Alexander Fuhs is a junior at Northwestern College in Orange City, Iowa, where he is majoring in actuarial science. We spoke to Alex in April 2021.
Tell us one thing about yourself that’s not on your resume.
I’ve played baseball my entire life, and I actually had the opportunity to play college baseball here at Northwestern. I played during my first two years, and I eventually became the student manager this year as a junior. My transition from a player to a manager was slightly due to COVID, but I also did the transition to focus more on academics without losing the team. I thoroughly enjoy keeping the stats for the team now.
What has your experience at Northwestern College been like?
A huge part of Northwestern College is faith-based learning. We like to joke around in our math department that there’s not a whole lot of faith to be integrated within mathematics, but our professors really do make an effort in introducing topics that we really don’t think about, and it really strengthens our faith. Northwestern also gives many opportunities to meet others outside of our major. That helps us really develop as strong Christian leaders as well.
What other schools were you considering, and why did you choose Northwestern College?
In addition to Northwestern, I was considering Dakota State, Simpson College, and the University of Northwestern in St. Paul. I would like to say academics had more of a factor in that decision, but baseball was really the biggest factor for me. I visited Dakota State early, and I nearly decided to go there, but then I decided to visit Northwestern late, and I fell in love with the devoted Christian aspect of the college. I was at a public high school for all four years so I really didn’t get to experience what it would look like to have faith integrated within classes. The community here is great as well.
The job outlook for actuaries and mathematics majors is growing at an astounding rate. Something I would tell seniors in high school is that if they have a love for mathematics and lots of motivation, I think actuarial science might be a perfect fit.
What influenced you to pursue an actuarial science program?
I didn’t really know what an actuary was until my senior year of high school when my dad introduced the idea to me. I was always a math guy, so I was set on being a computer science major. This is another reason why I considered Dakota State because they have a top program there.
When I decided to attend Northwestern, we saw that they had an actuarial science program, and I decided to come in as a double major. I intended on picking one or the other. My advisor got me all set up with actuarial classes, and I ended up talking to some very talented senior leaders who had four exams passed on average by the time they graduated. That was a huge factor for me. I ended up dropping computer science and decided to put my full effort into actuarial science.
Why should other students consider a focus in actuarial science?
The job outlook for actuaries and mathematics majors is growing at an astounding rate. Something I would tell seniors in high school is that if they have a love for mathematics and lots of motivation to professionally develop in college as I did, I think actuarial science might be a perfect fit.
The work is difficult in college. It’s hard to manage your time and pass exams while you’re taking courses, but as a reward, you’ll be a standout student at your college if you’re able to get the work done. When others will be looking for jobs as a senior in college, there’s a pretty good chance you’ll already be committed towards your first career before your senior year even starts.
What has been your experience with the actuarial science program at your school?
My experience has been great. Northwestern College is lucky to have Dr. Timothy Huffman. Along with other professors in the math department, he really developed the Northwestern actuarial science program into one of the leading programs in Iowa, and we have a really great pass rate to go along with that. A lot of the mathematics and financial classes are focused on the actuarial exam material, and it really helps. It goes back to the point that actuarial work is very important, and they put a huge focus on it at Northwestern.
What is your favorite class so far and why?
The class I enjoy the most is one I’m taking right now, which is called MAT 431 – Actuarial Modeling: Loss Models, and it’s the first class I’ve taken that’s just for actuaries. It’s probably been the most difficult class I’ve taken in college thus far, but it’s been very fun to work with.
It takes a lot of material we’ve learned from other courses—such as probability and financial topics—and it puts it all into one class. It’s basically a class where actuaries can learn how models are developed, and it’s so interesting to see how the courses that we’ve taken can be applied.
What is unique about focusing on actuarial science relative to other majors you could have chosen?
Although it’s a very competitive environment to be an actuary, people in our major are very supportive of each other. When we pass exams, we all are very supportive. I think it’s an easy trap to fall into wanting to do better than your peers or secretly wanting someone else to fail an exam. But I think that’s one thing that Northwestern has worked really hard to avoid. We’ve built a culture where we can celebrate our successes together and motivate each other to work harder.
What has been most challenging about studying actuarial science? Is there anything you wish you would have known ahead of time?
Time management is probably the biggest curveball that I’ve had to deal with in college. Being an athlete takes up a bunch of time, so when you’re also studying for those first couple of exams, it can seem really overwhelming. It can seem like there’s no way you’re going to get enough studying hours in before you take the actual thing. Time management is something that you really have to master if you want to be in the major.
Something I wish I would have known ahead of time is that we actually have to pass actuarial exams during college. I’ve actually passed two exams, and years down the road, I may be telling myself how it was worth it to get those exams passed to reach that ASA or FSA designation. It is tough but very rewarding in the end.
Have you had any insurance-related internships? If so, how was your experience?
I have an internship lined up for this summer. I’ll be working for Sammons Financial Group up in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. I’ll be a member of their corporate actuarial model development team. I’m really hoping that my coursework will be able to prepare me enough to push me through that internship, and I’m just hoping to leave a good impression when I work there. I’m pretty excited for it.
What are the latest developments or trends in insurance?
Last summer, I worked at Northwestern Mutual as a college financial representative. That was during the middle of the pandemic when COVID was first really hitting everyone’s lives pretty hard. It was interesting seeing how the life insurance industry was really changing. All of the rates had not accounted for a national pandemic to happen.
Along with the changing rates, it was really cool to see how many people were actually buying life insurance for themselves. There are a lot of young people out there who I feel haven’t had a financial plan developed for them. Once people started thinking about a pandemic hitting this country, I think Northwestern Mutual had a record amount of people sign up for life insurance within one quarter. It was really interesting to see how people were changing their focus on their financial plans, and I got to experience that firsthand.
What are your future aspirations or career plans?
My biggest goal right now is to become a Fellow of the Society of Actuaries. There are six different tracks, but I don’t know which track I’m going to take yet. Right now, I’m studying to get an Associate of the Society of Actuaries.
In general, I think it would be really fun to be leading actuarial projects at some point in the future, wherever I may be working. Ever since I’ve been in college, it’s been a field I’ve really fallen in love with. And I’m excited for the internship this summer because I think it’ll really give me a lot of clarity on where I want to be.
What advice would you give someone interested in the insurance field?
It takes a lot of self-motivation and dedication, but in the end, it is very rewarding. You just have to put the work in and understand that some days will be better than others. Once I started passing those exams, it was probably one of the most rewarding feelings I’ve felt in college thus far. It’s a pretty awesome field to be in.
Do you have any favorite books, websites, or media that you would recommend for someone interested in insurance?
I’m a baseball guy that really loves statistics, so if I had to recommend a movie that’s about stats in general, I’d recommend Moneyball. It’s a movie that talks about the statistics and economic side of baseball, which has actually really taken over the game today. It’s not necessarily related to insurance, but it’s something that can get people excited about the math side of sports, which I thought was pretty cool.
» If you liked Alex’s interview, check out our other actuarial science student interviews.