Noah Villalobos recently graduated this past month from the University of Texas at Austin, where he majored in Mathematics with an emphasis in Actuarial Science. Noah previously served as the president of the Actuarial Science Club at UT Austin and interned last summer at health insurance consulting firm Arthur J. Gallagher in Houston, Texas. We spoke with Noah in May 2019.
What has your experience at UT Austin been like?
I was born and raised in San Diego, California, so coming to UT was different. I wanted a little bit of an adventure, and being a California kid and never having been to Texas, you get these images in your head of Texas where everybody’s riding a horse or whatever it is. But it’s really not that much different from what I’m used to in San Diego.
I had a lot of fun here, especially going to all the football and basketball games every weekend. One thing I also really enjoyed here was the great actuarial community. What has been super beneficial to me here are these things called First-Year Interest Groups, where the school puts students with similar majors into groups that meet once a week and take a class during first year together. A lot of people I met in that First-Year Interest Group are friends that I’m going to be friends with probably the rest of my life.
Actuarial science is a growing field. The whole idea of statistics and big data is becoming more and more prominent.
The professors here have been super helpful as well. The actuarial professors are very dedicated to helping with the exam process, and many of the classes are geared towards preparing for the actuarial exams.
Overall, I think UT has done a great job at helping me prepare for what’s after college.
What other schools were you considering, and why did you choose UT Austin?
I love San Diego, and I do want to end up back there when it’s all said and done. But, for at least four years of college, I was looking to go on a little adventure and live somewhere else. Other schools I was considering were Oregon, CU Boulder,and UCSD. Those are the ones that I got in to and were really considering. When I was surveying all the options, UT Austin was probably the best of those schools. I think UC San Diego is pretty good, too, but one of the reasons I picked UT Austin was for the big college life.
I’m a huge sports fan. I knew that Saturdays in the fall when football is on here, it’s a pretty big deal. I knew UT also had a well-developed actuarial science program. I also have some family friends nearby down in San Antonio. All these factors helped me choose UT.
What influenced you to pursue an actuarial science program?
For the longest time in high school, I really didn’t know what I wanted to do. I knew that math was the area I wanted to go into, but I didn’t know exactly what I would do. Halfway through senior year, I was in a statistics class, and my teacher mentioned actuarial science. He said it was a good-paying job, and that it was relatively low stress. After he mentioned it, I looked into the field a bit more, and it was exactly what I was looking for.
I’m not a pure-math kind of guy, and I never really liked proofs or theoretical math. I liked more of the practical and applied part of math, and that’s kind of what actuarial science is.
Why should other students consider a focus in actuarial science?
Actuarial science is a growing field. The whole idea of statistics and big data is becoming more and more prominent. Companies in all areas are really starting to figure out that numbers from the past can give you an indication of what happens in the future.
Actuarial science programs across the nation are also getting better. You can tell by seeing how many more actuarial exams are being passed, based on when somebody graduates. I’m a member of the Actuarial Science Club here at UT, and we’ve had companies come in and, many times, people come in and mention how when they were in college, graduating with just one exam was a huge accomplishment. Now, you’re seeing that you need one exam just to be competitive in looking for an internship. You need maybe two or three exams done by the time you graduate to really be competitive.
What has been your experience with the actuarial science program at your school?
The resources that the Actuarial Science Club provides, for example, are really valuable. I’ve been serving as the president of the club this past year. I was an officer last year and just a member my sophomore year, but I wish I’d gotten involved sooner. We have companies come in and talk about what they do, so people who are learning more about actuarial science are able to learn and figure out the day-to-day life of an actuary and other hot topics that are going on in the industry.
We also have resources like a study manual library, where members can check out a study manual for some of the early exams for free. And we have discount codes to some online practice exam websites, like Coaching Actuaries. The Actuarial Science Club has been important, and I’m sure other colleges across the nation have clubs like that.
I mentioned the First-Year Interest Group earlier and how that was super valuable to me. I was able to have classes with my friends, so it was very helpful to have people to study with and work on homework together.
I also think the professors are doing a really good job because they really help in preparing us for the actuarial exams. Their support has made it a lot easier to study for some of these exams.
What is your favorite class so far and why?
I really liked my life contingencies class and going over mortality rates, life insurance, retirement, etc. I think it was very interesting and kind of a unique class. The class was very collaborative, and much of the class time was spent working on the problems together, which I think is important. In math, it’s important to be able to actually do the problem yourself, instead of just watching someone else solve it on the board.
What has been most challenging about studying actuarial science? Is there anything you wish you would have known ahead of time?
The actuarial exams are hard. Some of the beginning exams like P and FM have something like a 45 percent pass rate, so it’s clear the exams are challenging.
I was actually surprised the first time I took Exam P. I was in a probability class, and my teacher suggested that if you had an A in this class, you have a pretty good chance to pass the exam. I thought I didn’t need to study that much, but I learned the hard way that I actually did. I wish I knew that going in and that the exams are not to be taken lightly.
Time management is also pretty difficult, with all the hours that you need to be studying for the actuarial exams. If you’re studying for your exams while you’re in school, it’s hard because you still have homework for your actual college classes.
Have you had any insurance-related internships? If so, how was your experience?
This last summer between my junior and senior year, I interned at a health insurance consulting firm called Arthur J. Gallagher in Houston. They’re a consulting firm, kind of the middleman to help companies get health insurance for their employees. I thought that internship was really interesting. I helped make financial monitoring reports to help our clients see where they stand and make projections to help them budget for the upcoming year.
I was also able to work on a project that analyzed the relationship between preventive visits to the doctor. We analyzed the relationship between these visits and the general costs of someone who’s insured under the company for a given time.
What are your future aspirations or career plans?
I’m actually moving up to Sacramento, California. My girlfriend is finishing up nursing school there, so I’m moving up there and we’re getting married soon. I’ll get a job once I get up there, but I definitely want to continue to pursue my credentials to become ASA or FSA with the Society of Actuaries.
What are the latest developments or trends in insurance?
Big data and statistics are always trending. People are realizing the power of what numbers can really do, and that’s starting to affect a lot of areas of business, especially insurance. It’s really helping insurance companies better plan, budget, and project what’s going to happen in the future.
What advice would you give someone interested in the insurance field?
You’ve always got to be able to adapt. Different fields come up, and fields change. New technology is something that’s always going to be changing, too, so you’ve just got to be able to adapt.
Making sure to join organizations is another tip. I’ve been a member of the Actuarial Science Club here at UT and was the president this last year. Organizations are really here to help you, whether that be a club at a college campus or even the major organizations across the insurance industry. They can help you with your education, help you learn more, and keep you up to date with what’s happening in the industry. They can also help you find a sense of community, which is really important in the actuarial community.
Do you have any favorite books, websites, or media that you would recommend for someone interested in insurance?
I’m always looking at the organization websites, like the SOA’s website or the CAS’s website. They’re always talking about the latest happenings and changes in the industry, and I think keeping up to date with the industry is always important.
Another website that was beneficial to me was Be An Actuary. It talks about exactly what goes into being an actuary, what the exam process is, and what actuaries do day to day. That was pretty useful to me when I was first learning about actuarial science and deciding what major I was going to choose.