If you are deciding between majoring in actuarial science or biology, 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:
|Types of jobs|
you can qualify for
High school teacher
|Difficulty of the|
|Key things to note|
It can be difficult to find
a job with just a bachelor’s
degree in biology. A
master’s degree or
PhD is often required.
Other easier majors
can be better for
The major can become
more employable if
combined with a more
It is a major that can
give good job satisfaction
once you can find a job.
|Can be difficult to|
get an actuarial
job at the
Specialized for the
path. This makes
it slightly easier
to get an actuarial
job but harder to
get jobs from other
Can improve your
job prospects by
getting a minor in
another field such as
computer science and
learning data science.
Source for biology pay and jobs
There are a number of things to consider when choosing between the two degrees. Below, are details about each major, their differences and reasons to choose one or the other.
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. 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.
Details about a biology degree
Below are some of the key details about a degree in biology.
According to Payscale, the average pay for a person with a degree in biology is $71,112. This is better than the average across all majors. However, something to consider, is that the average will be being increased considerably by people with master’s degrees and PhDs in biology.
Biology can be a somewhat general degree that is not specialized towards specific job roles. As a result, it is often necessary to combine biology with a more applied minor or to get an advanced degree after graduating, in order to make the major more employable.
In a ZipRecruiter survey, it was found that 35% of biology graduates regret choosing the major due to difficulty finding a job without an advanced degree.
With that being said, the major can be a gateway towards jobs in a number of different fields, but it will often require some extra studying to become employable in those fields.
According to Payscale, people with a degree in biology often get jobs as:
- Lab assistant
- Physician assistant
- Biomedical engineer
- Physical therapist
- High school teacher
Note that many of these jobs will require at least a master’s degree.
Something to be aware of is that many of the jobs that require advanced degrees do have strong predicted job growth (source). This is encouraging if you are set on getting an advanced degree in biology. However, something to be aware of is that if you change your mind halfway through, it could be difficult to find a job with just a bachelor’s degree in biology.
Biology is a difficult major. The biology classes themselves can be difficult and the major will usually require math, statistics, physics, and chemistry classes. Overall, you should expect to have to put a lot of time into the major. When compared with an actuarial science major, you can expect biology to be equivalently difficult.
Classes you can expect to take in a biology major can include:
- Introduction to physics
- Introduction to biology
- Molecular biology
You can look here to see an example degree sequence.
Things to consider
Alternative majors can allow you to enter medical school but also have good job opportunities. In fact, because it can be difficult to get a high GPA in biology, alternative majors can actually be better for medical school because having a high GPA can help a lot.
To get the more desirable jobs, in biology, it is often necessary to get a PhD. If you do choose the major, it would help a lot to consider combining it with a more employable minor in order to improve your job prospects after graduation.
When deciding on whether or not you should major in biology, it would help to consider whether or not you are set on going to graduate school as well and the types of jobs you want. If you are set on going to graduate school and you want a job that will require a master’s or PhD then a biology major would become more worthwhile.
Reasons to choose biology
While it can be difficult to find jobs with just a bachelor’s degree in biology, there are still some reasons why you might want to get a biology degree.
The first reason is if you want to get a job that requires a master’s or doctoral degree in biology. If you do, then a bachelor’s degree in biology would be more worthwhile.
Also, if you have a very strong interest in the subject, it would also make it more worthwhile for you to major in biology. However, it would also help to minor in something that is employable at the bachelor’s degree level.
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. It would also help to learn data science since many actuarial skills cross over into data science.
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.