Prospective candidates should know that entering the mortuary field typically requires an associate’s or bachelor’s degree in funeral service or mortuary science from an accredited institution recognized by the American Board of Funeral Service Education (ABFSE.) Each state has different guidelines, but nearly all require official training for a degree or certification.
Some funeral directors may also be embalmers, but not all are licensed embalmers. Like other professions, a more comprehensive degree opens more doors and opportunities.
Some states allow you to pursue an internship before you enroll in a mortuary science course. Internships or job shadowing are great ways to determine if being a mortician suits you. If it does, you’re ready to go to school.
What Does a Mortician/Funeral Director Do?
Below are some of the typical job duties of a mortician:
- Helping the family choose between cremation and burial, if not already indicated by the deceased
- Assisting the family in selecting the casket or urn
- Preparing obituary notices to announce the death
- Scheduling times for the wake, funeral, or burial
- Arranging for pallbearers and clergy for religious rites
- Arranging for cremation or the opening/closing of the grave with the cemetery
- Embalming the body for viewing, if desired
- Ensuring the services provided meet the wishes of the deceased
- Offering counseling to bereaved family and friends
- Providing transportation for the mourners and the deceased
- Arranging for retrieval and transportation locally, within the state, or out of the country
- Filing death certificates and other legal documents
- Arranging for military honors or awards for qualifying veterans
- Preplanning advice for those who want to plan ahead
Steps to Becoming a Mortician
Let’s say you job shadowed, interned, or researched funeral service as a potential career – and you’re ready to start the process. Here are the basic requirements:
- Earn a high school diploma or GED certificate
- Meet the required age minimum for your state (from 18 to 21)
- Complete a degree program from an accredited mortuary science or funeral service program
- Work as an intern or apprentice (from one to three years)
- Pass required national or state exams
What Degree Do You Need to Become a Mortician?
States with lenient licensing rules may consider a certificate, diploma, or a specified amount of college coursework as sufficient education. Other states require dual licenses for embalming and funeral direction.
According to the National Funeral Directors Association (NFDA), an Associate Degree in Funeral Service Education is the most commonly required degree. However, requirements vary by state. You can check your state’s mortician requirements here.
Formal education is typically supplemented with hands-on training through an apprenticeship, internship, or residency under the guidance of an experienced mentor.
Mortuary School: What You Need to Apply
There aren’t actual mortuary schools; colleges and universities offer an associate’s or bachelor’s degree in funeral service or mortuary science. If your state requires a two-year associate’s degree, you must have a high school diploma or GED certificate. Other requirements might apply, such as SAT or ACT results. Four-year degree programs accept applicants with completed prerequisite coursework only. If you’re attending a public college or university in your state, show proof of residency (if applicable) to get the lower tuition cost.
Academic degrees in funeral directing require specific coursework, typically incorporating a blend of general and non-technical subjects. These programs usually mandate the completion of an internship or practicum at a funeral home. The courses encompass various areas of study, such as:
- Restorative art
Business and Funeral Home Management
- Funeral directing
- Business communications
- Computer applications for funeral service
- History and sociology of funeral service
- Funeral service psychology
Law and Ethics
- Business law
- Business ethics
- Funeral service law
- Funeral service ethics
Consider adding electives in a foreign language, public speaking, and marketing. It is helpful to be fluent in another language, feel comfortable speaking and presenting to a group, and understand the basics of marketing for a business.
Cost of a Mortuary Degree Program
You can expect to pay an average of $23,753 for a funeral service or mortuary science undergraduate program. Many factors affect your educational costs, including:
- In-state versus out-of-state tuition (public colleges and universities)
- On-campus or off-campus housing
- State and federal education grants, aid, or scholarships
- Part-time versus full-time enrollment
On-campus mortuary science programs allow students to complete all coursework and clinical requirements in a face-to-face setting on campus. Traditional programs have fixed classes and lab hours, which may be offered during the day, afternoon, or evening, depending on location and student preference.
- Personal interaction with instructors and fellow students
- Increased opportunities for communication with peers
- Highly structured educational environment
- On-campus assistance and resources
- Commuting costs in terms of time and money or housing costs, if applicable
- Inflexible scheduling
- Time away from family, work, and other obligations
An increasing number of students in all fields opt for online education, allowing busy adults to earn a degree from the comfort of their homes while managing family responsibilities and working full-time jobs. Numerous mortuary science programs offer online coursework options. However, all restorative arts, embalming labs, and clinicals must be completed on campus or at an approved off-campus facility.
- Classes can be completed from anywhere with internet access
- Highly flexible scheduling for online components
- Access to technology and online resources
- Ability to attend school while working and caring for families
- Low level of face-to-face interaction
- Requires a high level of student organization and motivation
- Restorative arts, embalming labs, and clinicals must be integrated into the student’s schedule
Hybrid programs suit many students with time constraints but are uncomfortable with fully online educational programs. These programs allow students to complete a portion of the required coursework online while also attending on-site classes for labs and clinicals. Hybrid programs offer more flexibility than traditional programs, reduce commuting needs, and provide greater interpersonal interaction than online programs.
- Combines a high level of flexibility with opportunities for interpersonal interaction
- Access to online resources
- Reduction in commuting expenses and time
- Offers less flexibility compared to fully online programs
- Requires a great deal of motivation and organization from students
Mortician Scholarships & Financial Aid
Funeral service organizations, state and national professional associations, veterans groups, and private businesses offer thousands of dollars in scholarships annually. Mortuary science and funeral service students can apply for scholarships to help pay for tuition, room and board, fees, and books. Some scholarships are need-based, but many are available for applicants with other criteria.
You can find more information on mortuary scholarships, including application deadlines and requirements, on these websites:
State and Federal Financial Aid:
Becoming an Apprentice
The American Board of Funeral Service Education requires future funeral directors to become an apprentice for one to three years. Some areas allow you to begin an apprenticeship before you start college. You can serve as an apprentice while enrolled and finish after graduation.
Apprentices work in a funeral home and perform various jobs under the supervision of a licensed provider.
Ask your high school or college advisor about apprenticeship programs near you. The NFDA lists opportunities for apprenticeships and internships on its job opening website.
Becoming a Licensed Mortician
Once you have finished your education and training, there are three tests you may need to pass to become a licensed mortician in your state:
- The National Board Exam (NBE)
- The State Board Exam (SBE)
- Your state’s Laws, Rules, and Regulations (LRR) exam
Some states require only one test. The International Conference of Funeral Service Examining Boards administers the most common test.
About the National Board Exam
The NBE has two sections: arts and sciences. Each section contains 170 multiple-choice and 20 non-scored pretest computer-delivered questions. You have 170 minutes per section to answer. Some students take the arts section in one appointment and the science section in another.
The NBE arts section has six categories:
- Funeral arranging and directing
- Funeral service marketing and merchandising
- Funeral service counseling
- Legal and regulatory compliance
- Cemetery and crematory operations
- Pretest Questions (non-scored)
The NBE science section has five categories:
- Restorative art
- Preparation for disposition
- Funeral service sciences
- Pretest Questions (non-scored)
You must pass with a minimum grade of 75 in both sections.
Do you have what it takes to pass the National Board Exam? Click here for sample questions (and answers!)
Finding a Job After College
Some funeral directors working today began as apprentices while pursuing their degrees or following graduation. An accredited mortuary college or university program should have a career or professional development office.
Professional organizations have career centers and searchable job databases:
- National Funeral Directors’s Association (NFDA) Job Career Center with national job listings, a virtual career fair, and resources
- State Funeral Associations in all 50 states have job search and networking opportunities
- Cremation Association of North America (CANA) Career Center with job search and resume bank
- International Cemetery, Cremation, and Funeral Association (ICCFA) Job Board
You can also use Indeed, LinkedIn, Monster.com, Zip Recruiter, or other job search engines.
Continuing Education Requirements
New technology and changing regulations require that funeral professionals earn continuing education (CE) credit to keep their licenses active. Some states require funeral professionals to renew their licenses yearly or every two years.
It is your responsibility to know and follow your state’s CE requirements. Distance learning is available and usually the most convenient. The Academy of Professional Service Practice (APSP) is the standard-bearer for CE courses.
How Much Do Morticians Make?
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, funeral professionals earn an average of $58,200 annually. This national average considers length of employment, experience, and location. The states with the highest average annual salary (as of the latest data) for funeral directors include Minnesota, New Jersey, North Dakota, Connecticut, Michigan, Iowa, Illinois, Massachusetts, and New York. The states with lower average salaries include Kentucky, Arkansas, Mississippi, Tennessee, Texas, Alabama, and Vermont.
More Women Morticians Than Ever
Cheri is part of the changing face of America’s morticians. For centuries, the profession was almost exclusively male. Over the decades, more women graduated and entered the funeral profession. By 2000, female students enrolled in funeral service programs surpassed males by 51 to 49 percent. Today, over 70 percent of candidates entering funeral services degree programs are women, outnumbering men by more than double.
Mortuary School Alumni Reflection
Peter J. Rose, CFSP, LFD, General Manager
Betz, Rossi, Bellinger & Stewart Family Funeral Homes
Alma mater: State University of New York at Canton, NY
What did you find most challenging about mortuary school?
Trying to apply the difference between the material taught and what actually can happen in a funeral home. Having the opportunity to work for a family-run entity shaped my ability to apply knowledge to real-life situations.
What advice do you have for someone considering mortuary school?
Go for it. Go work in a funeral home and see what it’s all about. It’s a gratifying career.
What was your favorite part of your school experience?
The lifelong relationships that I have developed through the years. The world of mortuary science is a small one. And to be a part of such a special small circle is a privilege. Always proud to be a “North Star” (school mascot)!