Earning $120,000 or $45,300?

Actuaries on top of salary projection

Senior Trevor Taylor says actuaries never stop learning.

Senior Trevor Taylor is studying actuarial science, or as he calls it, “mathematical fortune telling” for insurance companies.

In a more technical sense, actuaries use statistical and mathematical methods to assess risk in insurance and other industries. Their findings might determine things like auto insurance rates in a particular region of the country. And actuaries do well financially … really well. A recent survey by Payscale ranked actuarial mathematics as the second–highest–paying undergraduate major.

The average starting salary is $58,700, and the mid-career average is $120,000. SPU doesn’t offer Payscale’s highest-paying major, petroleum engineering, which boasts an average starting salary of $103,000 and average mid-career salary of $160,000.

Taylor actually created his own major to better prepare him for actuarial science. He’s a mathematics major with an emphasis in actuarial mathematics.

“Normally, you take 60 upper division credits for the applied math major,” Taylor said. “I had to take 45 upper division math and [45 upper division] business credits when building my major.”

Taylor said he originally planned to just major in math and become an actuary but later created his own major after doing some research.

“I knew I had to pick all my business classes and research what classes would be appropriate for the major,” he said.

Taylor acknowledges he’s picked a profitable major but said he truly enjoys math.

“I really like probability, but I didn’t want to do math proofs,” he said. “I’m more interested in growing my career long-term than the money I would make.”

Taylor thinks the major leads to higher-paying jobs because actuarial science incorporates several disciplines, such as accounting, finance and business.

“You never stop learning,” he said. “It’s always something new.”

To become an actuary, job seekers have to study for and pass a series of three tests. Taylor passed the first test about a year ago. The first test is about three hours long and consists mostly of probability questions. The second test focuses on finance, and the third test is on economics and calculus.

“A lot of actuaries come from completely different majors,” Taylor said. “Any major can become one — you just have to pass the exams.”

Taylor won’t start his career as an actuary but plans to get his start as a data analyst, statistician or risk analyst. This is Taylor’s last quarter, and he’s looking to study for the next two actuary exams while working.

“I want to work in fire and house insurance or auto liability,” he said. “There’s a lot more probability with those fields, and it’s more fun to predict.”


Elementary ed. major ranks near bottom

Senior Izzy Director says she finds joy in equipping children for success in life.

Senior Izzy Director knew she wanted to be an elementary school teacher after she spent part of a gap year at an orphanage in Mexico. She still visits the orphanage in the summer and has volunteered at a school in Guatemala on a SPRINT trip.

“These experiences have confirmed that I love working with children and that education is one way we can empower those all over the world,” Director said.

Director said she chose an elementary education major because of the joy that comes from believing in and equipping students for the future. What she didn’t pick it for is the money — a recent survey by Payscale ranked it second to last for the lowest-paying major. Elementary education ranked 128 out of 129, with an average starting salary of $32,200 and a mid-career salary of $45,300. The lowest-paying major, according to Payscale, is child and family studies, and it’s not offered at SPU.

“If you desire to be a creative, meaningful, competent teacher, you will most likely put in countless hours of extra planning and development for which you will not get paid,” Director said.

At Seattle Pacific, students getting their Elementary Certification have to choose an emphasis. For Director, that’s English, but she also has to take classes in math, reading, science, art, music, theater and physical education.

As a senior, Director is in the middle of her student teaching at Honey Dew Elementary in Renton. As the school year progresses, she’ll take on more responsibility, from teaching one day a week fall quarter to three days a week winter quarter. By spring, she’ll be teaching Monday through Friday.

Director said she isn’t concerned about lists like Payscale’s. After graduation, Director wants to work in an orphanage or as a teacher in the U.S. for low-income or at-risk students. She said it’s not about the money but rather the opportunity to impact a young person and give them the confidence to succeed in life.

“Some people think being an elementary school teacher is a form of glorified babysitting,” Director said. “But in reality, it is a very rigorous profession in which you must intentionally and thoughtfully care for the academic, social and emotional development of a class full of young minds.”

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