Two senior actuarial science students at BJU landed actuarial internships for the first time in their program’s history.
While other actuarial students have been accepted for internships in related fields such as finance, actuarial internships are difficult to get because of their competitive nature. Senior Nate Karamon sent out 60 applications, most of which were rejected, before one company near his hometown in Michigan asked to interview him.
The company had initially rejected his application because he attended an out-of-state school. “I think that’s why most people rejected me,” Karamon said. However, he applied for a total of three internships at Willis Towers Watson, two of which were not even actuarial. Once the company noticed his persistence, they gave him a shot. After interviewing, Karamon was offered and accepted the health and benefits consulting internship in February 2020. For two months that summer, he remotely priced and underwrote medical, dental and vision insurance plans among other tasks.
Senior Carl Chen also got an actuarial internship during the summer of 2020. After applying for at least 30, American International Group in Houston asked him for preliminary virtual interviews. He then advanced in the interview process to be one of 40 whom the company flew to Houston for a chance at 12 internship positions.
In Houston, Chen — along with candidates from top schools like Columbia University — underwent three consecutive half-hour interviews with three senior actuaries. Chen was accepted and offered a life and retirement programming position. At the end of his remote internship, he virtually presented his summer project to 300 people from AIG’s actuarial departments across the country.
Actuarial Science Internship Benefits
The actuarial internships are so competitive because they increase job search success. With that experience, students stand out to companies and can be referred based on job performance, not just academics. “They see that you’ve actually been able to do communicative work in a company,” Karamon said.
In Chen’s case, his internship led directly to a full-time job offer before graduation. Before starting the internship, he knew that the company’s managers extend full-time job offers to some interns. Two months after his internship, he received one.
Karamon was also hired before graduation as an actuary but for a company unrelated to his internship. However, he suspects his internship experience — along with academic excellence, communication skills and other work experience — attracted his employer.
The Keys to Success
Getting involved at college has advantages in the actuarial world. “I think my unique college background helped because I was able to be involved in a lot here at Bob Jones,” Karamon said. “Sometimes Bob Jones is seen as a liability, but I think in the actuarial world distinguishing yourself at a college that nobody’s heard of is pretty important.” For example, Karamon traveled on a University music team and held leadership positions on campus.
Classes at BJU taught Karamon and Chen necessary skills such as math, statistics, project management but especially communication. To Chen, speech classes are practical. “I hated them when I first took them, but I started realizing how useful they are when I started entering into the professional world,” he said.
“Communication is huge,” Karamon explained. “Anybody, in theory, can have the head knowledge to pass exams and get grades in math, but if you’re not a communicator, they don’t want you.”
In particular, working with clients requires skillful communication. “When you are making business decisions, sometimes the math is not really complicated, but the thinking behind that can be a little challenging,” Chen said. “As actuaries, we need to explain it in a way that … people who are not actuaries can understand.”
Not only do actuaries have to know how to explain technicalities, but they also have to know what to explain. “It’s not always what I want to communicate,” Karamon said. “It’s about what the client wants to know, and generally the client just wants to know a few things out of the hours of work you put into a project.”
Flexibility is another important actuarial skill. Karamon said that learning the terminology of programs such as Excel increases performance and opportunities. “If you are flexible, you are able to go far,” he said.
Chen experienced that flexibility firsthand at his internship. “My internship role wasn’t really a traditional actuarial role because I did a lot of programming, but I was told that actuaries, they really have to learn things on the fly,” he said. “We have to apply our analytical skills to a lot of different occasions. It doesn’t have to necessarily be a math-related question.”
While in school, actuarial students begin taking a series of seven Society of Actuaries exams to be certified as an associate. Each exam requires 300 hours of study outside of class. Although passing exams is not the only skill necessary to get internships, it is still significant. Companies expect intern applicants to have passed one or two of those exams. “Companies really want to make sure you are someone who can pass actuarial exams consistently,” Chen said.
Sharing Their Experience with Peers
During the spring semester of 2020, Karamon and Chen initiated an actuarial peer mentoring program, or what Karamon calls “an actuarial science club,” to guide the increasing number of actuarial students at BJU. It is currently an unofficial student organization that may become official in the near future.
They saw the potential of the actuarial students of the class of 2021. In fact, Karamon and Chen were two of six actuarial students who achieved a 100% pass rate on the Society of Actuaries Financial Mathematics exam in the spring of 2019. “We were all super excited about it,” Karamon said. “We not only had the combined academic skills, but we all had different skills, and we felt like we wanted to give back to the University that has done a lot for us.”
The program aims to connect underclassmen to upperclassmen and to connect all actuarial science students to alumni and employers. “We don’t want the alumni to leave Bob Jones and then not stay connected because they have a lot of wisdom to share based on their experiences at BJU and in the workforce,” Karamon said. He hopes to have employers speak on campus in the future.
Currently, the program accomplishes its objective through weekly meetings covering
- Classes to take
- Exam studying tips
- Outstanding skills
- Peer encouragement to prepare underclassmen for challenges such as balancing exams and classes
- Classroom and work experiences of upperclassmen
“We wish someone else would have been there to give us this kind of advice when we were sophomore students or freshmen,” Chen said. “I think it will help the actuarial students to have a clear direction early in their academic career.”
Overall, Karamon and Chen realize that different backgrounds and experiences lead to a greater pool of advice. Said Karamon: “We all have the same goal and that’s to pursue Christ and be the best actuaries we can be whatever area we end up in, whether it’s insurance or consulting, whether it’s health, retirement, pension, property casualty or just general finance.”