How to Prepare for an Actuarial Career

Although Western Washington University does not offer an actuarial science degree, the Math Department does have classes that will help you prepare for Exam P/1, the first actuarial exam (and, to some extent, subsequent exams as well). Our experience has been that the classes listed below provide more than sufficient coverage of the topics in calculus and probability required for the first exam; more importantly they will help students gain an understanding of the ideas behind those topics. To fully prepare for the 1st exam, it is still necessary for you to go over practice exams and old actuarial exams.

Courses to take in preparation for Exam P/1:

  • Math 124, 125, 224, 225 (Univariate and Multivariate Calculus)
  • Math 226 (Limits and Infinite Series)
  • Math 341 (Probability and Statistical Inference)
  • Math 441 (Probability)

It is recommended that you take the following courses as well:

  • Math 204 (Elementary Linear Algebra)
  • Math 342 (Statistical Methods)
  • Math 442 (Mathematical Statistics)

Math 204 provides the basic knowledge in linear algebra, which will be useful in many situations such as modeling and computation of probabilities. Besides being a useful course in statistical applications, Math 342 is needed to fulfill part of the Validation of Educational Experience (VEE) requirements of the actuarial societies. Many of the concepts covered in Math 442 will be helpful in subsequent actuarial exams. In addition, you should take some basic computer programming courses such Math 307 or CSCI 140, as programming skills are often a valuable asset for an actuary.

As for Exam FM/2, the 2nd exam which focuses on financial mathematics, the Math Department does not offer any courses that cover the exam topics. Please refer to the FM Exam webpage on the Be An Actuary website for information on the syllabus and study materials.

With regard to the type of major appropriate for an actuarial career, it does not quite matter which specific major you choose---as long as it is related to math or economics or finance. Most of the alumni of the math department who became actuaries either earned a B.S. in Math or Applied Math, or completed a combined major in Economics/Mathematics. For more information on what to study, and other general information about the actuarial career, see

Over the years there have been numerous students in our math department who passed the first exam while at Western and who went on to work as actuaries for various companies in the Pacific Northwest and elsewhere. We would be happy to help you get in touch with one of our actuarial alumni if you wish to speak directly with them. Every year we also have actuaries from insurance companies, such as Liberty Mutual and Symetra, coming to our campus to give presentations about internship and job opportunities. These events, typically taking place in the fall quarter and early winter quarter, are very useful not only for the information on career opportunities but also for networking and for getting to know the companies. Keep an eye out for flyers and announcements of such presentations around the math department.

For more information or advising, please contact Victor Chan ( , 650-7260) or Eric Kean (, 650-4271).

Page Updated 10.09.2013