How to become an Actuary

7 mins
Sellick  Partnership

By Sellick Partnership

Actuaries can achieve significant personal and professional rewards throughout their careers. By ensuring you have the right skills and credentials, you can take the first step on the path to becoming a successful actuary.

The actuarial profession is a dynamic career path that combines business acumen, mathematical skills, risk assessments and a deep understanding of human behaviour to help organisations to manage risk and uncertainty. It is also a hugely rewarding profession, with a wide range of options and pathways available for successful actuaries to develop their skills.

If you are just starting out in the actuarial field, you should educate yourself on exactly what will be expected of you, and what employers will be looking for when recruiting for actuary jobs. By doing so, you can give yourself the best chance of getting your career off to a strong start.

In this guide from Sellick Partnership's actuarial recruitment team, we will provide you with insights into the basics of how to become an actuary, to help you decide whether this is the right career path for you.

What does an actuary do?

In the simplest terms, an actuary is a business professional who deals with the financial impact of risk and uncertainty. They use their knowledge of mathematics, statistics and financial theory to study uncertain future events, especially those of concern to insurance providers, retirement plans and pension programmes.

An actuary might work for an insurance company, consulting firm or government body; they are also regularly employed by banks, investment firms, or the employee benefits departments of large corporations. As a rule, any business that needs to manage financial risk may have cause to hire an actuary, meaning this career path should be considered as primarily a business-oriented career with a mathematical basis, rather than a purely technical mathematical profession.

Actuaries are often involved in high-level decision-making processes and strategic planning. As an actuary, you will be asked to use your skills to help design insurance policies and calculate insurance premiums, as well as to devise pension plans, retirement benefits and investments that manage risk and provide financial security. You will also help businesses grow by providing insight into the financial implications of various corporate strategies.

Typical day-to-day responsibilities for an actuary might include:

  • Analysing trends that create potential risks for businesses
  • Calculating costs associated with risks
  • Developing new financial products and policies
  • Supporting strategic decision-making
  • Ensuring compliance with relevant regulations
  • Attending meetings and training sessions

To learn more about what will be expected of you as an actuary, take a look at our guide to the daily responsibilities of actuaries.

What are the core skills an actuary needs?

Because of the breadth of responsibilities associated with these roles, successful actuarial careers are based on a number of essential skills. These include:

Mathematical skills

The work of an actuary is grounded in mathematics. They use mathematical models to predict future events and assess the likelihood of various outcomes. This requires a deep understanding of calculus, probability, statistics and mathematical modelling.

Problem-solving abilities

Actuaries are often called upon to solve complex business problems. They must be able to identify the key issues, gather and analyse relevant information, develop practical solutions, assess risk, and make recommendations that are financially sound and legally compliant.

Communication skills

While actuaries need strong technical skills, they must also be able to communicate complex information clearly and effectively. They often work with people who do not have a mathematical background, so they need to be able to explain their findings in a way that is easy to understand.

Business acumen

Actuaries need to understand the business environment in which they operate. This includes knowledge of finance, accounting, economics and law. They also need to be aware of current economic issues and trends that could impact their work.

Technical skills

In today's digital age, actuaries need to be comfortable with technology. They often use advanced statistical software to analyse data and create models. Knowledge of databases, spreadsheets and other statistical data analysis tools will be essential.

Time management skills

Actuaries will need to work on a wide variety of projects, prioritising different tasks and juggling a number of deadlines at the same time. As such, they will need to be capable of planning all of this effectively.

Teamwork and collaboration

Actuaries are often called upon to work in close collaboration with insurance agents or other actuaries, especially when it comes to larger projects. As such, having a collaborative approach and an affinity for team-based work is highly beneficial.

What educational qualifications do I need to become an actuary?

To embark on an actuarial career, you typically need a strong foundation in mathematics, with the qualifications to demonstrate this.

Undergraduate degree

Most actuaries start their journey with an undergraduate degree in a mathematics-related field - for example, by choosing a mathematics, statistics, economics or actuarial science degree. Some universities offer specific actuarial science programmes, which provide a solid foundation in the mathematical and statistical concepts used in the profession. These programmes may also cover business topics such as finance, accounting and economics, which are crucial for understanding the broader context in which actuaries work.

Postgraduate degree

While not a requirement, some actuaries choose to further their education with a postgraduate degree. This could be a Master's or PhD in actuarial science, statistics or a related field. A postgraduate degree can provide a deeper understanding of the mathematical theories and models used in actuarial work. It can also offer opportunities for research and specialisation in a particular area of actuarial science, and may allow you to qualify as an actuary in a shorter time. In some cases, actuarial employers may offer sponsorship for postgraduate courses.

However, it is not uncommon for professionals to embark on an actuary career with degrees in engineering, physics or even some humanities subjects too, provided they have a strong aptitude for maths. In these cases, they will need to be able to demonstrate their capabilities in other ways.

What professional exams and accreditations will I need?

In the UK, most candidates looking to apply for actuarial science jobs will register with the Institute and Faculty of Actuaries (IFoA) by passing a series of professional exams. These actuarial exams cover a range of topics, including: financial mathematics; probability and mathematical statistics; economics; financial reporting; life insurance; health insurance; general insurance; casualty insurance; pension and other employee benefits; finance and investment; and enterprise risk management.

There are ten exams that must be passed to become an associate actuary, with a further three papers required to reach fellowship. These exams usually take place in April and September of each year. In addition to these, prospective actuaries must also complete a professionalism course and gain relevant work experience. Once all of these milestones have been cleared, you will be able to register with the IFoA and become an accredited actuary, allowing you to start applying for positions.

What entry-level opportunities are available?

Once you have obtained the academic credentials you need to become an actuary, you will be able to start looking for your first actuarial job. There are a number of potential routes available for recent graduates to get started with their actuarial careers:

Graduate schemes

Many employers, including the larger insurance and consulting firms, offer graduate schemes for actuaries. These programmes typically last two to three years and provide a structured path to becoming a qualified actuary. They offer a combination of on-the-job training, study support for the actuarial exams, and opportunities to gain experience in different areas of the business.

Trainee roles

Some companies offer trainee roles for aspiring actuaries. These positions are similar to graduate schemes, but are typically offered by smaller firms. Trainees work alongside experienced senior actuaries, and receive support to study for their actuarial exams.


Apprenticeships are another great way to start an actuarial career, especially for those who prefer to learn on the job rather than in a classroom. Apprentices work full-time while studying for their actuarial exams. They receive a salary and have their exam fees paid by their employer.


Many actuaries get their start working on a volunteer basis through an internship or work placement. This will give you an opportunity to develop work based skills and to get on-the-job experience of working within an actuarial department, which can improve your chances of finding a trainee position.

Working through an agency

Working through a specialist recruitment agency, such as Sellick Partnership, can be an ideal way of opening doors to permanent positions. Agencies often have relationships with a wide range of employers and can help match candidates with suitable roles. They can also provide support and advice throughout the job search process.

How long does it take to become an actuary?

The journey to becoming a fully qualified actuary can be a lengthy one, due to the rigorous examination process and the requirement for practical work experience. The exact timeline can vary depending on several factors, including the individual's educational background, the pace at which they pass the professional exams, and the opportunities they have to gain relevant work experience.

  • An undergraduate degree in a maths-related field typically takes three to four years to complete. Some individuals may also choose to pursue a postgraduate degree, which can add an additional one or two years to their education.
  • The IFoA professional exams require a significant amount of study time. Many individuals study for these exams while working full-time, and it is common for candidates to take one exam at a time. On average, it can take between three to seven years to pass all of the required exams, although this varies depending on the individual.
  • The length of time it takes to gain sufficient work experience can vary depending on which level of qualification you are seeking. For associate level you need two years or work experience, for fellowship you need an additional twelve months beyond this.

As such, the process of becoming a fully qualified actuary can take anywhere from seven to 10 years, if measured from when you commence your undergraduate degree. However, it is important to note that many individuals begin working in the field and making significant contributions long before they have completed all of their exams. Additionally for some individuals, and for some roles, full qualification is not a requirement.

Additional advice for becoming an actuary

In order to maximise your chances of success in pursuing an actuarial career, you should bear the following principles in mind:

  • Be prepared and persistent with your professional certification exams. Passing these tests will require a significant amount of dedicated study time, and may even require you to retake an exam. By persevering, you will give yourself the best chance to succeed.
  • Look for opportunities to network. Get involved with professional actuarial organisations to meet other actuaries, who can provide you with insights about the industry, support you in your studies and even refer you for potential job opportunities.
  • Commit to ongoing self-development. Be proactive about staying updated on the latest developments in the actuarial industry, by attending seminars and conferences, or seeking out the latest sector news. By doing so, you can demonstrate your passion and commitment to prospective employers while also broadening your skills.
  • Seek out roles that will suit your career ambitions. When deciding where to work, you should focus on companies of the right size and specialism to suit your specific career ambitions. To learn more about the different areas in which you might choose to specialise, take a look at our guide exploring the different career progression options available to an actuary.

Get started with your actuarial career

If you are considering how to become an actuary, Sellick Partnership can provide the support and guidance you need. As specialists in actuarial recruitment, we connect talented professionals with top employers across various industries. We offer a complete recruitment service on a permanent, contract, and interim basis across all levels, from actuarial analysts and actuarial consultants through to senior managers and heads of departments.

No matter what kind of entry-level actuary or actuarial analyst role you are looking for, we can help you navigate the job market and find the perfect opportunity for you. You can browse our actuarial jobs and learn more about Sellick Partnership's services by visiting our actuarial recruitment hub.