If you are deciding between majoring in engineering or actuarial science, you might want to know more about what each major has to offer. This post will show you the key facts about each major and help you to decide which would be a better degree for you.

At a glance:

Actuarial scienceEngineering
Payscale reported
average pay
$67,014$85,100
Ease of finding a jobModerateGood
Types of jobs
you can qualify for
Actuary
Actuarial analyst
Financial analyst
Actuarial analyst
Data analyst
Actuarial associate
Software engineer
Mechanical engineer
Civil engineer
Project engineer
Structural engineer
Electrical engineer
Industrial engineer
Chemical engineer
Difficulty of the
major
HardHard
Key things to noteCan be difficult to
get an actuarial
job at the
entry level.

Specialized for the
actuarial career
path. This makes
it slightly easier
to get an acturial
job but harder to
get jobs from other
fields.

Can improve your
job prospects by
getting a minor in
another field such as
computer science.
One of the best paying
bachelor’s degrees.

Can still get a job as an
actuary with a degree in
engineering if you
choose statistics classes
in the electives and complete
the initial actuary exams.

Can give good job
prospects with just
a bachelor’s degree.

Many of the more
lucrative engineering
jobs require
a master’s degree.

The jobs you will
qualify for will depend
a lot on the specific
type of engineering
degree you choose.
Source for actuarial science salary and jobs
Source for engineering salary and jobs

There are many things to consider when choosing between the two degrees. There are also some things you should consider doing when you choose either of the degrees.

Details about a degree in engineering

Below are details about a degree in engineering.

It can pay well

According to Payscale, the average salary for someone with a bachelor’s degree in engineering is $85,100. This puts engineering among the highest paying degrees available.

Engineering is also a major that will give you good job prospects with just a bachelor’s degree. This is because engineering degrees tend to be applied to multiple specific job roles meaning that you should be reasonably well prepared for certain jobs without needing too much extra training. It is also common for people with engineering degrees to find work in other mathematical fields such as data analytics and data science.

However, many of the better jobs will require a master’s degree. Getting one will also improve your long-term pay prospects. However, this can also be said for most majors.

Something to consider is that the average salary will vary depending on the specific field that you are intending to enter. You can look here to see what the median and average pay is for each of the different types of engineering degrees.

Also, the job progression and working hours will depend a lot on the specific field you want to enter.

Before choosing an engineering degree, it would help a lot to do lots of research on the specific type of engineering degree that you are interested in and to make sure that it has good job prospects. It would also help to make sure that it is something that you would be interested in doing.

Job prospects are projected to improve

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics it is expected that there will be a total of 139,300 new jobs by 2026 when compared to 2016. You can look here to see how each of the different types of engineering jobs are projected to improve.

Many people with engineering degrees go down the software engineering route. These jobs tend to pay well and be less demanding unless there are deadlines coming up.

With that being the case, picking up a minor in computer science will help to broaden your job prospects significantly. At the very least, it would help to make sure to take computer science algorithms and data structures since that is what gets tested in software engineering interviews.

The types of jobs you can expect to qualify for will depend a lot on the type of engineering degree you choose and the electives you choose.

But you can expect to qualify for jobs such as:

  • Mechanical engineer
  • Civil engineer
  • Project engineer
  • Structural engineer
  • Electrical engineer
  • Industrial engineer
  • Chemical engineer

If you also take computer science classes you could also qualify for software engineering roles. You might also qualify for roles in data science, machine learning and data analysis if you learn programming (in Python), take computer science electives and also complete projects related to machine learning and data science.

It can be difficult to get a high GPA

Engineering majors are, usually, majors with a high dropout rate. There are many possible reasons for this but one main reason is that an engineering major is more challenging than people would expect.

Engineering makes use of lots of mathematics. In engineering, you will need to learn, single and multivariable calculus, linear algebra, discrete math and differential equations as well as some physics. These can be difficult classes that will require a lot of time spent studying. Many students are not willing to put the necessary amount of time into studying for these classes so they end up not doing very well in them.

However, if you are also interested in an actuarial degree, it is likely that you will be able to do well on the math and physics side of an engineering degree which is where most students struggle.

Another thing to consider is your level of interest in the subject. If you are interested in engineering then you will likely have an easier time motivating yourself to continue studying when you are struggling.

Engineering degrees will often require more credits

Another reason that people have a hard time doing well in engineering is that it will often require more credits to graduate than some of the other majors.

This means that you will likely have to take more classes in each semester as an engineering major and you will have to spend more time studying.

Alternative degrees

There are a number of alternatives if you are thinking of getting an engineering degree.

The alternatives can include:

  • Computer science
  • Mathematics
  • Statistics
  • Computer engineering
  • Physics

Things to consider

Since the different engineering degrees will be more applied to specific job roles and can qualify you for a range of jobs, they should give you good job prospects.

However, it can still be difficult when job searching especially right after graduation so it could help a lot to improve your job opportunities by also taking classes from another well-paying discipline such as computer science.

Details about a degree in actuarial science

Below are some details about a degree in actuarial science.

Average pay

According to Payscale, the average pay of someone with a degree in actuarial science is $67,014. According to the BLS, the median pay of an actuary was 108,350 in 2019. The BLS also reports that the number of actuary jobs is expected to grow by 18% by 2029 which they say is much higher than the average across all jobs.

However, something to consider, is that it can take many years, after graduating, to become an actuary since there will be a number of additional exams to pass. Also, the job market at the entry-level is competitive.

Jobs

A degree in actuarial science will be specialized for becoming an actuary. This is good if you want to be an actuary. However, it can mean that it will make it more difficult for you to get jobs in other fields that you could have qualified for with a similar major such as statistics or mathematics.

Also, you can still get a job as an actuary without an actuarial degree. Degrees such as statistics, mathematics, applied mathematics and even physics can be just as competitive for the job role, depending on the classes you take.

However, there are many skills that you will learn in the major that will still allow you to qualify you for other job roles. This is mainly because you will be learning a lot about statistics. You should also learn how to program in Python, R and how to be proficient in Excel. This should help qualify you for “analyst” type job roles in particular and possibly data science roles as well.

Jobs that you could get with a degree in actuarial science could include:

  • Actuary
  • Actuarial analyst
  • Financial analyst
  • Actuarial analyst
  • Data analyst
  • Actuarial associate

Getting a minor in an applied field, such as computer science, could also help to broaden your job opportunities.

Difficulty

The major will involve a lot of mathematics, probability and statistics. As a result, the major is not an easy major. When compared with an engineering degree, you can expect an actuarial degree to be similarly difficult.

It will also be necessary for you to take additional exams in order to qualify as an actuary. It will even be necessary for you to pass some exams for an entry-level actuary position. These exams can be difficult and many people fail them every year.

Types of classes

The major will have you take courses from a number of different disciplines. Required classes you can expect to take will include:

  • Calculus
  • Linear algebra
  • Two courses in calculus-based probability and statistics
  • Computer science
  • Economics
  • Finance
  • Business
  • Actuarial science classes as available

Things to consider

If you are interested in becoming an actuary, getting an actuarial degree might not be a requirement. Instead, it might be more appropriate for you to get a related degree and to make sure to take the necessary classes to become an actuary. Also, it will be important to make sure to complete the necessary actuarial exams while an undergrad.

It might be the case that, half-way through your time as an undergrad, you will decide that you do not want to be an actuary. If you major in a more general quantitative subject such as math or statistics, it should be easier for you to transition towards a different field than with an actuarial major. If you do decide to major in a more general field, it will still be important to choose more employable classes and to complete personal projects so that you can be more competitive for specific jobs.

Something to be aware of is that actuarial science will focus more on applying traditional statistics techniques to smaller datasets. However, each year companies are acquiring larger and larger datasets. This is making machine learning techniques used on large datasets, in data science, more and more relevant each year.

Machine learning and big data is getting incorporated more into actuarial degrees and the exams. However, it would still help a lot to make sure to learn python, manipulation of big datasets using things such as the Pandas library and machine learning. So, that you can also be competitive for data science type roles.

One more thing to be aware of is that actuarial careers can have good job satisfaction because they have good pay, moderate working hours and low stress. However, they also tend to have low job meaning since most of the jobs will involve helping already wealthy people earn more money. Alternative careers, such as in data science, can allow you to have a more positive socially impactful role.

Reasons to choose an engineering degree

When compared with a degree in actuarial science, you can expect an engineering degree to qualify you for a wider range of jobs. This should help you when looking for entry-level jobs since you will have a wider range of potential jobs to qualify for. Also, many of the jobs you will qualify for will have similar pay and job satisfaction as being an actuary but won’t need extra exams.

With that being said, the specific jobs you will qualify for will depend on the classes you choose. With that being the case, it would help a lot to make sure to take classes related to the type of job that you are interested in.

Reasons to choose an actuarial degree

Actuarial jobs are commonly rated as some of the best jobs you can get. If you are absolutely set on becoming an actuary then getting a degree in actuarial science would be appropriate. In this case, it would help to try to minor in something else such as computer science since this will help to reduce your risk if you are not able to find an entry-level job as an actuary.

However, if you are not absolutely sure that you want to become an actuary, it would likely be a better option to get a related degree such as applied math or statistics but to make sure to take the relevant classes to become an actuary. I have written about actuarial science vs statistics here.

Author

I created and currently manage College Corner. I received a Bachelor's degree in Mathematics from the University of Nevada Las Vegas. My goal is to help current students do better in college and to help future students plan for college. You can read more about me and my website here.