Molly Tomei is a senior at Northern Illinois University in DeKalb, Illinois. Molly is majoring in Actuarial Science with minors in Finance and Economics, and she is currently president of the Northern Illinois University Actuarial Club. We spoke with Molly in March 2020.
Tell us one thing about you that’s not on your resume.
I love doing puzzles. I started up last year, and it’s been a great way for me to relax. It’s nice to take a moment to just decompress and work through it, and puzzles help to improve your memory. The Thomas Kinkade puzzles are my favorite. The scenes are just so pretty—I feel like I can walk in them.
What has your experience at Northern Illinois University been like?
Northern’s been wonderful. It’s a big school, with about 20,000 students, and it has a beautiful campus. We also have excellent faculty. One of my favorite professors is Dr. Daniel Grubb. I took Calculus I and Calculus II from him, and he was just phenomenal. All of the other professors I’ve had have also been wonderful.
NIU has a great atmosphere, and everyone’s very supportive of each other. It feels like we’re all in this together. I love that.
NIU also has a lot of great resources. They have incredible career services, where they help students look over their resumes and prep for job interviews. They also have a place where students can get help with legal services; for example, going through legal documents, like apartment contracts, with students. I think it’s a great way to help our students. NIU also offers free counseling, and they have great exercise facilities.
NIU is all around a wonderful campus, with a lot of student involvement. We have many clubs on campus, and there’s just so much to do. I think it’s an excellent school, and I would recommend it to anyone.
What other schools were you considering, and why did you choose NIU?
I also applied to Eastern and Western Illinois. Both of my parents are alumni from Eastern, but I ended up choosing Northern. Northern had a great reputation, and it has a great actuarial department. I’d heard a lot of good things about it. Also, the financial awards that I received made me feel like they really recognized my worth, and I really felt valued.
What influenced you to pursue actuarial science?
In high school, I was always very comfortable with math and statistics, and I had heard great things about the actuarial field. NIU having a great program influenced me as well. Another incentive was the fact that actuaries have great job security as well as excellent pay.
What has been your experience with the actuarial science program at your school?
It’s been really excellent. NIU has a great atmosphere, and everyone’s very supportive of each other. It feels like we’re all in this together. I love that.
Our actuarial science program also has wonderful faculty. They’re inspiring, and you can really tell that they know what they’re talking about. I’m very grateful to have these professors. I feel like they want me to succeed. Whenever I talk to them, whether it’s for help on homework or just some general life help, they have great advice. They’re just excellent faculty.
Our actuarial science program also offers a lot of courses that help prepare for a few actuarial exams, and that’s been great. We also have an active Actuarial Club. This year, I am the president, and that’s been very exciting. We have a lot of speaker events, and we just had representatives from Lauterbach & Amen come in. We were even able to have Coach K from Coaching Actuaries come and speak to us. It was absolutely wonderful. We also had Dr. Brian Pillsbury come in from our career services on campus to talk about resume building and job interviewing skills.
What is your favorite class so far and why?
My favorite class was STAT 481: Probabilistic Foundations in Actuarial Science. It was taught by my professor Carrie Helmig, and she was just wonderful. The class helped me prepare for the P Exam. She taught the class with a lot of examples, which really helped me learn and hammer down the theory behind everything.
What is unique about focusing on actuarial science relative to other majors you could have chosen?
There’s a lot more computer programming than I was expecting there to be, and if you really like computer programming, I think this is definitely great to help expand your field. But actuarial science is not just math. It’s a combination of computer programming and math, along with a lot of economics and finance.
I think something else unique about focusing in actuarial science is that actuarial science has really good job security. Moving forward, I worry that a lot of data analyst jobs could be replaced with technology, but I think there’s still going to be a need for actuaries. Actuaries also have one of the highest job satisfaction ratings in the country. If you’re looking for something challenging and fulfilling and also math-related, this is a great field to go into.
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 in studying actuarial science is the actual studying part. In high school, I never really needed to sit down and study for longer than maybe an hour, but with actuarial science, to really understand it and feel confident with what I’m doing, I need to sit down and really work on it. More importantly, studying for the actuarial exams has been the most challenging. I wish I would have known ahead of time to come in with a good study plan.
What are your future aspirations or career plans?
I haven’t quite decided. I’m very glad that I am graduating with this actuarial degree, and I very much enjoyed learning about it all. But more recently, my finance minor has been more interesting to me in terms of what I’d like to do in the workforce. Ideally, I would like to go into something more finance heavy but also applicable to my actuarial background. Overall, I’m very uncertain, especially with the current state of the world. It’s hard to tell where everything is going. I know this might sound silly, but in the big scheme of things, I just want to be happy. That’s my number-one goal.
What advice would you give someone interested in the insurance field?
I think my biggest advice would be to really research the field. Reach out to companies or workers within the companies. Get together and meet for informational interviews, just to talk about what their jobs are like. You can meet at a coffee shop just to learn what they do and how they like their job. I think that’s definitely a great resource, and it’s a little more personal than just listening to them speak if they came and presented.
Also, with the informational interviews, it’s a good way to have the company get to know you. Then, in the future, if you think you’d like to work at that company, they already know you, and you already have your foot in the door.
Do you have any favorite books, websites, or media that you would recommend for someone interested in insurance?
For the actuarial science field, I would recommend the book Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game by Michael Lewis. It was also made into a film starring Brad Pitt and Jonah Hill. The book has great statistical analyses and valuation of assets. It’s very interesting.
» If you liked Molly’s interview, check out our other actuarial science student interviews.