Since creating an actuarial studies concentration in 2010, UCSB has consistently ranked as one of the top actuarial institutions in the country.

UCSB Actuarial Science Program’s graduating class. Courtesy of UCSB Statistics and Applied Probability Department.

Courtesy of UCSB Statistics and Applied Probability Department

As a six-year-old in Mumbai, India, Meet Gala wanted to be a fighter pilot. When he became a teenager, mathematics and wanderlust captured his heart instead, carrying him 8,000 miles to UC Santa Barbara to begin studying actuarial sciences.

Now in his third year at UCSB, Gala is a part of the only undergraduate actuarial sciences program in California.

UCSB began offering financial math as an offshoot of the mathematics and statistics departments in 2003 and created an official actuarial studies concentration in 2010.

The university has since consistently ranked as a top actuarial institution, gaining distinction and grants this year as the first Center of Actuarial Excellence (CAE) in the West Coast.

Actuaries use math to assess risk in numerous fields including insurance, technology and retirement. The major is known as one of the most rigorous fields of study in the university, and each student is given an advisor when they enter the program.

“I think it’s just how working out is for powerlifters,” Gala said of the competitive major. “You love the exercise and knowing that there are goals you can set for yourself and achieve that most people can’t.”

UCSB offers both a bachelors in science and an accelerated five-year masters in science in actuarial studies. This year, UCSB was also one of four schools in the country to win the Casualty Actuary Society University Award scholarship.

“I think it’s just how working out is for powerlifters.” — Meet Gala

Funding from the scholarship and the CAE grant will be used to support student travel to academic conferences, according to UCSB Public Affairs.

The prerequisites for each actuarial student are sequential and require a combination of courses in mathematics, statistics and computer science. The medley is intended to train students in skills such as assessing the value of a company’s mergers and predicting ideal costs for insurance packages.

Non-actuarial students who are interested in the field can bypass the courses and complete the two actuarial exams required to enter the field.

“Last year in the fall, recruiters didn’t seem to care about your major,” Gala said.

San Diego insurance company Wawanesa Insurance also selected UCSB this year as the recipient of its $40,000 actuarial sciences scholarship. Over the course of three years, each selected upperclassman will receive $2,500 to $3,500 annually.  A preference will be given to students from underrepresented and first-generation backgrounds, according to the scholarship.

Actuary hopefuls also receive support from student-led clubs at UCSB. Through the department and UCSB Actuary Club, students can map out career paths after graduation.

The groups offer workshops in Excel and data management and develop connections to alumni at companies such as Barclays and Bloomberg. FACTOR, or the Female Actuarial Organization, focuses on directing women in the actuarial field toward professional success.

Actuaries have a reputation as high-earning professionals, ranking at a median starting salary of $60,000 a year according to Payscale’s 2014-15 College Salary Report. The job market can change a lot in two years, Gala said, “but it seems like companies are hiring, and they are treating us well.”

A version of this story appeared on p. 3 of the Thursday, August 25, 2016 print issue of the Daily Nexus.