Kyle Tanner is a sophomore at the University of Central Florida, where he is majoring in both actuarial science and statistics and minoring in mathematics. He is in the University Honors Program through UCF’s Burnett Honors College and serves as a newly elected officer of UCF’s Actuarial Science Club. We spoke to Kyle in April 2021.
Tell us one thing about yourself that’s not on your resume.
I am an avid table tennis player, and I am also an officer for UCF’s Knights Table Tennis Club. We hold weekly practices and compete with other schools in our region like Florida State University, the University of Florida, and the University of South Florida.
What has your experience at the University of Central Florida been like?
My time at UCF has been excellent so far. With one of the highest student enrollments in the country, an incoming freshman might at first find it impossible to stand out as a student. However, I quickly found myself involved with several programs on campus and that large enrollment started to seem less daunting.
I am in the University Honors Program through UCF’s Burnett Honors College, which allows interested students to take smaller courses to emphasize engagement. I have found that the professors that teach these honors courses are much more engaged and personally invested in their course material, which speaks volumes about the appeal of small courses.
Four out of my five classes in my first semester had a total enrollment of less than 20 students, and those honors courses encouraged me to be more involved than usual in my classes with significantly higher enrollment. I found myself asking more questions than everyone else. I would never hesitate to lead group projects, and I haven’t yet desired to skip any of my lectures.
I have also found some excellent extracurricular activities to become involved in, including various Honors College-sponsored events, leadership workshops, UCF’s Knights Table Tennis Club, the Actuarial Science Club, and intramural sports.
I find our program wonderful because we are a small enough major at our school to have engaging, major-specific courses every semester.
What other schools were you considering, and why did you choose the University of Central Florida?
Going into college, I knew that I wanted to do some kind of work related to actuarial science or statistics—or possibly both. I applied to schools around the country with respectable programs in both subjects, including Florida State University, Purdue University, Robert Morris University, St. John’s University, The Ohio State University, and quite a few others.
I was accepted to almost all of these universities, but what ultimately drew me to UCF was the city of Orlando. Home to theme parks like Universal Studios and Walt Disney World, Orlando is a city with sunshine all year long and hosts many insurance companies serving Central Florida and South Florida. Orlando quickly became a standalone reason to choose UCF.
My parents celebrated my reasons for considering UCF, but I suspect that the prospect of living only three hours from home had a lot to do with that. Nonetheless, I wanted to make sure that the university’s programs were the right fit for me.
The fall before graduating from high school, I decided to tour the campus and speak with Dr. David Nickerson, the actuarial science program advisor at the time. I found a campus that was always busy with activities, a program with an excellent structure and sets of classes intended to prepare students for actuarial exams, and a group of supportive fellow students through the school’s Actuarial Science Club. I am still confident in my decision to attend UCF.
What influenced you to pursue an actuarial science program?
Since my junior year of high school, I have always been interested in mathematics and, more specifically, statistics. I was one of the most involved members of my high school’s math competition club, and I eventually competed in my school’s statistics competition team. I took a prerequisite statistics course in junior year, enjoyed the class, then felt ready to take AP Statistics in my senior year with the same teacher.
My high school statistics teacher took a few actuarial exams himself and recommended the major for me while I was competing and taking my two years of classes with him. I quickly fell in love with the concept of job qualifications focused on incremental knowledge built up through years of study and exam preparation because it meant that I would always be learning something new. This is what ultimately led me to choose actuarial science as a major, and I have been satisfied with my decision ever since.
Why should other students consider a focus in actuarial science?
I recommend students consider a focus in actuarial science if they have an interest in pure mathematics, statistics, business, computer programming, or a mix of any of these areas. Students should also have the determination to try and learn new things. This field is dictated by relevant work experience and years of learning new topics through workshops, info sessions, and actuarial exams while in college. This is followed by more exams, modules, and seminars for industry designations. I am consistent in my opinion that actuarial science is the go-to field for those that love to learn.
In the professional world of actuarial science, there is plenty of upward mobility based on how well you perform on exams in conjunction with all of the necessary soft skills like teamwork, leadership, and effective communication. While other college majors may have specific tracks or concentrations that students can choose for their future classes, actuarial science is truly in a world of its own because the selection of a specific track or concentration takes place much later on in the exam-taking process when you already have a full-time career.
What has been your experience with the actuarial science program at your school?
I have had wonderful experiences with the actuarial science program at my school. As part of my requirements for graduating “with honors” under my school’s University Honors Program, I have to take many classes that have an honors designation. This usually indicates that they have much smaller class sizes.
However, in my freshman year, I looked through a list of upper-level courses offered, and I was shocked to see that none of the upper-level actuarial science courses had an honors designation. I figured that these classes would have high enrollment and little opportunity to stress student engagement. Surprisingly enough, I have experienced the exact opposite. Most of these later actuarial science classes still have lower enrollment, so the “small-fish, big-pond” mentality common to other majors and courses at UCF doesn’t really occur for actuarial science undergraduates.
I find our program wonderful because we are a small enough major at our school to have engaging, major-specific courses every semester. At the same time, we are all dedicated enough to our studies and involvement that our Actuarial Science Club still attracts numerous students across disciplines like statistics, computer science, or even former engineering majors.
Additionally, the foundation set by our former program advisor offers a great glimpse of which courses best prepare us for which actuarial exams, and these courses very closely follow the usual chronology of exams taken by aspiring actuaries. As an example, a prospective actuarial science major at my school could potentially take all of the necessary courses to best prepare themselves for their first two actuarial exams by the end of their third semester in college.
What is your favorite class so far and why?
My favorite class so far is actually a course I am currently taking called STA 4852: Applied Time Series. I have always found the more challenging, theoretical courses to be the most interesting, but I also enjoy working with real-world data and using computer software.
This course involves a perfect mix of both theoretical and technical knowledge, while being a central component to the actuarial science major at my school. I especially find ideas on model forecasting particularly interesting because I know that this is one of the more immediately relevant topics to a professional career in actuarial science.
What is unique about focusing on actuarial science relative to other majors you could have chosen?
My favorite unique feature about actuarial science has to be the concept of taking actuarial exams for employment qualifications rather than placing such a heavy focus on graduate school. As much as I enjoy learning and academia, I feel gaining professional experience as quickly as possible is one of the most important foundations for a successful career.
Being able to gain an entry-level job with a couple of actuarial exams passed and a bachelor’s degree is absolutely invaluable, and movement along the career ladder is based on that relevant professional experience in conjunction with regular studying for future exams to obtain designations like ASA or FSA. Therefore, I would say that actuarial science is much more like continuing one’s college education while maintaining an excellent, full-time career.
What has been most challenging about studying actuarial science? Is there anything you wish you would have known ahead of time?
Many people usually say that the most challenging aspect of majoring in actuarial science is ensuring that they study enough hours for an actuarial exam. I may take it a step further and say the most challenging aspect is making sure that you manage your time well between the two significant items that usually dominate your schedule: coursework and actuarial exams.
I wish I had known ahead of time the dangers of working three or four days a week straight on only coursework, then only studying for actuarial exams the rest of the week. If I had known better when I began studying for SOA Exam P, I would have stuck to a more rigid schedule involving a few hours of coursework followed by a couple of hours of studying for actuarial exams each day. This is something I am still actively improving on as I study for future exams.
Have you had any insurance-related internships? If so, how was your experience?
Last summer, I participated in a CAS Independent Summer Internship where I got some exposure to various aspects of the property and casualty side of insurance. I was able to get some hands-on experience with real predictive modelling software that is used in the industry. I was also able to expand on my knowledge of Excel and VBA, even going beyond the scope of the program and learning some skills in SQL that immediately transferred over to my work in the summer program.
What are the latest developments or trends in insurance?
I would say there are two recent interesting trends in the insurance or actuarial science field. First, we know that insurance is becoming increasingly digitized and automated through the development of many computer programming languages and advanced software. This has created an interesting trend where actuaries are expected to have stronger technical skills and in more programming languages than ever before. Additionally, their conceptual knowledge of both insurance and their program’s supporting materials are simultaneously increasing in value. Actuaries have become the do-it-all individuals in the insurance world, and only time will tell where we go from here.
Also, as a result of the global pandemic, we now face an interesting problem where we must decide how this year’s models impact our future forecasts. Insurance providers covering various coronavirus-related health issues may have unprecedentedly high claims right now. On the other hand, property and casualty companies may have much lower claims as a result of stay-at-home orders. Both determine how this year’s data will impact the future.
What are your future aspirations or career plans?
I am currently studying for Exam FM and I plan to sit for that exam sometime in June. I am also still applying to numerous internship opportunities in many disciplines—such as pricing or business analytics and consulting—to supplement my exam studying. My hope is to continue that potential internship work with a co-op position in the fall or spring of the next academic year so I can gain more professional experience. In my opinion, gaining as much professional experience as soon as possible is crucial, so I believe I am in a good position right now as I search for an internship opportunity for the summer after my second year in college with one actuarial exam behind me and one more soon ahead.
As a newly elected officer of my school’s Actuarial Science Club, I want to help the club grow in a variety of ways, such as expanding our club’s mentor program as well as the student support network we have for most of the actuarial science-specific courses.
Regarding my long-term goals, since I will hopefully have my first two actuarial exams passed by this June, I want to take some time to research and determine if the SOA or CAS track is best for me. I am unsure whether I want to dedicate my career to life and general insurance or if I may potentially find property and casualty insurance more enticing. Fortunately, I am still a second-year college student, so I have plenty of time to decide.
What advice would you give someone interested in the insurance field?
One of the biggest pieces of advice I could give to someone interested in the insurance field is to work on reaching meaningful conclusions when analyzing data. They must also be willing to refresh themselves on basic concepts from high school or early collegiate-level statistics and business classes as frequently as needed.
Oftentimes, when we analyze data in a programming language such as R or Python, we depend on the computer output given to us, but we don’t necessarily understand what it’s saying. In order to be a successful actuary, we must be able to produce output and reach conclusions that are meaningful and understandable by the everyday consumer.
Another important piece of advice is to pay attention to the vocabulary used in the business and insurance world. I was slightly lost for my first few semesters of college until I began studying for SOA Exam P, where you are expected to know insurance terms for use in the exam questions. I would definitely advise someone to learn these terms much earlier. All of the terminology may seem intimidating, but don’t let that shy you away from a potential career in insurance.
Do you have any favorite books, websites, or media that you would recommend for someone interested in insurance?
I would say the Society of Actuaries website is filled with many resources that those interested in insurance may find incredibly valuable. Some of my personal favorites include the many podcasts featuring discussions or interviews covering current events in the insurance world. Many of these podcasts are available on Apple Podcasts, Google Play, and Spotify. Where I think these podcasts help the most is in helping everyday consumers understand the thought process of large insurance providers.
» If you liked Kyle’s interview, check out our other actuarial science student interviews.