In his last months at Columbia, Benjamin Hsu’s learning experience changed quickly and drastically in response to coronavirus. The Actuarial Science M.S. program had to quickly pivot to an online modality — a style that was better in some ways, says Benjamin: the online format “actually encouraged students to ask more questions and to discuss more in class.”
After successfully completing internships at New York Life and Symetra and passing six SOA exams as a student, Benjamin accepted a job in healthcare after graduation; he is currently working as an Actuarial Analyst for Milliman’s New York practice. He described the online learning experience and reflected on what sets this program apart from others.
What sparked your interest in the field of Actuarial Science? Why did you choose Columbia’s program?
My interest in the field is the challenging and rewarding nature of the work itself. Be it in any field, it is important for me to continue to build my understanding of the world around me. I think with Actuarial Science, it has allowed me to understand far more important decisions that affect our society. I decided to attend Columbia University’s Actuarial Science program because it is rich with resources that allow its students to succeed in the industry. I think what really sets the program apart is its networking opportunities with faculty — they have countless years of experience in the industry — along with a strong alumni network that balances out the practicality in the curriculum.
How did the COVID-19 pandemic affect your learning experience?
The learning experience during the pandemic was a seamless transition to online learning. The faculty were able to accommodate the students with more office hours, and having these lectures recorded online also allowed me to go back and review some of the material. In addition, what really surprised me was how interactive the program remained. In some ways, having these courses online actually encouraged students to ask more questions and to discuss more in class.
[T]here is a closed career fair just for the Actuarial Science program’s students. This gives us a competitive edge in the application and hiring process, and allows us to build a more memorable impression with the recruiters."
What were some of the highlights of the program for you?
One of the highlights of the program is the Pro-Seminar class. This is where the course brings in different leaders, guests, and speakers, and allows us to discuss the latest trends and topics in the actuarial field. This is also where I got to meet a lot of my friends, classmates, faculty, and it’s one of the most rewarding aspects of the program itself because it allows us to not only gain a closer look at the industry itself, but it also acts like a weekly networking event with these professionals.
How were your interactions with other students and faculty in the program?
What’s really special about the faculty, students, and community in the Actuarial Science program is they all are part of a big network. I know alumni that love coming back to the school to lead professional workshops on how to succeed as an actuary. And I’ve certainly met a lot of individuals in the program itself. The actuarial community is not particularly large, so being able to meet new people and connect with different people is one of the more rewarding experiences you’ll get here at Columbia.
[T]here is a closed career fair just for the Actuarial Science program’s students. Now, this gives us a competitive edge in the application and hiring process, and allows us to build a more memorable impression with the recruiters.
What was your experience like trying to find an internship? Were there any specific courses that helped you succeed at your internship?
The program here at Columbia University allowed me to land and succeed at my internships. I think, first and foremost, being in New York City means there’s no shortage of opportunities around me. But more importantly, the program itself really pushed me and gave me opportunities that I couldn’t have gotten anywhere else. Specifically, there is a closed career fair just for the Actuarial Science program’s students. This gives us a competitive edge in the application and hiring process, and allows us to build a more memorable impression with the recruiters. Aside from the career fair, there are professional workshops, along with different alumni events that I’ve attended that have certainly helped me gain a better understanding of the field itself.
One of the courses that really helped me succeed at my internship was Integrated Projects. This course was structured to get students to work as consultants to full-time actuaries. I wouldn’t have gotten this opportunity in any other program, and it allowed me to see some of the real-life constraints that actuaries work with, and how they’re able to problem solve and communicate their results effectively.