new concept every time, I had to think about relating it to all the other concepts I learned before.
I think that mental shift was the biggest challenge for me. Even being able to spend time with friends was a challenge. There were times where I had to say no to hanging out or going to special events because I had to study for the exam, but it was definitely worth it.
Have you had any insurance-related internships? If so, how was your experience?
Last summer, I worked remotely with Willis Towers Watson in health and benefits consulting. It was definitely more focused on the health insurance side, and I worked with companies to help write their own self-insured policies.
Learning about the healthcare industry as a whole was helpful. It helped me realize that there’s a lot of moving pieces in the health care industry. It was really eye-opening because it was a lot more complex than I first thought.
What are your future aspirations or career plans?
After graduating in May, I’m getting married. Then my wife and I will move to Denver, Colorado, and I’m going to work for Milliman as an actuarial intern for the summer. Lord willing, that will turn into a full-time position.
What advice would you give someone interested in the insurance field?
Be willing to try new things. Oftentimes, insurance is a new field for people anyway, so trying any type of insurance-related college major or career field is a new step in and of itself.
Be willing to step outside of where you’re comfortable and get involved—not just in things related to insurance, but also in other things. I think it’s important for actuaries and other insurance professionals to not just have a focus on insurance. I saw a quote the other day that said, “An actuary who is only an actuary is not an actuary.” Be a well-rounded person.
Do you have any favorite books, websites, or media that you would recommend for someone interested in insurance?
If you’re interested in reading about the actuarial side of insurance, the Society of Actuaries puts out a newsletter. It usually has at least one interesting article. I looked at the AdvisorSmith website, and it seems like a wealth of information. Also, if you just Google a specific area of insurance, you can very easily find news articles from various sources about it.
» If you liked Nate’s interview, check out our other actuarial science student interviews.