Mortuary School: Your Complete Guide

Morticians – the modern term for professionals who are both funeral directors and embalmers – consider their work a calling more than a career. For many, becoming a mortician is their second career. In Part 2, what you should know if you want to explore this rewarding profession.

Some people do not become funeral directors right away. It is increasingly common for professionals to start a second career as morticians after serving in the military or another industry.

By the time Keith Fields entered mortuary school, he had served in the Marine Corps, worked as a restaurant manager, and took a job at Shell Oil Company.  Helping families through their dark times appealed to Keith not as a career but as a calling. Today, he is a licensed funeral director and location leader at Oak Ridge Funeral Care in Florida.

Read Part 1 of Mortuary School Here

Cheri’ Bobeda became a funeral director and embalmer after a successful first career in the medical industry. In the late 1990s, she was driving through Oregon City when she noticed a “now hiring” sign at a local funeral home. Intrigued, she went inside and talked to the owner. Two weeks later, Cheri’ accepted an offer to work as an apprentice funeral director and embalmer. Today, she is a licensed funeral director, embalmer, and program manager for the nation’s second-largest funeral home group.

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

Keith Fields, L.F.D., Location Leader
Oak Ridge Funeral Care
Alma Mater: Gupton-Jones College of Funeral Service, Decatur, GA

What did you find most challenging about mortuary school?

The most challenging thing was balancing life with three small children at home and working full time while attending school full time.  But I finished with honors at the top of my class and was a Pi Sigma Eta Honors Fraternity member. I graduated twice, the first time with just a general diploma, then completed the requirements to obtain the Associate’s Degree six months later.

What advice do you have for someone considering mortuary school?

If possible, attend a school with in-person classes, not just online. Be prepared to work at it.  Take it in. Study. Learn as much as possible, but make it fun.

What was your favorite part of your school experience?

Aside from learning, it’s lifelong friendships. I have friends from school that I am still in contact with and call for advice and to chat.

Become a Mortician: Overview

After you’ve researched funeral service as a potential second career and want to move ahead, here are the basic requirements:

  1. Earn a high school diploma or GED certificate
  2. Complete a degree program from an accredited mortuary science or funeral service program
  3. Work as an intern or apprentice (from one to three years)
  4. Pass required national or state exams

The NFDA lists opportunities for apprenticeships and internships on its job opening website.

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.

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
  • Scholarships
  • Part-time versus full-time enrollment

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.

State Funeral Director Associations Scholarships

Funeral Service Organizations

State Mortuary College Scholarships

American Board of Funeral Service Education National Scholarship Program

American Board of Funeral Service Education Post Graduate Scholarship Program

Foundation Partners Group Scholarships

Hunter M. Harbeson Memorial Scholarship for Military Veterans in Mortuary Programs

Financial Assistance for Veterans

Veterans have a strong desire to serve, have excellent organizational skills, and are familiar with teamwork. These characteristics translate meaningfully into a second career as a mortician.

Veterans and their dependents may receive tuition discounts or avoid specific fees. In 2021, the Funeral Service Foundation and the ICCFA Educational Foundation began a program for veterans called Journey to Serve.

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

Do you have what it takes to pass the National Board Exam? Take our interactive quiz!

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:

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.