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Being an actuary is the best job you probably haven’t heard of. It is an intellectually challenging, highly respected career path that allows you to apply maths, economics, and risk management to real life business situations. Actuarial graduate programmes offer tailor-made routes into the profession for capable graduates. In this article, Hannah Traylen and Philip Arthur from XPS Pensions Group explore what these programmes are.

Career options

Actuaries work in a variety of industries; they are basically found wherever there is financial risk involved. There are numerous graduate opportunities available in pensions, insurance, investment management, banking, and working for the government. The number of different opportunities for actuaries is increasing with more non-traditional roles opening up in areas such as asset risk management, predictive modelling within businesses and environmental finance.

Graduate possibilities are particularly strong in:

  • Risk management – Analysing and managing financial risks that face a firm (e.g. for a bank).
  • Insurance – Extensive products and specialist situations provide opportunities in health, life and general insurance.
  • Benefits – Giving consultancy advice to companies which provide benefits to people (e.g. companies which provide pensions to its employees).

It is a highly regarded profession worldwide, and many actuaries take the opportunity to work abroad. The roles all have the same exam structure but will differ in the day-to-day work. Make sure you research the company and sector to see if it is the right fit for you. Ask yourself whether you want to be a client-facing consultant, or whether you would rather work in-house.

Graduate programmes

There are also opportunities to attend tutorials that provide focussed training for the exams. It will be long and hard work, with the typical qualifying time being 4 to 6 years. However, you will be working with other people who are going through, or who have been through, the same process as you and who are willing to offer help and advice.

Candidate requirements

The actuarial profession draws on logical thinking and problem solving, making a numeracy-based degree preferable. Most companies will expect candidates to have obtained or be on track for at least a 2:1 degree with honours and have a B grade or higher in maths at A-level.

Often an actuary is required to explain complex ideas to a client, where the client may not have full understanding of the mathematical calculations or the technical background. Therefore, it is important that potential actuarial graduates are able to communicate clearly in simple terms, both verbally and in writing.

It is important to have sound IT skills. You need to be self-disciplined because maintaining a balance between your personal life, work and studying can be a difficult task.


Any graduate programme offers great opportunities, allowing you to develop many skills, such as time management and teamwork. I think that actuarial graduate programmes offer other particular benefits:

  • Experience – I have gained valuable knowledge about financial industries that is very useful in my job; as well as for any related work. Actuarial work can expose you to areas such as finance, law, and administration, which will help broaden knowledge.
  • Constant learning – The exams help to expand knowledge in a way that many other careers may not. Beyond exams, continuous learning is expected throughout your actuarial career. Different roles within an actuarial situation also allow learning of skills in a work environment.
  • Highly-regarded – Being an actuary is looked upon favourably by many employers and professionals. The skills required for the job, plus the demanding nature of the exams, are a strong start to any CV.

Support training and development

One thing that can put some people off the actuarial profession is the prospect of the exams. They are indeed a challenge for an actuary in their early years and do require work and commitment from the graduate in order to pass them. However, graduate programmes usually offer generous study packages; which include time off work to study, as well as study material and support networks within the company.

The application process

Applying for an actuarial role can seem like a daunting experience to start with. The application process is normally very thorough, and there is a lot of competition out there. But with the correct preparation, you should be fine. Although not all application processes are the same, the process often involves an online application form, a telephone interview, online tests and an assessment centre.

Graduate roles start appearing around October, with the normal starting date being the following September. Many organisations also offer internships, and the application process for these is similar.

Read our Tips For Applying To Actuarial Jobs article to find out more about what applying for an actuarial role can entail.

About the Author

  • Name: Hannah Traylen and Philip Arthur

Hannah Traylen studied for a MSc Mathematical Biology at Exeter University. Following that, she joined the actuarial graduate programme at XPS Pensions Groups.

Philip Arthur read Mathematics at the University of Manchester. He became a teacher for five years, before applying for a graduate position at XPS Pensions Group.

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