Brandon McKelvey is a senior at Texas A&M University in College Station, Texas. Brandon is majoring in applied mathematical science with an emphasis in actuarial science. He recently completed an internship at Willis Towers Watson in Houston and will be working as a retirement actuarial analyst at the company’s Dallas office after graduating this May. We spoke with Brandon in May 2020.
Tell us one thing about you that’s not on your resume.
I’ve been into golf since middle school, and I got really into it in high school. I played golf in high school and we won a state championship, and I played collegiate golf as a freshman.
What has your experience at Texas A&M University been like?
Both my parents and my older brother went to A&M. My brother graduated in 2016, so just four years ago. They’ve brought me to football games since I was as young as I can remember, and the university has fulfilled everything I wanted to see in a college and in college life. I’ve always loved College Station. What I love about College Station is that it’s not in a huge city like Austin or Dallas or San Antonio. It’s in a small town in the middle of nowhere, Texas, and it’s home to me.
I loved how A&M offered classes to prepare for the first three actuarial exams. These classes prepared me well for the exams, and they were a good supplement and reinforcement to my studying.
What other schools were you considering, and why did you choose Texas A&M?
As a freshman, I started out at St. Edward’s University in downtown Austin, playing collegiate golf. That didn’t really work out, and I knew that I wanted to get to A&M at some point. Once I figured out that collegiate golf wasn’t for me, I decided that I needed to transfer to A&M as soon as I could.
What influenced you to pursue an actuarial science program?
My older brother actually graduated with the same degree that I’m graduating with. He’s an actuary at AIG in downtown Houston now. He’d mentioned to me that actuarial science might be good, because I was originally trying to get into the business school here, but transferring into the business school at A&M is very, very difficult. He said, “You love math just like I did. Why don’t you try out actuarial science, and you can always transfer if you don’t like it?” So I took a couple of classes, and I ended up really loving it.
Why should other students consider a focus in actuarial science?
Students who really love math should consider this degree because it gives you the opportunity to apply all these calculations and formulas that you learned in college, and then once you graduate, you apply everything you learned to real-life experiences with insurance or consulting. It’s just really cool to see how everything you learned transfers directly to real-life experiences.
What has been your experience with the actuarial science program at your school?
The actuarial science program here is definitely smaller than some other schools like UT Austin, which has a much larger staff. But the staff here is just as good. Heather Ramsey was my advisor, and my brother’s advisor, too, so she knew me and my brother. She was really helpful, and she was always asking us what the program could do better. I appreciated that she was so interested in trying to make our program competitive.
I loved how A&M offered classes to prepare for the first three actuarial exams: P, FM, and IFM. They even had one class that covered a good majority of Exam SRM. These classes prepared me well for the exams, and they were a good supplement and reinforcement to my studying. I’d come from classes, and I’d study for these exams, and when I’d go to that class the next day, it would be a reinforcement of what I just studied, which was even more practice for me.
I had really good professors for those exam classes, and one of them was actually Heather Ramsey. She taught the class for Exam FM. She knew how to teach the syllabus, but she didn’t want to prepare her students only to take the test because not only actuarial science students took these classes. She was trying to give us the material in a way that would push us to study on the side, rather than teaching to the test. I’ve always appreciated not being taught to the test because if you only learn to take the test, once you get into the real world, you’re lost on how to study in real life. I’ve been able to study for my classes and also study for exams at the same time. It gave me the opportunity to learn to study in an organized way while being very, very busy.
I was also a member of the Aggie Actuaries club on campus. The president of Aggie Actuaries contacts representatives from companies around Texas to get them to come down and present to the club. It’s good to have that networking ability and to study together. At my internship, I knew one of my coworkers because he was in Aggie Actuaries when I went to these meetings as a sophomore. I knew one of my soon-to-be-current coworkers in Dallas because he was the president of Aggie Actuaries.
What is your favorite class so far and why?
My favorite class was Oceanography. The course was based around a mathematical approach to modeling the ocean’s climate. A big reason why I loved going to this class was my professor. He was very passionate, and he had written multiple articles about this subject. It was interesting to see how we applied all these differential equations and formulas to get a model for the ocean, how the ocean’s climate is changing, and how the Earth’s climate is changing. It combined something that I didn’t know much about, oceanography, with something that I knew a lot about, math. That was very interesting to me to see how it all worked.
What has been most challenging about studying actuarial science? Is there anything you wish you had known ahead of time?
I think the hardest parts are definitely the exams and learning how to study while you’re busy. I learned how to do that well at my internship, because I was getting home from work at 5:00 p.m., and I took an exam during my internship. It really taught me how much free time I actually do have in college, even if I thought I didn’t, because working 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. every day and then trying to study after that was difficult. I really had to adjust my schedule. I would study at 6:00 a.m. or 7:00 a.m. because I was always more awake in the mornings than I was after work.
I was very fortunate that my brother was basically a guinea pig for four years before me. He was always telling me, “Do your exams as soon as possible. You’re going to be too busy at work. Just get as many done as you can right now,” so I really thank him for helping me get so far with all my exams.
Have you had any insurance-related internships? If so, how was your experience?
My internship was at Willis Towers Watson. It was in downtown Houston this past summer, and it was in the retirement consulting division, so not really insurance. Since my brother is in insurance, I got his perspective on the insurance side. I really loved experiencing the consulting side this past summer. I had originally been thinking about a business major because I can be client-facing and present to clients, so consulting appealed to the business side of me.
What are the latest developments or trends in insurance?
Working in the retirement division, we mainly focus on pension plans. A lot of people think that they’re going away, but they’re not. There are actually billions of dollars that are being contributed to pension plans right now. A lot of the companies that we’re working with have people who are just entering these pension plans, so those aren’t going to be going away until those people retire in another 40 or 50 years.
I think the coronavirus situation is really going to have an impact because a lot of these companies are hurting. I noticed this especially when I was in Houston because a lot of our clients were in the oil and gas industry. I’m sure in Houston they’re a little stressed because they have to contribute a certain amount of money to their plans every year, while they’re losing money with this whole oil crisis. It’s just going to be interesting to see in the next couple of years how all the industries are impacted by this pandemic.
What are your future aspirations or career plans?
I’m starting in July as a retirement actuarial analyst at Willis Towers Watson in Dallas, Texas. I’m from DFW, so I liked being in Dallas. It’s the same job as the internship, but it’s full time. I know a lot of people that are working in the Dallas office, so I’m excited to get started.
What advice would you give someone interested in the insurance field?
If you’re looking into this field, my questions would be, “Do you really love math? And do you really love how big calculations apply to real life?” That’s what drew me in. It was not just going to school every day and being book smart, but also taking all this knowledge and applying it. If you’re looking into this field, one of the biggest pieces of advice I could offer is, “If you love applying math to real life, then this field might be for you.”
To succeed in this field, one of the biggest things I’ve learned is to be as organized as possible because it can get pretty hectic, especially in the consulting field. We have busy times of year, and it’s going to be hard to study during those times. The more organized you can be in college, the better off you’re going to be when you enter the workforce.
» If you liked Brandon’s interview, check out our other actuarial science student interviews.