Sue Vagts wouldn’t describe herself as a hard-swinging seller. She wasn’t a natural-born salesperson by any means. Vagts doesn’t make anything sound flashy or like a bit of an overstretch.
And she certainly doesn’t want to sound like a commercial.
Instead, the interim director for the University of Nebraska-Lincoln Actuarial Science program uses what she knows best: math.
“I just try to be really sincere with them,” Vagts said.
Vagts has been recruiting prospective students for the Actuarial Science program at UNL for the past 15 years. Her approach to recruiting is simple. She lets the program speak for itself, gives the student a stack of pamphlets and leaves an “open door” for further questions.
“I say to a prospective student, ‘I know this is a big decision, and I know you are looking at other schools as well, but we would certainly love to have you come to the University of Nebraska. But more importantly, we want to make sure that you are happy,’” Vagts said.
When it comes to recruiting students to actuarial science, Vagts has one main selling point: the program’s designation as a Center of Actuarial Excellence.
Nebraska, along with 12 other schools, earned this designation five years ago. Today, 25 schools have a CAE title, but UNL is one of few in the Midwest.
Vagts said being a member of CAE and a part of a Big Ten school has elevated the program’s visibility.
“Getting that CAE designation and joining the Big Ten has really put us on the map,” Vagts said.
Although these designations are nice, Vagts said what really gets the students to the school is the one-on-one interviews.
After going on a regular campus tour, prospective students interested in actuarial science can visit the program’s headquarters at the College of Business Administration. The students like the attention, she said.
“People say you should just pass it off and let the general recruiters do it and not so much department recruiting,” Vagts said. “But I think that’s why we’ve been so successful – because we do the recruiting in our own department.”
Senior actuarial science major Nick Shaneyfelt started at UNL as a biochemistry major. But after speaking one-on-one with former director Warren Luckner, Shaneyfelt was ready for the change.
“He was very straightforward with the challenges that being an actuary presents in terms of tests you have to go through but also with how rewarding it can be to go through that process,” Shaneyfelt said.
Now, as a senior and president of the Actuarial Science Club, Shaneyfelt has been on both sides of the coin as the recruited and the recruiter.
For every recruiting event, Vagts takes two to three current students in the program to give prospective students an idea of what the major is really like. Shaneyfelt is usually on the list.
These recruiting events include Big Red Road Show, Math Day and Women in Science.
“These events help us to get the word out,” Vagts said.
And the word has gotten out. Today, actuarial science has 302 students. Five years ago, there were 207.
The school also has a formal exchange program with schools in China and Malaysia, which current students can travel to.
“It adds a lot of diversity to the program,” she said.
Vagts is one of two formal recruiters for actuarial science; Luckner, who will retire at the end of the year, is the second recruiter.
With only two of them to court students to the university, they have to put in more hours.
In contrast, the Office of Admissions has 15 recruiters. Director of Admissions Yohlunda Mosley could not be reached for comment.
But Vagts said it’s worth it.
“Students who visit appreciate being able to meet one on one, but obviously that takes a lot of time,” Vagts said. “It takes a certain commitment that’s probably over and above what’s in our contracts.”