If you are deciding between majoring in actuarial science or civil engineering, 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:

Civil EngineeringActuarial Science
Payscale reported
average pay
$70,508$67,014
Ease of finding a jobHighModerate
Types of jobs
you can qualify for
Civil engineer
Project engineer
Structural engineer
Transportation engineer
Geotechnical engineer
Water resources engineer
Construction engineer
Actuary
Actuarial analyst
Financial analyst
Actuarial analyst
Data analyst
Actuarial associate
Difficulty of the
major
HardHard
Key things to note

A relatively secure field
once you are able to land a
job.

Employable with just a bachelor’s
degree.

High-stress work environment
in the early years.

High job satisfaction and fulfillment.

Low predicted job growth
over the next decade.

The work environment can
be more physically active than most
jobs since you’ll need to go to the construction
locations occasionally. However,
there is also a lot of meetings and
design work using computer software.
Can 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 actuarial
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.
Source for actuarial science salary and jobs
Source for civil engineering degree salary and jobs

There are important things to consider when choosing between the two degrees since they can take you down very different paths. Also, there are some things to consider if you do choose either of them such as which classes you should take.

Details about a degree in civil engineering

Below are some details about the civil engineering major.

Pay

According to Payscale, the average pay for a person with a degree in civil engineering is $70,508. This is higher than the average pay for most majors. However, it is a lot lower than alternative engineering majors such as computer engineering ($87,000) and electrical engineering ($92,000). It is also similar to the average reported pay for an actuarial science major which is $67,000.

Jobs

On one hand, civil engineering could be seen as a safe major because there will always be buildings, dams, highways, stadiums, etc that need to be built. As a result, once you are able to get a job in civil engineering, it is typically seen as a relatively secure job to have.

However, it can be tricky to find a job at the entry-level and the price of the job security is that the pay is slightly lower than alternative majors such as computer engineering, electrical engineering, and computer science. Also, because you will be building structures that many people will be using and that cost millions of dollars, it can be a very stressful job, especially in the early years. Although, it is also typically a very interesting field to work in, and completing a project successfully can be very fulfilling.

Jobs that you can get with a civil engineering degree include:

  • Civil engineer
  • Project engineer
  • Structural engineer
  • Transportation engineer
  • Geotechnical engineer
  • Water resources engineer
  • Construction engineer

Civil engineering has a number of sub-fields and you will need to specialize in one of them before getting a job.

The subfields include:

Construction engineering. This involves managing the project as it is underway and building the temporary structures that are used while constructing the actual structure.

Geotechnical engineering. This involves ensuring that the foundations of the structure are well built.

Structural engineering. This involves designing the structure and ensuring that it will be able to support itself.

Transportation engineering. This involves building and maintaining streets, highways, airports, docks, and harbors.

Water resource engineering. This involves managing water resources by designing new equipment and facilities.

Difficulty

Civil engineering is a difficult degree that will involve a lot of mathematics including calculus, linear algebra, and differential equations. It will also involve some physics and the engineering classes themselves can be difficult. There will also be a lot of lab classes that will involve a lot of projects. When compared with an actuarial science major, you can expect them both to be equivalently difficult.

Classes

Classes that you can expect to take in a civil engineering degree can include:

Calculus
Linear algebra
Differential equations
Physics
Mechanics
Introduction to programming
Introduction to civil engineering
Civil engineering materials
Fluid mechanics
Mechanics of structures
Statics
Structural engineering
Water resources engineering
Geotechnical engineering
Transportation engineering
Construction engineering

You can also expect to take more specialized classes related to the specialization that you choose.

Things to consider

Before choosing civil engineering and the university that you want to go to, it would help to research the type of civil engineering you are most interested in. This is so that you know what to specialize in and so that you know what university to choose because some universities will only offer certain specializations.

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. 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 are 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 civil engineering

When compared with an actuarial science bachelor’s degree by itself, you can expect a civil engineering degree to qualify you for more jobs at the entry-level. Also, a civil engineering degree will qualify you for jobs by itself. Whereas, with actuarial science, it will be necessary for you to pass a number of extra, very difficult, exams in order to qualify as an actuary.

Furthermore, the jobs that a civil engineering degree can qualify you for tend to be very interesting jobs that have high levels of satisfaction since they are very important jobs for society.

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.