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Actuarial Science at University of Western Ontario

Mandy (Year 4)

What did you wish you knew before going to your university? What made you choose this institution over all others? What are advantages and disadvantages of your institution or campus? List any advice for incoming first-year students about your university.

Before going into university, I did not have the luxury of having my English-speaking parents nor parents who received post-secondary education. A reason why I didn’t know much about going to university was because I am a first-generation Chinese Canadian and I am the first person in my family to enroll in a university.

There are a few reasons why I did choose Western. First, it was really far from my hometown. My family is chaotic and there is a part of me that needed to distant myself and going away for university was the easy way out. Second, I was feeling trapped in my hometown. I needed an opportunity to grow and find myself; conveniently, going away for university was once again the way out. I did not make a pros and cons list between each school, which I should of, I literally closed my eyes and choose Western.

There are many things that I do love about the Western. I love the campus in general, it’s really photogenic and honestly the campus in the Summer/Fall months is absolutely breathtaking. Since the university is so big, there are many students that do attend Western and there are just a lot of different personalities. Not everyone that goes to the school are typical Brad and Chad, though it may seem like that since they are always the loudest and obnoxious people. There are so many different groups or people, all with different interests and etc – which is absolutely beautiful.

I’m going to say this as bluntly as I can, Western is a very white place, has a majority of wealthy students, and there is a huge partying culture. Even when looking at the Western University’s “executives” (don’t really know what they are called) and our past USC presidency – they are all white or white-passing, when there are highly qualified BIPOC individual who can take the position. Western’s representatives are usually exclusively white-passing individuals, even though there is an exponentially increasing number of non-white students on campus. Also, in terms of accessibility, Western is lacking on that. I do not believe the campus is completely accessible and it can be extremely hard to get around the campus if you do have a physical disability.

THE MOST IMPORTANT ADVICE is that if you are racist, homophobic, sexist or any other -ist, please educate yourself. These are very harmful views that should absolutely change to make the world a better place for everyone. You can do whatever you want, but once you hurt someone or yourself in any way (physically, mentally, or emotionally) – you need to stop.

What did you wish you knew before choosing your specific program? What are the advantages and disadvantages of your program? List any advice for incoming first-year students about your program of study.

Originally, I enrolled into Western University as a Medical Sciences student. I learned the hard way that I do not like biology, I hate looking at muscles, bones and etc. Eventually, I switched into actuarial science, which is absolutely a better fit for me. First, Western doesn’t have a separate mathematics department, its clumped together with the science department. Second, Waterloo has co-op imbedded in its actuarial science program, making it easier to find a job after graduation. In Western, there is an internship science program – but it’s not certain you will get an internship.

Once again, an advantage of my program is that it is niche and you get to know your professors and get to see the same people in every one of your classes. I also like how independent my program it, there really is no reason for group work for most of my required classes. Also, since there are so little teachers that teach actuarial sciences courses, it really becomes a hit or miss with the teachers. A small few are great; some are very smart people but not great professors. This program is small that you won’t be able to choose class times or teachers, because there is only one section and one teacher who can teach it. It’s also hard to find resources or help in it since it is small.

The best advice I can give about education and programs is that it is totally normal to change majors/minors/degrees or whatever. You go into university thinking you need to stick it out with that program you enrolled in and you absolutely do not. Everyone has or knows someone who has changed programs, it’s just never talked about greatly. There is a negative stigma associated with changing majors, shaming them for not knowing what they want to do for the rest of their life at the age of 18. How is an 18-year-old able to dictate what they want to do for the next 50 years when all they have known is the rigid high school curriculum favouring STEM careers?

What was your favourite university experience?

You can get the best experience at university by getting a residence student leader position: residence staff or residence Soph. Being a student leader brought me to my closest friends, my best memories and the amazing connections of my first-year students. My whole time as a residence staff was the best experience I could have ever gotten at Western University.

What was your least favourite university experience?

My worst university experience was my o-week and first year. I hated o-week because there was always events and I never gotten a chance to settle down and take in this new environment. Also, in first year, I did not like my residence, my student leaders were not great, it was hard to connect with my floor-mates, I had falling outs with some friends and for all of first year I really didn’t know what I was doing, where was I, or who I really was. I was in a space where I never really fit in or found a group of people that I truly enjoyed being friends with. It’s quite ironic that I disliked my first year and would never wish it upon someone, but my best experience at Western ended up with me being a student leader and making the best year for my first years.

What is the hardest part about your program and what were the steps that you took to overcome any difficulties?

The hardest part about my program was that it was so small, and it was so hard to find other help or resources that wasn’t your TA/professor. When I tried to search up questions on google about materials in my courses, there was rarely any information on actuarial science or calculus. Luckily, there is google help when it comes to statistics. Some of the most difficult courses I’ve had were ones just solely based on the textbook, since there is no online information on it – and that happens in a lot of actuarial science classes. Also, there is a huge competitive streak in my program where everyone is trying to get the best marks, get an internship, write more SOA exam tests and etc.

The best tips I can give it always go to office hours and ask questions. It’s really easy to get behind on practice problems or understanding a concept two days before a big test. Another tip is to aim to do all the practice problems assigned. I know it’s a pain, but practice really does make purpose and it helps with understanding the material and concepts. Third, block out time in your day to study for classes, get food and etc. Blocking out the time of your day helps get things done in all your courses, versus only getting one course finished. Also, having a schedule/deadline motivates me to complete the task in the allotted time and less distractions occur.

When studying for exams, I like to make a list of all the things I have to do for each course. Whether it is finishing practice problems, reading the textbook - I write down reading, questions or lesson that needs to be done to know all the materials for the final. Then I start tackling the list of things I need to know, with my time blocking method. This allows me to be the most efficient I can be and do a little of something for each course every day. Once I get the base knowledge of what I need to know, that is when I would make summary notes of all the material and do practice tests/final exam problems. Every day until the final, I would try to reread my summary notes and memorize important formulas.

If you were able to take electives, what was your favourite elective? If you were not able to take electives, what was your favourite course and why?

AS2427 – This is an actuarial science class, but I loved this class because I loved the teacher. She had a teaching style that really worked well with my learning style. The professor is also accessible by email and always able to help with any questions in her office hours. She is honestly one of the best professors I’ve ever had in my university career.

MUS2701 – I believe that university is a place to learn about anything and not just about your program. I loved musical theatre, it is always something that fascinated me because it was a performance that combined acting, singing, dancing and etc. This class was amazing since I loved musical theatre and got to know some more, but I was able to learn more about how some musicals were started, the people behind the musical and learned some music terms along the way. If you are really good at memorizing facts and listening by ear, this course will be interesting and easy.

HIST2186 – This is hands down the best history course I have ever taken. The professor Vance is absolutely an amazing person but also a phenomenal lecturer. He is able to get your attention in lectures, create jokes and also teach you about the history of fear and how people react to it.

COMPSCI2120 – This is a gem course. In the course, you learn a lot about Excel and programming which is good for any field you plan to go too. Everything that I’ve learned in this class was something I enjoyed, and the course was not difficult.

Additional Comments

In third year, if you are in engineering, BMOS or science – sign up for the internship program. It’s paid internships and you get some real-life experience on your field of study. Once again, if you can and you have the means to, sign up to be a student leader. The experience is absolutely life changing and I will always be grateful of my decision to be a student leader. Go see a therapist, even if you do feel happy – getting into the habit of seeing a therapist and getting your mental well-being in check it the best self-love thing you can ever do. Just like how we see the family doctor for check-ups, we also need to see a therapist for mental check-ups. Everyone should go to therapy!

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