Actuaries use math, statistics and financial theory to calculate the likelihood a damaging event may occur to help insurance and financial corporations make prudent business decisions. The career carried an average salary of more than $87,000 in 2010. With an education at one of the top actuarial schools, an actuary can expect to earn well in excess of the average and embark both a successful and stimulating career.

Ranking Bodies

Columbia University is the top school for actuaries, according to Find the Best Colleges, which ranks schools based on admissions standards, student retention rates and a weighted average of rankings from U.S. News and World Report, Forbes Magazine and the Academic Ranking of World Universities. The University of Illinois tops College Prowler’s list, which grades schools according to student reviews, student polls and relevant facts and statistics. The World University Ranking Guide chose the University of Wisconsin as its top school for the United States. That organization ranks schools based on an average of four other ranking bodies: U.S. News, The Princeton Review, BusinessWeek and Forbes.

Columbia University

Columbia University in New York City offers a Master of Science degree in actuarial science. Classes usually meet one or two times a week and are available in the evenings for working students. Students will present case studies in class to hone their communications skills, choose an area of specialization in the insurance or corporate finance industries, and learn from leading actuaries in the field. The school prepares its students specifically for the Society of Actuaries Exams and the Casualty Actuary Society Exam. The school is expected to offer an online version of the program starting in fall 2014.

University of Illinois

The University of Illinois Actuarial Science Program was named a Center of Actuarial Excellence by the Society of Actuaries. Only 12 programs in the United States earned that designation. The program at the university in Urbana-Champaign, Ill., is the largest actuary program in the U.S. and offers both undergraduate and graduate degrees. Department head Rick Gorvett outlines an undergraduate program of study with heavy doses of advanced math classes, some computer science and finance offerings and a recommendation to take economics. The department has an actuarial science club for academic peer support and socializing.

University of Wisconsin

The University of Wisconsin is a nationally recognized Center of Actuarial Excellence and offers an applied learning approach. The school first offered a degree in actuarial science in 1948. It now offers Bachelor of Business Administration and Master of Business Administration degrees. Class sizes are around 35 students. The MBA program incorporates projects from leading insurance and finance companies such as Liberty Mutual, Aon, CUNA Mutual Group, Lloyd’s of London, AIG and American Family. The school also offers a global alumni network of about 2,500 to help graduates land jobs.