PhD in Mathematics -- Concentration in Actuarial Science and Risk Analytics (2023)

This PhD concentration is intended for students with strong quantitative skills who want to acquire advanced analytical tools for academic careers and research and development careers in insurance, consulting, investment, pension, healthcare, banking and financial services.

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The University of Illinois is an ideal place for education and research in actuarial, financial and risk management, due to its well-established system of interdisciplinary collaborations among various units. Highlights of the University’s achievements in these areas can be found here. Based in the renowned Department of Mathematics, this program offers a unique blend of a world-class rigorous mathematical education with practical research and professional training in actuarial science, quantitative finance and risk analytics. Read more at our poster for graduate studies in actuarial science and risk management.

PhD candidates cover most of the material for professional exams, and build on that foundation to receive in-depth education on modern techniques and challenges in the financial, actuarial and risk management professions through coursework, seminars, internships and research. Due to the interdisciplinary nature of actuarial and financial research, PhD candidates are encouraged to broaden their knowledge by taking courses in statistics, finance, insurance, risk management, data analytics, etc.

The Department of Mathematics offers a unique multi-year internship program where PhD candidates are encouraged and supported to receive internship experience in summer breaks during their PhD studies. More information can be found here. There are also internship opportunities on campus at the University of Illinois Research Park. Students are also exposed regularly to cutting-edge research development in industry and academia by attending and presenting at the Actuarial Science and Financial Mathematics Seminar, where a wide range of prominent researchers are invited to speak and visit. In addition, students can participate in the seminar series on Mathematical Finance, Risk and Uncertainty, jointly organized with the Department of Industrial and Enterprise Systems Engineering.

Our program offers opportunities for PhD candidates to work in a wide range of research areas, including stochastic analysis in actuarial and financial modeling, quantitative risk management of equity-linked insurance, pension and social security, industry solvency assessment, collective risk theory, Monte Carlo simulations, and more. The Illinois Risk Lab also provides a channel for practical research to address emerging problems from industrial partners and professional organizations.

Financial support is offered for up to six years to every student admitted to our PhD program, in the form of teaching assistantships, research assistantships and corporate-sponsored fellowships. We also provide full reimbursement of exam fees for those who choose to take professional exams. To help students develop communication and networking skills, we also provide financial support for PhD candidate to travel to research summer schools and conferences in related areas.

Admissions Requirements

Students with a Bachelor’s degree in any quantitative field can apply directly to the PhD program. Applicants are expected to demonstrate competence in real analysis, linear algebra, and probability and statistics, either through undergraduate coursework or by means of Graduate Record Examination (GRE) mathematics subject test.

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Complete information regarding graduation requirements can be found in the Guide for Graduate Students in Mathematics. The following list only serves as a summary for prospective students.

PhD candidates in this concentration are required to complete the core courses:
MATH 540 (Real Analysis)
MATH 561 (Theory of Probability I)
MATH 563 (Risk Modeling and Analysis)
STAT 510 (Mathematical Statistics I)
One additional course from a list of approved core courses for all PhD students.

PhD candidates in this concentration must also demonstrate competence in three additional supporting courses:
MATH 564 (Applied Stochastic Processes)
STAT 425 (Applied Regression and Design)
FIN 591 (Theory of Finance)

and in two of the following actuarial graduate courses:
MATH 565 (Actuarial Models for Life Contingencies)
MATH 567 (Actuarial Models for Financial Economics)
MATH 568 (Actuarial Loss Models)

Although not required, many PhD candidates in the Actuarial Science and Risk AnalyticsConcentration take elective courses in functional analysis, partial differential equations, linear and nonlinear programming, multivariate analysis, statistical computing, macro and micro economics, portfolio management, predictive modeling, machine learning.

How to Apply

The application process for this concentration is the same as the regular Mathematics PhD program. Detailed instruction as well as general requirements can be found here. Candidates should clearly identify the Actuarial Science and Risk Analytics Concentration on the application form, and in their personal statement.

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Frequently Asked Questions

If I want to become a practicing actuary, should I consider PhD education in Actuarial Science?

The actuarial profession in North America highly values professional credentials obtained through passing professional exams with credentialing bodies such as the Society of Actuaries and Casualty Actuarial Society. A PhD education in Actuarial Science is not a necessary component for a career path as an actuary. Students who are interested in career paths in traditional actuarial roles should pursue our MS program in Actuarial Science. The PhD concentration prepares students for academic careers and research and development offices/departments in the insurance and financial service industries. For example, a graduate may find a tenure-system position in a university, work as a quantitative reinsurance analyst, a catastrophe modeling analyst, a quantitative strategy researcher in a proprietary trading firm, and so on.

What qualifications are you looking for in admissions?

A typical PhD applicant should have a bachelor’s degree or its equivalent in a quantitative field, including but not limited to pure mathematics, applied mathematics, statistics, engineering, quantitative finance, physics, etc. Students should take the GREGeneral test.

How much do GRE scores get weighted into the application of a prospective student? What other factors weigh the most in an application?

We consider the whole application to find students with sufficient preparation and motivation to succeed in our program. Applicants typically perform strongly on the GRE General exam (80thpercentile and above on the quantitative portion, and we like to see good scores on the other sections too). Scores on the GRE Mathematics subject exam (if taken) vary quite widely. Coursework relevant to actuarial science and risk analytics is valuable.

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The transcripts from your bachelor’s and master’s institutions are important. We pay close attention to courses and grades. If you come in with an actuarial or financial mathematics background, we do consider your track record of passing professional exams. However, students in this concentration also come from other quantitative fields.

What funding is available to students?

All admitted students are offered a full tuition waiver, and a teaching assistantship (the stipend is $20,000 for the academic year; most students get some summer funding too). The funding offer runs for 5 or 6 years, depending on your level of preparation. Fellowship and RA support is available to some continuing students who perform strongly in the program.

How do the requirements for those pursuing the Actuarial Science emphasis differ from those pursuing other fields of study?

Notably, students in the Actuarial Science and Risk Analytics Concentration are not required to take Math 500 Abstract Algebra. Instead, they take Stat 510 Mathematical Statistics I. The full requirements for students in the Concentration are listed here.

What should be my focus to prepare for this program beyond admissions?

(Video) Challenges + Math + Creativity = Actuarial Science

Take as much undergraduate real analysis as possible (called “advanced calculus” at some universities), and tackle the hardest problems you can get your hands on. Learn metric space topology, with normed vector spaces being an important example. Get familiar with spherical coordinates, the divergence theorem (Gauss theorem), and Green’s first and second identities.

Real analysis lays the foundation for probability, stochastic processes, and differential equations, at the graduate level. If you are strong in real analysis, then you can learn and pass the material in the first year comprehensive courses in a PhD program like ours.


What is the highest math needed to be an actuary? ›

Which specific courses should I take if I want to become an actuary? To further your actuarial studies, you should complete calculus I, calculus II, calculus III and linear algebra. You should also have some basic business courses (e.g. accounting or finance) or economics courses (micro- or macro-economics).

Is actuarial science math heavy? ›

How hard is actuarial science? Majoring in actuarial science is challenging. On a scale from 1-10 (1 being the easiest), I'd say it's around a 7 or 8. It requires that you have fairly good math skills and that you really enjoy it.

Is actuarial mathematics hard? ›

Actuarial science is a challenging field that requires a strong foundation in mathematics and statistics. The exams are also challenging and can take several years to complete.

How much math do actuaries actually use? ›

Actuaries primarily use probability, statistics, and financial mathematics.”

Can you make 200k as an actuary? ›

Actuaries are well compensated. Experienced fellows have the potential to earn from $150,000 to $250,000 annually, and many actuaries earn more than that.

Can an actuary make 300k? ›

In fact, actuary salaries in the range of $300,000, $400,000 or even $500,000 aren't out of the question with the right experience and level of professional certification. From entry-level to senior-level, actuaries have significant earning potential throughout their careers.

What are the hardest actuarial exams? ›

In regards to Paper Difficulty, students reported CP1, SA4 and SP7 being the hardest papers this exam session. There was an average increase in the reported difficulty of 3.7% compared with September 2019. The most significant reported increases in difficulty were SP1, SA2 and SA4.

What percentage of people pass the actuarial exams? ›

The pass rate for Exam P is about 41%. Sometimes it's a bit lower and other times it's higher. You can go here to see the pass rate history for all actuarial exams, including Exam P. The effective pass rate (this only takes into consideration candidates that scored 50% of the passing score) is about 45%-52%.

How hard are actuarial exams really? ›

Exam Difficulty and Failing Exams

Actuarial exams are known to be very hard, especially the fellowship level exams. It's very common to spend hundreds of hours studying for each exam over several months. Most people don't get through all the exams without failing at least 1 or 2 along the way.

Why are actuaries paid so much? ›

The main reason actuaries enjoy high financial rewards is because they are in high demand, to a degree that doesn't seem to be diminishing any time soon.

Is actuary harder than accounting? ›

Difficulty: For most people the CPA exams are easier than actuarial exams. Actuarial exams test more difficult concepts and get harder as the candidate progresses through them. Number of Exams: Actuaries need to pass 10 exams in order to be fully qualified, whereas accountants have to pass 4 exams within 18 months.

Do actuaries use a lot of calculus? ›

Calculus is required in actuarial mathematics because this topic of mathematics is concerned with change. Many problems solved by actuaries involve change over time. Examples are how a variable changes with age of the study population or mechanical reliability changes with operating hours.

Does GPA matter for actuaries? ›

This advice might confuse you because you've probably heard me say that your GPA doesn't really matter when it comes to getting an actuarial job. It's true. After all, I was able to get hired with only a 2.3 GPA. If that's your situation, you can still become a top candidate and get hired as an actuary!

Can you get an actuary job with a math degree? ›

To enter the occupation, actuaries typically need a bachelor's degree in mathematics, actuarial science, statistics, or some other analytical field. Students must complete coursework in subjects such as economics, applied statistics, and corporate finance and must pass a series of exams to become certified.

How rare are actuaries? ›

The number of people employed as Actuaries has been growing at a rate of 5.8%, from 30,673 people in 2019 to 32,452 people in 2020.

Who hires the most actuaries? ›

Typically, companies that hire actuaries are insurance companies and consultancies.

What is actuaries life expectancy? ›

Key Takeaways. Actuarial age is an individual's expected life expectancy used by insurance agencies for planning and forecasting purposes. The number is a function of factors including age, health, and medical conditions. In general, the longer the life expectancy, the cheaper the life insurance policy.

What is the lowest paid actuary? ›

How Much Do Actuary Jobs Pay per Year? $110,500 is the 25th percentile. Salaries below this are outliers. $138,500 is the 75th percentile.

Does NASA hire actuaries? ›

While insurance is the top employment industry for actuaries, there is demand across a variety of industries for their services. Exciting actuarial jobs exist in sports, asset management, tech companies like Uber, Lyft and Google, NASA and health care start-ups. Halley's Comet was named for mathematician Edmund Halley.

What is a good GPA for actuary? ›

Potential employers suggest the minimum requirements for hiring are a 3.2 GPA or higher and at least 1 actuarial exam. The qualities sought in applicants are high technical ability, good communications skills, and a broad background including courses in mathematics, statistics, business, and the liberal arts.

Is 30 too old to become an actuary? ›

It's not too late to consider being an actuary. I was 35 when I took my first actuarial exam. Making a career change to become an actuary is a big commitment and it's not easy, but it can happen later in life and be very rewarding. Now that I've moved into my new career, I thought I'd share some insights.

What is harder CPA or actuary exam? ›

As compared to the CPA exam, the actuary exams are much more rigorous and challenging. The difficulty of CPA vs actuary exams is a crucial point of consideration while making a career choice.

How old are most actuaries? ›

Actuary Age
Actuary YearsPercentages
40+ years41%
30-40 years40%
20-30 years18%
Sep 9, 2022

Why do so many people fail actuary exams? ›

Reason for failing # 1: Didn't study enough

Many people go into actuarial exams without much planning and preparation around how much time they're going to spend studying each day. Never mind actually planning out exactly when that time will be spent. If you're one of those people, you're making a big mistake!

How many times can you fail actuarial exams? ›

Yes! You can definitely take an actuarial exam more than once. Less than 50% of people that attempt Exam P and FM (the first two actuarial exams) actually pass each sitting. And that includes people that are writing for their second, third or forth time too.

How many people in the US are actuaries? ›

National estimates for Actuaries:
Employment (1)Employment RSE (3)Wage RSE (3)
25,0104.3 %0.9 %
Apr 25, 2023

Is it normal to fail actuarial exams? ›

Fortunately, failing an actuarial exam isn't really that big of a deal. Everyone in the industry knows their tough. In fact, anyone that's already passed a few exams probably failed some themselves. It's normal.

Why is actuary so hard? ›

What makes majoring in actuarial science so hard in my experience, is that you have so much course work and exams that it's nearly impossible to keep up with it all. This makes it really difficult to find the time to fully understand the concepts.

How many hours should I study for actuarial exams? ›

The actuarial exams are challenging, and students should plan to spend additional study time on them beyond the college coursework. The general rule of thumb is to spend 100 total hours of class and study time preparing for each hour of exam time (for example, spend about 300 hours preparing for a three-hour exam).

How long does it take to pass all 7 actuary exams? ›

There are seven or 10 exams in total, depending on what certification you're pursuing. The exams can be challenging, requiring long periods of study, and some are available only once or twice per year, so it may take seven to eight years to complete all of them.

What is the highest paid actuarial field? ›

The highest-paid actuaries are:
  • Chief Actuaries.
  • Principal Actuaries.
  • Partner Actuaries.
  • Lead Consultants.
  • Investment Actuaries.
4 days ago

Do actuaries make more than accountants? ›

While actuaries typically have a longer road to certification than accountants, they also earn a higher salary, on average. Additionally, there are many overlapping necessary skills for accountant and actuary careers.

What state do actuaries make the most money? ›

Location – Those who work in metropolitan areas with a higher cost of living typically earn more than those who work in rural areas. The top states for salary working as an actuary include New York, Connecticut, Washington and the District of Columbia.

Can AI replace actuaries? ›

For actuaries, the power in their work can only be amplified with the use of AI. The first step to understanding how to implement such models is to learn the linguistics of the machine. Actuaries need to understand how to communicate with computers, which means learning and improving their programming skills.

Are actuaries like accountants? ›

Both positions involve analyzing and reporting numerical data to help companies make important financial decisions. However, accountants work primarily with financial information like budgets and taxes, and actuaries deal with statistical data.

What is the difference between an actuary and an actuarial analyst? ›

Actuarial Analyst vs Actuary. What's the difference? An actuarial analyst is often the job title of someone that is hasn't yet passed all the actuarial exams and other requirements needed in order to be a fully qualified actuary.

Are actuaries middle class? ›

Most people in the upper-middle class strata are highly educated white collar professionals such as physicians, dentists, lawyers, accountants, engineers, military officers, economists, urban planners, university professors, architects, stockbrokers, psychologists, scientists, actuaries, optometrists, physical ...

Can actuaries make 7 figures? ›

"Yes, it's possible. < 5% of them are clearing "high 6 figures" or 7 figures, though. The question that you need to ask yourself is: "Can I be a top 5-percenter in this profession?"

Are actuaries considered smart? ›

However, like medical doctors, scientists, engineers and college professors, actuaries as a group have high IQ's. The actuarial examinations are very hard and competitive.

Should actuaries get a masters? ›

Does it help me to have a graduate degree? Not necessarily; most actuaries earn a bachelor's degree, but do not pursue advanced degrees. However, you might consider a graduate degree in math or actuarial science if your undergraduate degree was in an unrelated field, or if you heard about the profession later in life.

What do employers look for in actuaries? ›

The skills developed and honed by successful actuaries include an excellent business sense with knowledge of finance, accounting, and economics; keen analytical, project management, and problem solving skills; specialized math knowledge; strong computer skills; and solid written and oral communication skills.

How many actuaries graduate each year? ›

In 2020-2021, actuarial science was the 278th most popular major nationwide with 2,206 degrees awarded. This represents a 6.4% increase in actuarial science degrees awarded over the prior year's total of 2,065.

What are the 7 actuary exams? ›

ASA Requirements
  • Exam P - Probability.
  • Exam FM - Financial Mathematics.
  • Exam MFE - Models for Financial Economics.
  • Exam MLC - Models for Life Contingencies.
  • Exam C - Construction and Evaluation of Actuarial Models.

Can actuaries work from home? ›

As a work from home actuary, your job is to provide analysis of statistics to help your client determine their financial risk and insurance needs. Work from home actuaries often perform accounting work, analyze data, and create reports on specific topics for the client.

What are the two types of actuaries? ›

Most traditional actuarial disciplines fall into two main categories: life and non-life. Life actuaries, which include health and pension actuaries, primarily deal with mortality risk, morbidity risk, and investment risk.

Do actuaries have stressful jobs? ›

No, being an actuary is not a stressful job. Working as an actuary pays well, it's low stress, and it's a mentally stimulating and challenging career. There are not many disadvantages in the day-to-day work as an actuary.

What is the most popular actuary? ›

Perhaps the most famous of on screen actuaries, Warren Schmidt is portrayed by Jack Nicholson; the film mostly covers Schmidt's retirement from an insurance company, and his adventures after retirement.

Do I need to be good at math to be an actuary? ›

Actuaries typically need a bachelor's degree to enter the occupation and must pass a series of exams to become certified. They must have a strong background in mathematics, statistics, and business.

Do you have to be good at math to become an actuary? ›

Actuaries require strong math skills.

They apply their understanding of complex mathematical concepts to their job.

What math classes are required to be an actuary? ›

Courses include differential equations, linear algebra, and complex analysis. Students following the math emphasis would choose further courses from areas such as differential geometry, abstract algebra, probability, and analysis (which mostly have Math 2710 as a prerequisite).

What math skills do actuaries need? ›

Actuaries bring a special set of skills to their work:
  • Specialized math knowledge. Calculus, statistics, probability.
  • Keen analytical, project management, and problem solving skills.
  • Good business sense. Finance, accounting, economics.
  • Solid communication skills (oral and written)
  • Strong computer skills.

What percent of people pass actuarial exams? ›

The pass rate for Exam P is about 41%. Sometimes it's a bit lower and other times it's higher. You can go here to see the pass rate history for all actuarial exams, including Exam P. The effective pass rate (this only takes into consideration candidates that scored 50% of the passing score) is about 45%-52%.

How hard is an actuarial exam? ›

Exam Difficulty and Failing Exams

Actuarial exams are known to be very hard, especially the fellowship level exams. It's very common to spend hundreds of hours studying for each exam over several months. Most people don't get through all the exams without failing at least 1 or 2 along the way.

What is the highest level of actuary? ›

The highest-paid actuaries are: Chief Actuaries. Principal Actuaries. Partner Actuaries.

Do you need a high GPA to be an actuary? ›

Entry into the profession is very competitive and success in the field demands commitment and hard work during college and the few years after graduation when the actuarial exams are being taken. Potential employers suggest the minimum requirements for hiring are a 3.2 GPA or higher and at least 1 actuarial exam.

Do actuaries need to know linear algebra? ›


Advanced calculus and linear algebra are minimum requirements for actuaries, and learning even more advanced math can facilitate better job performance and higher pay.

Can a math teacher become an actuary? ›

Yes, a math teacher can become an actuary. It's actually a fairly common transition but it isn't necessarily an easy one. Anyone that wants to become an actuary has to have a bachelor's degree and pass at least 1-2 actuarial exams before being considered for a job.

Which course is best for actuary? ›

To become an Actuary you have to study commerce in Mathematics or Statistics or science in PCM. And then you have to pursue a bachelor degree in commerce or science in mathematics or statistics or actuarial science. After pursuing a bachelor degree in computer engineering, you can study this course.

What do actuaries do all day? ›

Actuaries serve a vital role in insurance and financial services organizations, where they predict future financial risk and help their clients choose insurance and pension programs. Their daily activities include researching financial trends, creating risk models and presenting recommendations to their clients.

Is there calculus in actuary? ›

Calculus is required in actuarial mathematics because this topic of mathematics is concerned with change. Many problems solved by actuaries involve change over time. Examples are how a variable changes with age of the study population or mechanical reliability changes with operating hours.


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