Degrees Needed for Insurance Careers

Insurance jobs, for the most part, require advanced studies. While some positions do not specifically require more than a high school diploma, the opportunity for advancement within those positions increases significantly with higher learning.

An increasing number of employers seek candidates with college or university training. With the labor market as tight as it currently is, college graduates have a definite edge over others who do not have a formal education.

Although some of this country’s oldest insurance companies date back to the late 1800s, there were no formal educational institutions that offered insurance-specific curriculum. In 1904, Dr. S. S. Huebner from the Wharton School of Finance and Commerce at the University of Pennsylvania created one of the first collegiate educational programs in insurance. Other colleges and insurance associations followed suit. Now, over one hundred colleges offer insurance-related studies in the United States.

Over time, universities worked with professional associations to develop many insurance degree programs. For example, the Insurance and Risk Management Program offered by Indiana State University was developed in conjunction with the Insurance Advisory Council.

Insurance degree programs come at all levels—associate’s, bachelor’s, master’s, and doctorate. They are also offered in traditional collegiate settings, as well as distance learning opportunities.

In addition to degree programs, there are insurance licenses granted by state insurance departments, and certifications awarded by professional societies and associations. An insurance degree program prepares you to manage risk and provide insurance protection services to individuals, businesses, and other organizations. Typically, all types of insurances are covered, including property and casualty, life, health, general liability, employee benefits, and social. In addition, career specific topics that are generally covered include claims adjustment, underwriting, and risk theory.

The course of study that is right for you is dependent upon which of the many insurance careers you wish to pursue.

With more and more colleges adding insurance curriculum, technology advances transforming the industry, and regulations getting tighter, the opportunities for individuals who do not have specialized training will continue to diminish.

Types of Courses

No matter what level of education you pursue, a well-constructed curriculum can help you attain success in your insurance career. Course requirements vary and are dependent upon the institution you choose and your major.

Core course load is likely to include the following topics:

Mathematics: Insurance careers rely heavily upon math skills. The premiums charged for insurance coverage are derived from a mathematical calculation of risk.

Statistics: A statistical foundation is necessary to acquire skills in risk management.

Insurance and risk: Insurance students must have a basic understanding of the nature of financial risk as the underpinning of insurance protection.

Economics. Currency fuels the economy. Insurance proceeds provide money to individuals who suffer a loss to their person or property. It is a vital part of the economic stability of a family, a community, and a nation.

Communication: Good communication skills are essential for insurance professionals. Insurance is a very complex field. Professionals who practice in insurance must be able to communicate their messages clearly and articulately. Communication course work should include public speaking and writing courses.

Degrees Needed for Insurance Careers

Business: Students with an understanding of business fundamentals understand profit drivers and are more likely to exercise sound judgment in their decision making. These skills are more likely to lead to career advancement in an insurance career.

Computer courses: Technology is reshaping the insurance industry. Nearly all insurance jobs require computer use. Many companies will provide computer training on the specific programs that they use, however a fundamental understanding of computer basics is a necessity. Collegiate computer courses will include an overview of strategic uses for information systems, data management, decision support, and management of end-user computing.

Marketing: Marketing plays an important role in insurance. With so many insurance alternatives in the marketplace, companies continually strive to differentiate themselves. Insurance professionals should gain an understanding of how insurance products are priced, distributed, and promoted.

Many insurance programs have internship programs. An internship is an agreed upon number of hours that a student works with an employer. The relationship is conducted under the supervision of an academic advisor. Internships can be paid or unpaid and usually culminate with a written report by the student and a written evaluation from the employer.

Depending upon the extent of the program taken (e.g., associate’s versus bachelor’s degrees), students may be required to take courses in specific insurance types. Those courses are likely to include life, health, commercial liability, property and casualty, business insurance quotes, employee benefits, and financial planning.

Associate’s Degree

An associate’s degree is typically earned after the successful completion of a two-year program offered by a community college, career school, university, or college. Associate’s degrees in insurance typically involve coursework comprised of approximately sixty college credits that include general education and insurance specialty courses. Some schools offer accelerated associate’s degrees, which can be completed in only one year.

Once an associate’s degree is obtained, the credits earned in the process are most often transferrable to a bachelor’s degree program.

Associate’s degrees have advantages. They are typically less expensive than bachelor’s programs. They also allow graduates to enter an insurance career and gain real-world experience quicker than a bachelor’s degree program would.

Employers look favorably upon an associate’s degree as they demonstrate commitment to professional development and a certain level of knowledge and maturity.

Associate’s degrees in insurance prepare individuals for entry-level positions to provide insurance and risk protection services to individuals and businesses. Typical instruction includes life, health, commercial liability, property and casualty, business insurance, employee benefits, and financial planning.

Nearly twenty different schools in the country offer associate's degrees in insurance. Many institutions offer both traditional degree programs, as well as online and distance learning.

Associate’s degree programs include:

  • Insurance
  • Insurance and Financial Services
  • Insurance and Risk Management
  • Insurance Premium Auditing
  • Commercial Underwriting
  • Risk Management for Public Entities

Costs for an associate’s degree in insurance vary by institution.

Bachelor’s Degree

Many people working in insurance careers possess a bachelor's degree. A bachelor’s degree in insurance gives students the requisite knowledge to understand the drivers behind successfully managing risk. More in-depth than an associate’s degree and more valued by employers, bachelor’s degree programs offer intensive insurance-related coursework.

In addition to generally required core coursework, these programs include instruction in property and casualty insurance, general liability, employee benefits, social, life and health insurance, underwriting, risk theory, loss adjustment, and pension planning.

Bachelor's degrees in insurance are generally completed in four years.

Many colleges and universities offer concentrations in insurance and risk management. What that means is that the degree offered would be a Bachelor in Business Administration (for example) with an emphasis or concentration on insurance.

Insurance degree programs are typically open to any undergraduate candidate. There are no distinct entrance requirements.

Curriculums vary from college to college, but you can expect to take a general insurance course (such as property and casualty insurance or life insurance), as well as actuarial courses, statistics, and risk management courses. In addition, you will likely learn about the insurance industry structures and operations and reinsurance.

Many colleges offer online or distance learning opportunities as well as accelerated programs.

According to the 2011 U.S. News and World Report, the following are the top ten insurance schools with a bachelor’s program as ranked in 2010:

University of Pennsylvania
University of Georgia
Georgia State University
University of Wisconsin—Madison
University of Illinois
New York University
Temple University
University of Texas
Florida State University
University of South Carolina

A bachelor’s degree in insurance will prepare you for a position in underwriting, claims, marketing, actuarial science, and risk management. Studying insurance will also help you pursue careers in other insurance company functions such as human resources, management, compliance, investments, finance, and accounting.

Master’s Degrees

Master’s degrees help prepare insurance careers for the difficult financial, ethical, legal, and global concerns facing the industry. A master’s program typically helps students analyze issues from different perspectives, fosters critical thinking and sound judgment, and provides the knowledge needed in today’s risk management and insurance market.

Most institutions that specialize in insurance offer a Master of Science with an insurance concentration. The most common programs are Master of Science in Insurance Management, Master of Actuarial Science, and Master of Science in Risk Management. These degrees can often be achieved in two years or less.

A Master of Science in Insurance Management might be appropriate for those looking to build on their careers as Chartered Property Casualty Underwriters.

Actuarial professionals often pursue a Master of Science degree in actuarial studies. These programs cover topics such as probability and statistics, business and economics, and actuarial models and methods.

A Master of Science in Insurance Risk Management is appropriate for individuals pursuing careers in risk management, compliance, claims management, and loss control consultants. These programs prepare students by examining how various market, economic, political, and social factors are interconnected with the field of insurance. Master’s programs generally build a foundation necessary to help insurance professionals exercise sound judgment in their business decision-making and long-term strategic planning.

Typically master’s programs have options for full- and part-time study and can be customized based on academic background, aptitudes, and work demands.

Online master’s programs with insurance concentrations are more rare than at the undergraduate level.

A bachelor’s degree is a prerequisite to the master’s level studies. Some programs require that you have had at least two semesters of statistics and three in calculus. While most graduate programs do not have specific undergraduate degree program requirements, the most applicable are those in business administration, accounting, finance, economics, and monetary policy.

Doctorate Program

While it's still the case that it's the rare insurance job that requires a doctoral degree, there has been a steady increase in the need for advanced training for people in insurance careers. In 1995, only eighty doctoral students specialized in insurance and risk management at eleven universities nationwide. Just five years later, an additional twenty-two schools added graduate-level insurance and risk management courses and degrees.

The doctorate level provides an opportunity for individuals to earn either a PhD (Doctor of Philosophy) or a Doctor of Business Administration (DBA).

A PhD in Insurance Risk and Management is appropriate for candidates who seek academic or research careers. A DBA in insurance and risk management is more of a professional practice doctorate than a PhD. It is appropriate for those who hold or aspire to be in executive, management, and leadership positions in the insurance industry.

The rigorous course of study associated with a doctoral program provides the background necessary to work as a senior risk analyst, financial analyst, actuary, or insurance consultant. In addition, a doctorate provides opportunities in academics and is often necessary for consideration as a university professor, researcher, or business school instructor.

Most doctorate programs for insurance professionals draw from elements of economics, mathematics, finance, human resources, psychology, law, and even engineering and chaos theory to shed light on effective risk management. In addition, high-level mathematical modeling (econometrics) is often taught to assess and manage risk.

Most doctoral programs take three to six years of graduate level work to complete.

To be considered for a doctoral program, a student must have earned a bachelor’s degree from an accredited college and achieved a certain grade point average (usually above 3.0).

Last Updated: 04/07/2013

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