Lauren Case is a senior at the University of Texas at Austin, where she is majoring in Mathematics with a concentration in Actuarial Science. Lauren is president of the Actuarial Science Club at UT Austin and is interning at the actuarial consulting firm Rudd and Wisdom this summer. We spoke with Lauren in May 2019.
Tell us one thing about you that’s not on your resume.
I swim on the team at the University of Texas. Throughout high school, I was actually a member of the U.S. National Junior Team for swimming, so I got to travel to Singapore, Ireland, and then across the country to represent the U.S. in international competitions. I had the opportunity to experience other cultures and meet athletes from all around the world, which was really cool.
What has your experience at UT Austin been like?
I’ve had a great experience overall. I came to UT Austin from out of state. I’m from Woodstock, Georgia, which is a far suburb of Atlanta. I actually came to UT for athletics—I was recruited here to swim. My swimming experience has been great. We’ve won a couple of Big 12 Conference championships, I’ve gotten to travel across the U.S. and represent my school, and I’ve made a lot of lifelong friends. I love my teammates and all of our coaches and support staff, and that’s kind of become my family here. UT Austin is a very big school, so it’s been nice to find a community that I can feel a part of.
With actuarial science, you have the opportunity to apply math knowledge and a little bit of business acumen to real-world issues.
On the academic side, being a part of the actuarial program, I feel like I’ve made so many friends and connections with our professors. That’s also been a small community for me to be a part of.
I’ve been in the Actuarial Science Club, so I’ve gotten to meet a lot of my classmates and a lot of employers, which has been exciting. I’m actually traveling to New Orleans next weekend for a Casualty Actuary Society conference, so that’s also really exciting.
Austin, the city, is really fun. They call it the weirdest city in the U.S., and it is definitely weird, but there is always something going on. I’ve been to a lot of concerts, there’s a lot of outdoors activities to do, and we have a really fun downtown.
What other schools were you considering, and why did you choose UT Austin?
I was looking at the University of Georgia because it’s close to home and also the University of Arizona, University of Louisville, and Stanford University. I had a pretty tough decision to make in the end, but for me it came down to what school I felt combined academics with athletics the best. UT, having a specific actuarial program, not just applied math, was really big for me. And I felt confident this would be a place where I could feel successful both in the classroom as well as in athletics.
What influenced you to pursue an actuarial science program?
I decided on actuarial science during my junior year of high school, which is when I started looking at colleges. For me, I’ve always had an aptitude for math. I’ve loved problem solving. What I liked about actuarial science was that it seemed to be where you could apply math to real-world problems, and it’s kind of easy to visualize. It’s not as abstract as I’ve seen math before.
I wanted to be able to use actuarial science to do things in the business world or in the insurance industry and get a chance to solve problems. It seemed like if you were majoring in math, you either did actuarial science or you taught math. And, I realize now, those are not the only two options, but at the time that’s what it seemed like, and I didn’t want to teach, so I chose actuarial science.
Why should other students consider a focus in actuarial science?
There was an article recently that ranked the actuarial career as the number-one career, based on a variety of factors. There’s just a great career outlook with actuarial science. The world of insurance is constantly changing, and it’s still very important, with new types of insurance being added all the time.
With actuarial science, you have the opportunity to apply math knowledge and a little bit of business acumen to real-world issues, and you get to analyze data, build models, and do things that will make notable changes in the way insurance and businesses work. Although actuarial science seems specific, it’s a major that would prepare you for a variety of applications. You can very feasibly be working in finance or in risk-management departments or really anywhere you’re trying to quantify risk and see how that affects a business.
What has been your experience with the actuarial science program at your school?
We have an Actuarial Science Club that is very active, and that has been a huge part of my academic career here. We have weekly meetings, and we are constantly bringing in employers and industry professionals to educate us on the field. Additionally, we have a very strong sense of community. We’re all supporting each other in our classes and as we study for our exams.
The professors have been great. They are always very supportive and very focused on the exams and making sure we’re as prepared as possible for them.
Outside of classes and the club, we have a lot of opportunities to travel to conferences. I said before I’m going to New Orleans for the CAS conference, and that’s an opportunity that was provided for me by the department. I’m actually going to be the Actuarial Science Club president next year, so I get to do a lot more talking to employers, being a part of faculty meetings, and meeting with donors, which has been a great experience.
What is your favorite class so far and why?
I’ve taken most of the actuarial coursework at this point, and my favorite class is called Finance 357, which is basically corporate finance. It’s actually through the business school, so we take it with the McCombs graduates. We’ve learned most of the concepts of corporate finance throughout actuarial coursework, but it was interesting to see it more from a business perspective and to see it more in a broad sense than just doing the math.
I felt like the class really combined some of the actuarial topics of corporate finance with the business world, which is kind of what the career is. You take the math that you’ve learned, and you try to simplify it and use it to better the business you’re at. And if you’re doing something like consulting, you have to be able to take these super complex concepts and simplify them and use them in more of a business context. I feel like the class really completed my concepts of finance.
What has been most challenging about studying actuarial science? Is there anything you wish you would have known ahead of time?
The most challenging aspect is the exam process and having to study for those actuarial exams outside of coursework that is already pretty challenging. I didn’t realize ahead of time just how much time goes into the exams. You’re supposed to be studying something like 300 hours per exam, on top of the coursework you’re already doing. Having to balance succeeding in school with also making time to study for exams is definitely a challenge.
What are your future aspirations or career plans?
This summer, I’m interning at an actuarial consulting firm in Austin called Rudd and Wisdom, and I’ll be working in retirement benefits. I’m excited to have this internship and see what it’s like to take all the concepts I’ve learned in school and start applying them, and also try to figure out what field of actuarial work I’d like to go into.
I do plan to be an actuary, either as a consultant or in the insurance industry. I would like to start working after I graduate and get my ASA through the SOA within the first few years. I don’t really have a specific career in mind. I’m just excited to see what’s out there and take the best opportunity I can find.
What are the latest developments or trends in insurance?
I’ve seen the industry start to use actuaries more in nontraditional roles, like in sports analytics, because they bring in that quantitative background and ability to model and predict things. Also, casinos are starting to use actuaries for the house to figure out what expected payouts might look like or seeing how the games work. So I think those are both cool fields.
What advice would you give someone interested in the insurance field?
Try to learn as much as possible. Take any advice you can get from professors or employers that you meet with, and always be looking for opportunities to grow and improve. I think with how competitive the job field is, starting to take the exams as soon as possible is a good idea, and make sure you’re planning for that and trying to get two or three exams done before you graduate college.
At the same time, actuarial science is a field you could enter into later on, so you don’t have to start out as an actuarial major. You could major in something more broad, maybe something more like finance, and you could still be taking the exams and be able to bring a more unique background into the field. For me, the biggest thing was just to ask questions and to always be looking for ways I could be improving and ways that I could be better preparing myself for the career.
What do you think is the biggest misconception about actuaries?
I think the biggest misconception would be that you don’t have to communicate in your job, and you’re just going to be stuck in a back office, doing math all day and not having meetings or anything like that.
I think communication skills are definitely key in the field. Yes, you have to be very good at math and be able to take all these exams and do all this problem solving, but you also need to be able to solve these problems and then sit in a meeting with your CFO or CEO and explain how you got to these numbers. You need to explain it in terms that a non-actuary can understand. So it’s not just a math job; it’s a job where you’re going to have to communicate and work with others to explain what you’re doing.
Do you have any favorite books, websites, or media that you would recommend for someone interested in insurance?
I got a children’s book called A is for Actuary emailed to me by Coaching Actuaries this year. It very much simplified the actuarial career because one question I get a lot from family and friends is, “What is an actuary, and what does that mean?” The book outlines the career in very simple terms. I’ve actually sent it out to many family members to try to explain what I’m doing because they don’t understand it.
Other than that, I would say always look at the SOA and CAS websites and make sure you’re up to date on any exam changes they make because they make them very frequently.