What is the educational and career path of an actuary like? Well, put simply, it's tough. Certain skills are necessary to specifically address the needs of the insurance industry. In addition to college degree work, rigorous training and examinations prepare an actuary for certification in the Casualty Actuarial Society (CAS). How should you prepare for the exams? What about job interviews? For aspiring actuaries and the curious, here is some information that Chris thought you'd find helpful.
Some companies, like State Farm, offer both life and property/casualty insurance. However, when you get a job as an actuary you work in one or the other. Keep yourself open to both life and casualty insurance during the job search. Then based on your interviews and the resulting offers, pick one. What happens within actuarial departments in companies that write different coverages is that student actuaries are assigned to a particular unit and rotated through the department after a year or two. The rotations, however, would not be between life and P&C. For example, when I was at General Accident Insurance I was in the Auto Pricing division. All we did was rate reviews and filings for personal and commercial auto. Another unit handled homeowners pricing. Another handled loss reserving. Depending on the size of the company and actuarial department, there can be more or fewer divisions.
If your first job is with a consulting firm, you will find far less focus as you will be exposed to a much wider variety of projects. This can be a good thing, but I don't think its the place to start. Consulting work is more difficult to control, making it harder to get study time. Also, it's easier to learn when you focus on one thing at a time. That's not to say that you shouldn't interview with a consulting firm or accept a great offer.
You should try to get a sense of the market for new actuarial students in whatever geographic regions you are considering. If jobs are not abundant, you should probably focus on getting an entry position anywhere. Once you get some experience and exams under your belt, you can switch jobs. Actuarial techniques used in any line of insurance are very similar (at least within property/casualty coverages), so if your first job is in general liability ratemaking you would have many of the skills needed to get a job doing reserving for homeowners. Now if you want to move from life/health to property/casualty (or the reverse), the transfer skills are not as relevant.
You should not consider companies like State Farm, CIGNA, etc. as "the norm". They are in a class by themselves. There are many companies which only write one or two lines of insurance. Bottom linedon't get hung up on lines of insurance. Interview at both life and P&C companies. Interview at both insurance companies and consulting firms. See who offers you the best deal not only in financial terms, but also in terms of opportunity for advancement, study time/resources, positive work environment, etc. The rest will take care of it self.