If you are deciding between majoring in physics 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.
|Ease of finding a job
|Types of jobs
you can qualify for
|Difficulty of the
|Key things to note
|Can be difficult to
get an actuarial
job at the
Specialized for the
path. This makes
it slightly easier
to get an acturial
job but harder to
get jobs from other
Can improve your
job prospects by
getting a minor in
another field such as
|More general than an
actuarial degree. This
means the degree should
qualify you for a wider
range of jobs. However,
you should take classes
related to the type of
job you are interested in.
Very employable if
you combine it with
another applied minor
such as computer
Also employable if
you combine it with
data analysis skills,
especially in Python.
Can still get a job as an
actuary with a degree in
Source for physics pay 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 physics degree
Below are some details about a degree in physics.
According to Payscale, the average pay of someone with a bachelor’s degree in physics is $86,600.
However, something to be aware of is that the average pay of someone fresh out of college, with no work experience, will likely be a lot lower than that.
On average, the job opportunities for someone graduating with a physics degree will likely be higher than the job opportunities with a BSc in economics. But, it can still be difficult for physics majors to find jobs and there are alternative degrees that can give better job opportunities such as computer science and engineering.
A physics degree can give access to a wide range of job opportunities. However, a physics degree can be quite general in nature and it can be difficult to find a job with just a bachelor’s degree in physics. However, this will depend a lot on the classes that you choose to take. You can also greatly improve your job prospects by minoring in something more applied such as computer science, completing programming projects and getting summer internships.
Jobs that you could get with a bachelor’s degree in physics could include:
Physics can give good job opportunities if you combine it with more practical skills. Currently, data science is a popular career path for physics majors. If you are interested in data science, it would help to learn programming, data analysis, machine learning to complete data science projects and to take a number of computer science classes including data structures and algorithms.
A physics degree can also be a very difficult degree and you will have to put a lot of time into the degree. A physics degree will involve a lot of math classes and the actual physics classes can be difficult. Overall, you should expect the degree to require more time than an actuarial degree.
You can expect to take math classes such as:
Partial differential equations
In addition you can expect to have the option to take more math classes if you would like. You might also have the option to take some classes from related disciplines such as statistics, engineering and computer science.
You can also expect to take multiple physics classes including:
Introduction to physics
Mechanics and waves
Electricity and magnetism
You can look here to see an example of required classes in a physics degree.
Details about a degree in actuarial science
Below are some details about a degree in actuarial science.
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.
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:
- 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.
The major will involve a lot of mathematics, probability and statistics. As a result, the major is not an easy major. However, when compared with a physics major, you can expect actuarial science to be slightly less difficult depending on the required classes in the physics degree.
With that being said, 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:
- Linear algebra
- Two courses in calculus-based probability and statistics
- Computer science
- 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 a physics degree
Since a physics degree is more general than an actuarial science degree it should qualify you for a wider range on jobs. However, the generality can make it less competitive for specific jobs. This is why it would help to make sure to take classes related to the job that you are interested in.
Also, a physics degree can be a very interesting degree. Students that are able to cope with the heavy mathematics tend to enjoy their time in the major. If you are very interested in physics and mathematics, it is likely that you will enjoy taking the major as well.
Additionally, physics can be a better option if you are thinking of going to graduate school for things such as physics, computer science and mathematics. However, it will be necessary for you to make sure to take the relevant classes for what 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.