Claire Liu is a senior at the University of Wisconsin – Madison, where she is majoring in actuarial science, risk management and insurance, and statistics. Claire is currently the president of UW-Madison’s Actuarial Club, and this summer, she is interning at Travelers and working on small business commercial insurance. We spoke with Claire in June 2021.
Tell us one thing about you that’s not on your resume.
Even though I play less of it now, I love playing the piano and violin. Up until college, I was part of a violin performance group that was part of my violin academy. We played at various venues, like the Milwaukee Art Museum and Brewers games, and the best part of performing was always bringing a smile to people’s faces.
What has your experience at UW-Madison been like? What has been your experience with the actuarial science program at your school?
From my first day of college as a timid freshman, everyone that I met has been so supportive. My academic advisor and career advisor are so amazing at ensuring my success in college and beyond college through one-on-one resume reviews and answering questions about classes to take each semester. They also help prepare me for the Risk and Insurance career fair we have each fall and campus internship interviews.
Through my work as an actuary, I believe I can help many people manage their everyday risks and not live their life in fear of financial distress from certain events.
Our actuarial classes are specific to each exam we have to take. The faculty have industry experience and are amazing at teaching actuarial concepts clearly. In addition to a probability class and financial mathematics class, we also have a one-credit review session for each class, and that is when we do challenging practice problems with our classmates and get our questions answered.
Because the actuarial science major is in the business school, we also take classes like accounting, finance, management and human resources, business law, and business communication, which thoroughly prepares us for the insurance and consulting industries.
Our Actuarial Club is a great complement to the academic program. We hold around 10 employer presentations a semester, and we also host socials and volunteering events. Because UW-Madison is such a big university, we have alumni from all over the country and world that we can connect with, and they love helping out with the club employer presentations.
We also have career fair prep sessions, and we have a group of very involved employers called the Co-Curricular Learning Board that hosts networking events, casual chats over lunch, and case competitions for the students. We have an exam reimbursement scholarship for club members who passed an actuarial exam.
I cannot emphasize enough how supportive UW-Madison’s actuarial science program and the Actuarial Club is to our students.
What other schools were you considering, and why did you choose UW-Madison?
I was looking at schools from all over the country, including the Big Ten schools and Ivy Leagues. I choose UW-Madison because this university has a top-ranking risk and insurance program and prepares all actuarial students for the workplace.
The actuarial science major is in the Wisconsin School of Business, so along with traditional statistics courses, we also have a comprehensive view of how a business/company works. The faculty have workplace experience and are amazing at teaching us actuarial concepts clearly.
I love how there are specific courses for each professional actuarial exam so that we are really prepared for those exams (UW-Madison has a high pass rate for exams P and FM!).
We also have a very strong and involved actuarial club, which is the largest student organization in the Wisconsin School of Business and the second largest in the university. The club offers an exam scholarship reimbursement program, which means that they pay for the exam if you pass.
Another reason why I chose UW-Madison is I come from a badger family—my parents, cousins, aunts, uncles, and great uncle all went here! There’s so much to do on campus, and I love all the traditions, including gameday and going to the memorial union.
What influenced you to pursue an actuarial science program?
My mom. I was pretty lost for most of high school about what career I wanted to pursue. I didn’t like blood, so I knew I couldn’t go into the medical field. However, I still wanted to help others out in my everyday work.
My mother is a professor, and she was teaching an Exam P course at the time. Because she knew that I’ve always been fascinated by numbers and how to apply those numbers in real-world situations, she recommended that I look into the actuarial career. After some research online, I realized that the actuarial profession was exactly the career I was looking for because it incorporated many different topics such as mathematics, probability, statistics, economics, finance, and business.
Through my work as an actuary, I believe I can help many people manage their everyday risks and not live their life in fear of financial distress from certain events. Society wouldn’t be able to function without insurance companies helping take on this risk that individuals and businesses have, which is why I want to be part of the insurance industry.
Why should other students consider a focus in actuarial science?
It is a great career choice that you can go into right away after your undergraduate career. There are many internship opportunities offered to students during the summer as well. After graduating, it offers continual learning with the professional societies and exams.
I personally prefer applied mathematics over theoretical mathematics, and actuarial science applies math to statistics, finance, accounting, business, and economics. There is a great potential for upward mobility as you get more work experience, and you will have great work-life balance.
What is your favorite class so far and why?
Rather than focusing on an academic class, I will focus on an unofficial “class” called UW-Madison Risk and Insurance Lessons in Life and Leadership, also known as “Life Lessons with Kirk.” Kirk is our Actuarial Club advisor, and every week during Tuesday lunches, he leads a discussion about anything and everything, from interview tips to vitamin D to dishwashing. Sometimes, there are special guest speakers that come in to speak on a topic as well. Anyone is welcome to join, and I’ve gotten close to some of the club members through this “class.”
What is unique about focusing on actuarial science relative to other majors you could have chosen?
Even though the job of an actuary is to quantify uncertainty and risk, something unique about focusing on an actuarial science major is the certainty of your career path and success after graduation. With other majors, sometimes it’s hard to decide what to do after college, and it’s hard to know what path will lead to success. With actuarial science, if you pass an exam and put in a decent effort during your undergraduate years, it is relatively easy to find internships and full-time actuarial analyst positions (compared to other majors).
What has been most challenging about studying actuarial science? Is there anything you wish you would have known ahead of time?
The most challenging thing that I had to learn while studying actuarial science is time management. Juggling interviewing for internships, being an involved member of the Actuarial Club, studying for the actuarial exams, working a part-time job, and having a full-time student workload is not easy.
Something that I wished I knew during my undergraduate years is to take time for myself and especially my mental health. You are the most productive if you are healthy and happy, and that includes taking breaks during the weekdays.
Have you had any insurance-related internships? If so, how was your experience?
Last summer, I was an actuarial analyst intern at UnitedHealth Group—specifically, Optum—and I was on the Medicare Advantage and Prescription Drugs bid team. My experience at Optum was amazing, as I learned a variety of programming languages, such as SAS, SQL, and VBA. I also had a wonderful team that always was willing to help me out when I was confused or stuck on my projects.
This summer, I am an Actuarial Leadership Development Program intern at Travelers, working on small commercial business insurance.
One thing I want to emphasize about internships is that they do not expect you to know everything going into the internship. I was very nervous thinking that I wouldn’t meet their expectations, but just know that they provide training sessions and understand that you are a college student and still in the learning process. You don’t magically become an expert after getting hired for an internship position. When you get stuck on something, Google is your best friend. If that doesn’t provide the answer, then ask your team, and they are always willing to help out!
What are the latest developments or trends in insurance that are of interest to you?
I think seeing the long-term effects of the pandemic on the popularity of telehealth is very interesting. It’ll also be interesting to see how the pandemic affects the insurance workplace environment. Outside of the pandemic, InsurTech, artificial intelligence, and machine learning are areas that will be more prominent in the upcoming years, so I am interested in seeing how that affects the accuracy and efficiency of pricing insurance products.
What are your future aspirations or career plans?
Currently, I am certain that I will work and become a fully credentialed actuary, but I am not sure what industry I want to go into. Having had an internship in the health care industry last summer and going to have an internship in the property and casualty industry this summer, I wanted to get diverse internship experiences before working full time.
Since I have also passed the three exams that both the SOA and CAS accept (P/1, FM/2, IFM/3F), I will start studying for a fourth exam only after I choose my industry.
As for my future professional career, I aspire to make a difference in whatever industry I go into. I want to bring my passion for community service to the company and encourage other actuaries to help out in the local and global community.
What advice would you give someone interested in the insurance field?
Reach out to someone working in the industry—a professor, or even a college student who is also interested in going into the insurance field. Find out their career path and what they do on a day-to-day basis. Also, do research online to get some basic background knowledge of how insurance works.
Do you have any favorite books, websites, or media that you would recommend for someone interested in insurance?
I don’t have any favorites, but I would recommend reading actuarial blogs or learn more about the actuarial profession on the CAS and SOA websites. Watching “a day in the life of an actuary” on YouTube is also a great resource to see if this career is right for you.
» If you liked Claire’s interview, check out our other actuarial science student interviews.