Studying in Germany: Masters in Actuarial and Financial Mathematics
(Submitted by: Manisha Mallick Choudhuri, Actuarial Consultant @ Allianz (Training actuary at DAV), Masters in Actuarial and Financial Mathematics)
I first came to Germany in August of 2018 to pursue a career in the field of actuarial sciences. The first step to doing that was successfully completing a Masters Degree (a Master of Science in my case) in Financial and Actuarial Mathematics at the Technische Universität Kaiserslautern. In this blog, I would like to take you all through the steps that led me to choose Germany for pursuing my Masters degree and give you all an insight into what the life of a student studying in Germany in an Actuarial Mathematics course looks like.
What is Actuarial Mathematics?
The first question that a lot of people ask me is: what is an “Actuary”? And why did I want to study Actuarial Mathematics?
I would therefore like to address this question first. In very general terms (and with a little help from our good friend, Wikipedia), we can define an actuary as a business professional who deals with the measurement and management of the financial impact of risk and uncertainty using mathematical and statistical methods.
The scope of Actuarial Mathematics in Germany
Most traditional actuarial disciplines fall into two main categories: life and non-life. Actuaries usually work for insurance or re/insurance companies, pension industries, and even directly with the government (such as the Government Actuary’s Department in the United Kingdom).
However, in recent times actuaries also work in the fields of risk management and enterprise risk management for both financial and non-financial corporations. For more details on what exactly an actuary does, a quick google search will yield you a lot of good and detailed results. I, however, would like to continue with the next part of the question; the why.
Well, I knew I wanted to be an actuary since I was around 15 years old. And the reason, while naive, still made a huge impact on which direction my career took. I first learned about the actuarial profession from an info session organized by my school, which was supposed to help students decide after their 10th Grade exams which field they wanted to choose for further education. In this info session, the word “actuary” was mentioned but was not really delved into. So that day I came home and did a bit of research on what an ‘actuary’ does.
A particular sentence caught my attention: “Actuaries measure risk and uncertainty”. In my mind, risk and uncertainty were qualitative variables, which could not be quantitatively measured. This piqued my interest and I started researching further into the role of an actuary. I should also mention here that I have always loved mathematics. Therefore, the role of an actuary seemed intriguing to me, and I decided that I wanted to pursue it as my career.
Now that we have covered what an actuary is and why I chose to pursue it as my
career, the next question that you must be wondering is why Germany. Well, there were
two main reasons for choosing Germany.
Why did I choose to study in Germany?
1. The Cost of Living and Studying in Germany
The biggest deciding factor for me was the fact that Germany offered free education to all students, yes, even international students. All I had to cover was my cost of living, which also took care of itself with the ‘blocked account’ money we had to provide to get the visa. All other countries I considered, mainly USA and UK, which are very well known for their Actuarial Societies, would also be extremely expensive, in fact, more than 10x the cost of studying the same course in Germany.
2. The Course and its Structure
I really liked the contents of the actuarial courses for Masters students in Germany and also the way it was structured. It was extremely interesting, while at the same time structured well enough to allow the student to learn also in the form of project-based learning. Most other courses in actuarial and financial mathematics were extremely theoretical and barely allowed students to develop the know-how to apply the knowledge learned in classrooms to a real-world setting.
A bonus reason for choosing Germany was also its location in Europe and how well-connected it is to other European countries. I am someone who loves to travel, and therefore by living in Germany, I would not only get to pursue my preferred career path but also travel freely, it was the best of both worlds.
Choosing my German University
Once I had decided that I wanted to pursue my masters in Germany, I had to choose/find a University. I chose to study in TU Kaiserslautern because it was (at the time) one of the only universities offering the course in English. While I already knew some German before, I was definitely not equipped to handle courses which were taught completely in German. The two Universities that offered the course in English were TU Kaiserslautern and TU Munich.
I later learned that the University of Ulm did as well, however, at the time of application I was unaware of the course offered by Uni Ulm. TU Kaiserslautern offered an early-bird application with the deadline for final submission of application on 30th Nov, 2017 for intake in winter semester 2018.
I had therefore applied to TU KL by November, and by the end December I already heard back from them that I had been accepted. Since the two courses at TU Munich and TU Kaiserslautern were not too different, and the cost of living in Kaiserslautern would be much more cheaper than Munich, I decided to accept my admission into the TU Kaiserslautern already and did not bother applying for any other universities at all.
Applying for the VISA
The next step was to obtain a visa. This was honestly not too difficult a process for me. Since I had ample time in my hand, I decided to make the most optimal use of it and started the process early. I easily got an appointment for the visa interview for the last week of May, which gave me enough breathing space to get all my documents, insurance and blocked account into order and also for me to get the visa in hand after the interview itself to make it to Germany by the first week of July.
First days at TU Kaiserslautern
Many of you who already know that the winter semester in Germany starts in October might be wondering why I wanted to travel to Germany by August for a course beginning in the winter semester. In TU Kaiserslautern, before the beginning of each semester, the university provides the new-comers (international students) to participate in an Orientation course. This is of course subject to an extra fee.
The Mathematics department of TU Kaiserslautern provided me with a scholarship and paid for my participation in this Orientations Course. This course mainly helps the international students learn German (usually one full level, for example, A2 or A1.2 and A2.1 and so on) in the form of an intensive course, followed by an exam at the end of it to get the certificate.
Apart from that, the participants of the Orientations Course are also taken on day trips in and around Kaiserslautern (like Heidelberg, Bingen and Rudesheim, Speyer, etc.) over the weekend, where they are given a guided tour of the city, and often also possible to attend concerts, and learn more about the German culture. The Orientation Course is also a great way for the students to get to know more students like themselves, network in a foreign land, and also party (also organised as a part of the Orientation Course)!
My overall experience
After the Orientation Course, the regular lectures started for me. In the next section, I want to highlight some key takeaways from my experience with the course.
- I completed my course in 2 years. I graduated in the middle of the pandemic and it was extremely stressful. However, it is very common for people to complete their masters studies in 3 or even 4 years. I was fortunate enough to have had the opportunity to attend all the lectures I wanted to in a perfect series, that allowed me to complete my studies in good time, however, sometimes some modules are not offered every semester, and if you really are interested in a particular module, you can always extend your studies till you have attended all the lectures that suit your career plan. There is no need to rush to complete your course in a fixed period of time.
- Everyone has their own journey. DO NOT compare your journey with the one your friend or peer is having. It is always best to focus on learning as much as you can, trying to take in as much knowledge as you can during your time as a student, as this time will never come back.
- The structure and goal of conducting exams is very different as compared to what I was used to, back home in India. First of all, as a mathematics student, you would expect that all my exams were written. However, they were not. Every exam I took during my studies were oral exams, where the professor directly asks you questions and you answer them, and in case you need to write an equation or a derivation, you are given a piece of paper and a pen to write it while explaining what you are writing and why to the Professor at the same time. The goal of such exams is to evaluate how much of the content the student has actually understood. Rote learning derivations and definitions for these exams will get you nowhere.
- However, having stated the above point, one must realise every individual is different, as is every professor and their teaching style. Therefore, don’t be afraid to fail a module or two, especially the first ones. I myself performed quite poorly in my first one. And I had spent hours and sleepless nights studying for it. I just did not study the right way. But as I realised more about how these exams are conducted and what is expected of me, my scores improved considerably as well.
- Do not be afraid to reach out and ask for help when you need it, whether it is from a professor, a guidance counsellor or a friend. The sheer vastness of the syllabus and the ‘adulting’ in a foreign country all by yourself can be daunting at times. But I assure you, there is always a light at the end of the tunnel, you just have to be persistent and consistent.
- And lastly, participate in the social events. You will learn so many new people, have so many new experiences that you will be thankful for. Who knows, maybe you will even walk out of it with some friends for a lifetime.
Even though I completed my studies in the middle of the Corona Pandemic, I was able to get a job offer right after graduation with Allianz Deutschland AG in their Life Insurance department. The one thing that I believe really helped me was the fact that I was already a Werkstudent with them. So, in my experience as a student, the more relevant job experiences you can have, the better are your chances of landing a job. Even though my last semester was a total stress-fest due to the fact that I was working on a full-time thesis, as a werkstudent for 2 full days and also completing exams from the previous semester that I could not take due to the pandemic hitting in February and causing lockdowns, I am extremely thankful and fortunate to have had friends (and family, virtually) who helped me persevere and see that I could get it all done.
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