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March 10, 2009

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Summer between sophomore and junior year: Make a serious attempt to get ready for the first actuarial exam. Study hard, take sample tests.

September and October, junior year: Work with your academic advisor to gauge your readiness for the first exam. Attend career fairs at your school and gather information about summer internship programs. If your school does not feature actuarial careers at its events, use the school's career center to research internships, get more information and develop contacts.

November, junior year: Apply to internship programs that interest you, and sign up for an actuarial exam. Depending on your progress, that can be either this semester or early next semester.

Winter break, junior year: Follow up with your internship applications and the contacts you've made. Don't be a pest, but do make sure your application is complete and supply additional materials as needed.

January and February, junior year: You may have telephone interviews with the companies you've applied to. Otherwise, try to take your first actuarial exam at this time -- you can try again later in the semester if you don't pass the first time.

March, junior year: You may be asked to do in-person interviews over spring break, so make sure you carve out the time and have the necessary finances in case the company does not pay to bring you in (this can vary from firm to firm). Continue your studying for your exams.

April and May, junior year: This is when you find out whether you've been chosen for an internship. Pick the one you and your advisor think will give you the best experience. Don't lose contact with the companies you politely turn down, however. If you're ambitious and failed your first exam, try again before the semester is out.

Summer between junior and senior year: Enjoy your internship! If you were unable to land one, you should redouble your efforts to get an actuarial exam under your belt and, ideally, get a summer job doing something financial or mathematical -- even if you're working as a bank teller.

September and October, senior year: Review study guides and sample questions for your second actuarial exam, which will help you determine the semester's course work. Again, attend career fairs and meet with industry representatives. Be sure to renew your contacts at various companies, whether or not you were accepted for an internship or turned one down from them. Determine the hiring requirements of companies you're interested in.

November and December, senior year: Work with your contacts, your academic advisor and your career counselors at school to determine which companies you should apply to, then go ahead and apply. Also schedule your second actuarial exam for early in your final semester. If you're interested in graduate school -- either because the academics interest you greatly or you've had little luck generating career interest, make sure you've taken the GRE and get those applications going.

Winter break, senior year: Study for your second actuarial exam. Follow up on your job applications.

January and February, senior year: Do follow-up phone interviews for jobs. Study hard and take your second actuarial exam. If you don't pass, try to schedule another exam for April, before the crush of final exams. If you've opted for graduate school or are just hedging with it, you should already have your applications in by now.

March, senior year: Prepare to do a number of in-person interviews, and make sure you have the time and resources available to do them. In these cases, you are more likely to be flown in and housed for the duration of your stay. For companies you've not yet heard from, follow up and, if you're going to be in town, offer to meet with them. At this time you may also be interviewing at graduate schools.

April and May, senior year: Follow up with the firms at which you've interviewed. Make sure you're caught up with your school work as well -- no use having your final semester lag the rest of your career. Ideally, you will, by this time, get one or more offers, and/or acceptance into a graduate program. If you don't, be sure your industry contacts know your contact information outside of school and ask to be put on the waiting list should someone drop out of a program. Graduate, and go to work!

From grad school to the workplace

Finding a job out of graduate school is much the same as searching for work as an undergrad. There will be job fairs and career events at your school, and the application time frame in the final year of your degree will be similar. Some companies have structured programs, similar to entry-level, tailored to graduate students, though these are generally shorter and offer more flexibility and responsibility. Others will want to place you directly into a position of responsibility right out of grad school, especially if you have internship or work experience in the field.

If your degree combines with an MBA, you may find yourself courted by others beyond the insurance industry. This is rare, but is happening with more frequency as financial services companies seek to use actuarial talents to reduce risk.

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