Bill Miller is a senior at Central Washington University in Ellensburg, Washington, where he is double majoring in Actuarial Science and Economics. Bill is expected to graduate in June 2020, and we spoke with him in November 2019.
Tell us one thing about you that’s not on your resume.
One thing about me that’s not going to be found on my resume is that my family is really important to me. I’m really close with my whole family. When I lived at my mom’s house, my grandma, aunt, uncle, and I all lived within about 500 yards of each other. I see them every weekend that I go home.
What has your experience at Central Washington University been like?
I really like Central a lot. From an academic standpoint, one of the main things that I like about Central is that the professors are very accessible. They’re focused much more on teaching as opposed to research, so it’s much easier to get one-on-one interaction with them during office hours and have them help you with classes. They’re almost all willing to stay late if you need to ask them more questions.
The best part of our program and the reason I’ve been able to find success at Central is, hands-down, the professors.
I’ve found that the professors are extremely helpful and really personable, and you’re able to make really good connections with them on a personal level. I’ve heard at bigger schools, sometimes you’re dealing primarily with TAs, or you might get email answers from professors, and it’s just really hard to meet with professors in person. I haven’t found that to be the case at all at Central.
Outside of an academic setting, one of the things that has been really cool about Central but I didn’t necessarily expect before coming here—because Central is a smaller regional public school—is most of the friends that I’ve made here are from different parts of the world. I didn’t know a lot of people from outside of America before I came here, but both of my advisors for econ and actuarial science, and some of the best friends I’ve made here, are from all over the world—from Croatia to Malaysia to Saudi Arabia.
What other schools were you considering, and why did you choose Central?
I’ve been really happy with my decision to come to Central. I was considering a lot of other schools, but the reason that I chose Central is that Central had the actuarial science degree that I wanted. I knew I wanted to be an actuary one day. This actuarial science degree sets you up so well in terms of passing SOA exams and completing the VEE requirements by the time you get through the program.
The reason I chose Central over other schools with actuarial science is because Central was the only actuarial science degree in the State of Washington and because it had a really good return on the investment. In terms of the average salary coming out of actuarial science programs versus what you actually pay for tuition, Central is usually one of the top three in the state.
What influenced you to pursue actuarial science?
Growing up, I always knew that I was pretty good at math. I was in advanced math through middle school and high school. I knew I wanted to do something that was very math-based, and I really liked the idea of using math to try and predict future events. I was able to do some job-shadowing with two or three different actuaries in different roles before I came to college, and after doing more research about the field I saw that it was consistently one of the top-rated professions. With all of this information and considering the starting salaries for actuaries, I decided an actuarial science degree was going to be the best for me.
Why should other students consider a focus in actuarial science?
I think actuarial science is a really good program for students who want to challenge themselves in math. It’s going to be difficult at times, but the math you learn is very applicable to real-world situations and problems. I think of health insurance as being one of the biggest issues in America, if not the world, and actuaries are at the forefront of trying to solve a lot of the issues in health care, to make people healthier and live longer, and to solve the insolvency in the health care market today. If you like predicting the future with math, and you really want a career that you can help people in a significant way, and you’re also willing to challenge yourself in math, I think an actuarial science degree or a career as an actuary is a great fit.
What has been your experience with the actuarial science program at your school?
The best part of our program and the reason I’ve been able to find success at Central is, hands-down, the professors. They’re incredibly willing to help you in every class that you have. They’re also willing to work around your schedule to make sure that you can be successful and take the classes that you need. Dr. Sooie-Hoe Loke, our advisor, and Dr. Kathryn Temple both work very hard to make sure that our classes align and are updated along with the SOA requirements for VEE, and they also set us up to take as many tests as possible before we graduate.
As far as extracurricular activities, we have an actuarial science club, and it’s very active in bringing in different national and local insurance companies and actuarial consulting companies. If you’re going to pursue a career as an actuary, it really gives you a lot of exposure to who’s trying to hire an actuary, who wants you to come to their company, and who’s willing to come out here to look for you guys. Because like I said, we’re the only actuarial science degree in Washington, so I think we get a lot of attention from local consulting companies and insurance companies, especially.
What is your favorite class so far and why?
My favorite class was my advanced stats class because I really like statistics, hypothesis testing, regression analysis, and predictive analytics. I think having that solid base in statistics helps so much in all the other classes, because so many things are built off statistics or based around statistics. Advanced stats was my favorite class and also the class that I feel like I’ve used by far the most since actually taking the class.
What has been most challenging about studying actuarial science? Is there anything you wish you would have known ahead of time?
The most challenging aspect for me is just how rigorous the classes are. They’re a lot harder than any class you’re going to take in high school, whether that’s calculus, statistics, physics, or anything like that. The classes require a lot more hard work and dedication. But I also felt like I kind of expected that coming in. I didn’t know quite what level it would take to be successful, and it’s been harder than I anticipated.
What are your future aspirations or career plans?
I’m not totally decided on what I want to do for my career going forward. I have a twin brother who, because of this program, got a job with Milliman as an actuarial analyst. I’m actually in the process of applying there and might be able to work with him. The nice thing about Milliman is they have almost unlimited growth. If you’re willing to work hard, and you do well at their company, there’s really no ceiling, which I think is really common for actuarial consulting firms.
Another very different path that I’m also considering is in research. Through Central, I’ve had the opportunity to do a lot of undergraduate research, and I’m applying with the Federal Reserve for research analyst positions with the New York and Cleveland Federal Reserve Banks. I haven’t heard back from any of these employers yet, but those are the two main things that I’m looking at right now.
What advice would you give someone interested in the insurance field?
My advice would be to really look over the SOA and CAS websites because they have a ton of great resources. They show you what tests you have to take, what they’ll be like, and what it’s really going to take to become an actuary. Their sites have lots of profiles of current actuaries at different career stages that really tell you about the different jobs you can take on as an actuary.
Also, if you have actuarial science departments that you’re considering, definitely talk to the professors there. Call them. Try to go meet them if you can. Try to set up a meeting with one or two upperclassmen who are in the actuarial science programs. All of that was really helpful for me before I decided to become an actuary.