Courtney Coomes is a junior at the University of Louisville in Louisville, Kentucky. She is majoring in Math with a Track in Actuarial Science and is expecting to graduate in May 2020. Courtney is president of the Actuarial Club and is also an avid runner, with plans to run two half marathons every year. We spoke with Courtney in April 2019.
What has your experience at the University of Louisville been like?
Overall, I’ve been really thankful for the great experience I’ve had at UofL. The school is a little on the smaller end, with about 60 math majors and maybe 30 actuarial science students. But what’s nice about that is the program is small enough where there aren’t any barriers to doing what you want to do. For example, if you wanted to create a club, you can just start it. There’s also a lot of opportunity for building relationships with professors—not even necessarily just the ones in your department—but across the university.
One really cool thing about my experience at UofL has been being a part of the honors program. Through that program, we’re able to attend weekly seminars, which are on really wacky, fun topics. I took a seminar that was on the relationships between cities and parks, and our class met once a week for two and a half hours, and we’d go walk around the park and just study how people were interacting in the park and how that affected the city as a whole. For spring break, we went to New York City and got to check out all of the great parks in the city. So it’s been a really fun program.
What other schools were you considering, and why did you choose UofL?
I considered Ohio State, Bellarmine University, and UofL. I’m from Louisville, so those were schools that were close and also had actuarial programs. I really like the city, so I was happy with staying close to Louisville.
Ultimately, I landed on UofL because they have a math major with an actuarial track. Coming out of high school, I was interested in actuarial science, but I had never really done anything in it so I wasn’t totally sold on the field yet. I liked that UofL had the math degree, which was a little more broad than a pure actuarial science degree.
What influenced you to pursue an actuarial science program?
In high school, and even middle school, I was set on being a chemical engineer or a pharmacist. In pursuit of that, I took an AP Biology class in high school, but I really didn’t enjoy any part of it. So I thought if I didn’t enjoy basic biology, I probably shouldn’t go much further down the science route.
I always liked math, and I was taking AP Statistics at the time and really liked the application of math in statistics. My dad also worked at an insurance company at the time, and he suggested I check out what an actuary is. So I looked into being an actuary, and I thought that the application of math and business, especially with an industry as dynamic as insurance, was really interesting.
The concepts that you learn within actuarial science build a good framework for how to manipulate data, identify what’s important, and create models.
Why should other students consider a focus in actuarial science?
I’ve had a few internships, and what I noticed from those experiences is that data science and the ability to manipulate big data in a meaningful way is becoming vital to business analytics. The concepts that you learn within actuarial science build a good framework for how to manipulate data, identify what’s important, and create models. Predictive analytics are also becoming big, and I see a lot of companies trying to take advantage of that. I think actuarial skills align really well with where data analytics and business analytics are headed.
What has been your experience with the actuarial science program at your school?
Within Louisville, there are three big actuary employers: Humana, Anthem, and Mercer. The proximity of UofL to these companies is really beneficial, and we’re able to have a lot of good interactions with them. Within the Actuarial Club, Humana did three or four events just in the fall semester, and Anthem did a few as well.
Structurally, the actuarial science program has three classes that help you prepare for exams. There are preparatory classes for Exams P, FM, and IFM. What I think is really cool and unique is Humana actually does a project with the class that prepares for exam P. The class meets twice a week, and in addition to that, Humana works on a statistics project with the class.
The Actuarial Club has also played a big role in my experience here. When I came in as a freshman, I was just attending the club, and through that I got to meet the person at Anthem who eventually hired me for an internship. I also got the opportunity to be president of the club this year, and through that I’ve been able to network with companies and bring more companies in to meet with the club.
Meeting employers through the club has been vital, but it’s also been great building relationships with other students who are pursuing a career in actuarial science. Studying together, picking each others’ brains, and even meeting alumni through the club’s alumni panel has been really helpful.
What is your favorite class so far and why?
The first actuarial class I took was the class that prepared for Exam FM, and I really liked that class. It was such a hard class, and it was the first time that I felt like I was really challenged to step up to the plate, put a lot of time in, and really know the material. In class, we would go over concepts, and our homework consisted of practice exam questions. Very quickly, you would need to learn the content and apply it to these questions. I just really enjoyed how challenging the class was.
What has been most challenging about studying actuarial science? Is there anything you wish you would have known ahead of time?
What’s been the most challenging is studying for exams and doing schoolwork. The way I’ve been functioning is going to school like normal during the year and then studying for an exam over the summer. I did that for the past two summers with Exam FM and then Exam P. But this fall, I got to school, and it had been less than a month since I had taken the exam. I was just really tired—tired of studying and of just tired of school.
I wish I would have known to take more breaks and to have more structured rest time so burnout wouldn’t be as likely. I think having hobbies and sticking with them, even when things got hard, would have kept me more sane. Like running, for example. I think that I generally do better in school if I am keeping up with running, rather than throwing running out just to make more time to do other things.
Have you had any insurance-related internships? If so, how was your experience?
The summer after my freshman year, I interned at Anthem. It wasn’t an actuarial internship, but I was working in the business intelligence department. Along with five other interns, we would gather data about competing insurance companies and put that data into a database that would upload itself to this software that would put it all on a map. It was really cool because the information we were collecting was information that actuaries had put together. We were able to get a view into the end product of what an actuary had worked on, which was really interesting for me, especially after only having been at school for a year.
The last internship I had was at a smaller employee benefits firm that worked with pensions. While Anthem was a national company with 400 people in their office, this firm was a lot smaller, with only about 15 people in the office. It was really helpful getting to explore a big corporation versus a much smaller firm.
My project there was to develop an Excel template to more quickly calculate a benefit so, for instance, when someone retires they can tell that person how much money they’ll be able to receive each month.
What are the latest developments or trends in insurance?
One trend that’s interesting is how insurance companies, specifically companies like Anthem and Humana, are developing or acquiring their own pharmacies in an effort to cut drug costs. Another interesting development I’ve heard about is how health insurance companies are analyzing policyholders’ doctor visits, looking at type of doctor and frequency of visit. From this data, they may be able to diagnose a policyholder with a disease.
What advice would you give someone interested in the insurance field?
Be diligent and work hard, especially in studying for exams in addition to studying for school. It really is a lot of studying.
In your schoolwork, it’s a good practice to just be curious. Don’t simply take the information and then spit it back. Take the time to think more analytically about it. What I experienced with my internships is that if you’re able to ask questions about data that maybe nobody else has thought of, you can create some really cool analytical finds.
Do you have any favorite books, websites, or media that you would recommend for someone interested in insurance?
I think a favorite book that is loosely related to actuarial science is Moneyball by Michael Lewis. It really illuminates the power of statistics, and I think that seeing how statistics changed the Oakland A’s streak was really amazing.