Adam Majewski is a senior at Slippery Rock University of Pennsylvania, where he is majoring in mathematics with minors in statistics and actuarial science. Adam was recently elected the president of his university’s Actuarial Science Club, and this summer he is taking part in the CAS Student Central Program. We spoke with Adam in July 2020.
Tell us one thing about you that’s not on your resume.
I played football in high school, so I’m huge on watching football, and I participate in several fantasy football leagues. I enjoy applying the statistics that I’ve learned throughout school to fantasy football. I find it very enjoyable to actually dig into predicting how some players will do against different teams. I also enjoy playing other sports with friends, like basketball, football, golf, or hockey. I’m very active in my free time.
What has your experience at Slippery Rock University of Pennsylvania been like?
I’ve loved going to Slippery Rock so far. For me, going away to college was very intimidating at first. However, Slippery Rock has a lot of events for incoming freshmen and transfer students, such as the Week of Welcome. Incoming students arrive about a week early and do activities to meet the people on their floor or dorm rooms. There are major fairs to get students interested and help them decide on their majors.
Even though Slippery Rock offers classes to prepare you for the actuarial exams, the classes aren’t solely focused on how to pass the exams. It’s not just about studying to the exams but learning the theory behind the subject.
Another thing I love about Slippery Rock is the quad. It’s right in the middle of all the major buildings, and it’s a big open space with a bunch of tables set up. If you want to sit outside and study or do homework with friends, you’re more than welcome to. People play bean bags, spike ball, Frisbee, and everyone is extremely welcoming, so you’re always able to walk up and join in. If you have free time between classes, people are always inviting you to play games and hang out. It’s a great community, and it’s very easy to make new friends here, as long as you’re able or willing to go out and make the effort.
In terms of academics, research is highly recommended with all the professors in the math department. I did research with one of my professors, Dr. Woosuk Kim, and I was encouraged to take it to a conference in Erie. We won an award because of the work that my group did with our professor. The university also offers a lot of professional development outside of the classroom. Slippery Rock’s actuarial department tries to go to two career fairs per year. They also have leadership training and offer tutoring sessions every day of the week, from the end of class until 10 p.m. I used those a lot in my freshman year.
It’s easy to get help when you need it, and all the professors that I’ve met are easy to talk to and have open office hours. I have a couple of the professors’ phone numbers, and if I need something later in the evening when they’re no longer at the university, I know I’m comfortable enough to send them a text saying, “Hey, can you help me with this if you have time?” And they’re always eager to help because everyone really cares about the students’ professional development at the university. They want you to get the best experience out of Slippery Rock.
What other schools were you considering, and why did you choose Slippery Rock University?
I was considering a few other schools. I considered Bloomsburg University, which is farther than I wanted to move away from home, and Illinois State University, because I’ve heard good things about their actuarial program, and Robert Morris as well. But Slippery Rock offers a great program and is a lot more affordable than an out-of-state or private school.
I attended Slippery Rock’s Accepted Students Day, and I was the only mathematics major who showed up. I was meeting with the head of the department, Dr. Richard Marchand, and I was really worried that it was going to be awkward. I imagined sitting there quietly with this person I’ve never met, but he ended up being extremely easy to talk to. We made it through the entire meeting talking about football and what I wanted to do with my life, and he planned out my entire college experience for me. It really helped calm my nerves. Being able to meet all the professors prior to starting school was incredibly nice.
Since Slippery Rock is a smaller state school, the classroom sizes are a lot smaller, so you’re easily able to ask questions without feeling awkward or feeling like you’re disrupting class. Since it is a smaller classroom, the professors are able to judge how fast they’re going or how students are doing, so they can adapt and say, “Hey, I don’t think you guys are ready for this exam yet. We can push it back. If you want to turn in your homework now, you can, and I’ll grade it as soon as possible.” The small classroom sizes were definitely a huge plus for me.
The environment in the mathematics department is also nice. There are two tables near the professors’ offices, so you can work at those tables with your friends or other math majors. Whenever you have questions, it’s less than a minute to walk over to a professor’s office to get some clarification, and then you’re right back to your work and on your way.
What influenced you to pursue an actuarial science program?
In high school, I was mainly considering accounting because at that time I knew accountants dealt with a lot of numbers, and math was the one subject that came easy to me. So I thought, “Oh, I’ll be an accountant because I’m good at math.” Then I was introduced to actuarial science. I started to do research and figure out the exam process, and I thought it was the perfect career because it combines economics, finance, and math. I saw that actuaries are problem solvers who help insurance companies. That interested me too because I don’t want to have a job where I do the same thing every day. I want to be able to use the tools that I’ve learned in school and even outside of school, and be able to apply those to my everyday life and solve problems.
What has been your experience with the actuarial science program at your school?
While we don’t actually have an actuarial science major yet, it is recommended that you major in math with a minor in actuarial science. However, that’s just to get a sound foundation of the calculus that you’ll need for the actuarial exams. You’re free to switch out the major with finance or economics or even a stats major, and it won’t put any bumps in the road. You’ll still be able to proceed with the classes necessary to learn all the exam material.
Another amazing part of Slippery Rock is that, even though the school offers classes to prepare you for six out of the seven preliminary actuarial exams, the classes aren’t solely focused on how to pass the exams. You’ll take a theory of interest class, learn the material, and actually understand it. It’s not just about studying to the exams but learning the theory behind the subject.
In terms of extracurriculars, I’ve been elected president of the Actuarial Science Club, so I’m working with the head of the department, and we’re brainstorming on changes to make the program better all the time. Currently, they’re trying to change some programs to add more applied stats, and we’re also working on developing a statistics major and working towards adding more classes to better prepare for actuarial exams. The university offers reimbursement for some of the study materials that you’ll use, whether it’s Coaching Actuaries or other manuals, and the exam fees. If you pass the exam while you’re enrolled at Slippery Rock, they’ll give you a full refund for it, and a lot of times they’ll give you a stipend or some form of payment in order to get the study materials that you need to study for the exam.
The school has a lot of resources for you to use, and they highly encourage you to get through the exams as fast as you can and truly enjoy your time at Slippery Rock, while also making sure that you are ready for the outside world and ready to get that entry-level position right when you leave Slippery Rock.
What is your favorite class so far and why?
My favorite class so far was Statistical Computing. It was the first class that taught me the programming language R, but it was also the first class that allowed me to be creative with what methods I wanted to use. For the first half of the semester, we were taught all the functions that we would need in R, or all the code that we would need in order to dissect the dataset and learn what we needed to. Then, for the second half of the semester, we had free rein to choose the topic that we wanted to discuss, as long as we were able to find a dataset to investigate. We had to write a professional statistical report and be able to say, “I came to this conclusion, and this is why.” Another reason why it was my favorite was that there were no right or wrong answers. If the data took you to that conclusion, do you have the data to back it up? That is why that class is my favorite by far.
What is unique about focusing on actuarial science relative to other majors you could have chosen?
With other majors, as soon as your classes are done, and as soon as you finish your homework for the day, you now have the rest of the night to do whatever you want. That’s not the case with actuarial science majors. The school day and your homework are kind of the shorter part of your day, and then as soon as that’s done, you have to be motivated and want to study for an exam that may not correlate with the classes you’re taking at the time. It’s basically a whole other class on top of your school schedule that you have to want to do in your free time. You really motivate yourself in order to say, “I want to study for this exam because this is what’s important to me.”
Another very unique thing I’ve seen for actuarial science students is it seems that everyone is extremely supportive of each other, because we all understand what we’re all going through. When you fail an exam, people are there to help you and try to give you advice on what you should do next, and try to keep a positive outlook on it. It’s a very nice environment to be around.
What has been most challenging about studying actuarial science? Is there anything you wish you had known ahead of time?
One of the most challenging parts of studying actuarial science is balancing school, actuarial exams, and social life. There are only 24 hours in a day, so at some points different parts of that are going to have to be put on the back burner. But as long as you stay committed to what you’re doing and stay focused, you can come out of college with a good GPA, with a couple exams passed, while maintaining your social life.
I wish I knew ahead of time that you don’t need complicated math or in-depth math in order to start the actuarial exam process. I believe the most in-depth math that the first couple exams require is knowing how to evaluate integrals, which a lot of high schools are teaching in calculus classes, or you could pick it up somewhat easily on your own if you put forth the time and effort. I wish I knew that I could start the exam process in my freshman year. I unfortunately waited until my sophomore year, so I’ve been trying to catch up and get ahead from sophomore to senior year.
Have you had any insurance-related internships? If so, how was your experience?
I was going to intern at Blue Cross Blue Shield this summer, but that was canceled due to the pandemic. I am currently enrolled in a CAS Student Central Program over the summer, which is a program that the CAS created in order to help out the students who had internships canceled. They teach a lot of the useful tools that students would’ve learned at an internship, such as pricing, reserving, predictive modeling, and data visualization. During this program, everyone is assigned to a group of five students. We compete in a case competition, so we’re able to apply everything that we’ve learned. That’s probably the closest thing that I’ve had to an internship so far, but it’s still very beneficial.
What are your future aspirations or career plans?
My main goal is to try to obtain my FSA or FCAS credentials as soon as possible after I graduate from Slippery Rock. My goal career would be to work in a predictive modeling group at an insurance company, because predictive modeling is what I find to be the most interesting. It excites me to know that a lot of insurance companies are actually moving in this direction and are implementing predictive modeling a lot more in their companies.
What advice would you give someone interested in the insurance field?
Start trying to learn the insurance lingo that’s used in the industry. For the first couple years of college, I was kind of oblivious as to what a lot of the terms actually meant, so when I was working with insurance datasets, I would spend a lot of time trying to look up what some terms meant, since I was unsure.
It’s also important to know that there are other insurance roles that work with actuaries, just to keep your options open. When you are in an actuarial role, you work hand-in-hand with a lot of underwriters and other roles. It’s beneficial to see the bigger picture and understand what each person brings to the table and how they fit in the puzzle. It would be helpful to understand each person’s role when it comes to collaborating with them.
Do you have any favorite books, websites, or media that you would recommend for someone interested in insurance?
I listen to a few insurance and actuarial podcasts. I listen to Research Insights, the Society of Actuaries podcast. There’s the Actuaries Institute podcast and a Business of Insurance podcast as well.
» If you liked Adam’s interview, check out our other actuarial science student interviews.