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What Degree Do You Need to be a Mortician? What to study for a career in death care services

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Founder/Senior Editor
B.A., M.Div.
Jeremy Alder has spent over a decade researching and writing about higher education to provided students with the information they need to achieve their goals. He has significant personal experience with career transitions, working as a freelance writer and editor, non-profit director, community organizer, preacher, teacher, retail manager, and carpenter prior to founding College Consensus. Homeschooled from the second grade, Jeremy is a graduate of the University of Texas at Austin (B.A., Philosophy) and Duke University Divinity School (M.Div.). He currently lives in North Carolina with his wife, five kids, and a Labradoodle named Hank.

Morticians, also known as funeral directors, provide care services for the deceased and their survivors. They communicate with family members or executors to plan funeral services, use scientific knowledge and specialized training to prepare bodies for cremation or burial, and act as managers of their funeral business. If you would like to help people mourn as their loved ones are laid to rest, working as a mortician can be a fulfilling career path. Most aspiring morticians will undertake an apprenticeship and attend an accredited degree-granting mortuary program to qualify for their license. The specific requirements to become a mortician, embalmer, or funeral director vary by state, but in most cases, the general steps toward a career in funeral services are the same.

What Degree Does a Mortician Need?

Most American states require morticians to hold a relevant associate or bachelor’s degree that has been granted by an American Board of Funeral Service Education (ABFSE)-accredited mortuary school.
These two- or four-year programs in mortuary science or funeral services usually include coursework in the sciences and humanities that educates students about death and grieving and teaches them different methods of caring for the dead and their friends and families. An anatomy course might explore the decomposition process after death, while a psychology class might focus on the grieving process. Students also acquire a comprehensive skill set that involves learning embalming techniques and methods of preserving or restoring a deceased person’s anatomy. Typical areas of study include embalming, anatomy and physiology, funeral service procedures, grief counseling, ethics, and business management.

What Happens After Mortuary School?

After mortuary students graduate, they must complete their on-site training and pass an exam to receive their license. In the United States, most mortuary apprenticeships last one to three years. It typically takes as little as two to more than five years to become a mortician, depending on your state’s specific requirements. Some students start working at funeral homes as interns or trainees while they are enrolled in school. An experienced funeral director usually guides and oversees the students’ work as they learn to embalm bodies, advise loved ones, and conduct funeral procedures. Mentorship helps students build confidence as they advance through their training programs and prepares them to take on any responsibility required by the funeral home.
Most states require morticians to hold a funeral service license, and some states require students to hold separate licenses to work as embalmers, crematory managers, or funeral directors. Generally, students will need to show that they have completed their training and degree requirements and pass one or more exams to receive their credential. Some states require aspiring morticians to pass both the national and state funeral services exams that are administered by the International Conference of Funeral Examining Boards and pay a licensing fee.

What Kind of Degree Should Mortuary Students Get?

Mortuary students should pursue the type of degree that prepares them to be competent professionals with the skills and credentials needed to practice in their state. In general, a four-year bachelor’s degree program will provide a more comprehensive education than a two-year associate’s degree program. While ABFSE-accredited associate degree programs will help students become able care providers and businesspeople, a four-year bachelor’s degree in funeral service and mortuary science offers many additional benefits. Four-year students will be able to pursue classes in basic business law that will familiarize them with specific laws related to funeral home operations in their state. Many bachelor’s degree programs include courses on marketing, advertising, and promotional tactics that have been specially crafted with funeral services in mind. They also offer communications coursework that can help students become comfortable giving dignified public presentations at memorial services and speaking compassionately to grieving people. For these reasons, bachelor’s degree holders may have an advantage over associate’s degree holders when they become death care providers.

What Is a Mortician’s Work Environment Like?

Morticians spend most of their time working indoors at a funeral home, where they prepare the bodies of the deceased and conduct their funerals. Morticians can work alone or on a small team, depending on their skill set and the demands of their operation. Some morticians also provide funeral-related accommodations, crematory services, or burial services. They may also travel to churches, mosques, synagogues, and temples; private homes; and memorial or burial sites as they carry out their duties. Professionals who manage their own facilities often have flexible schedules, but they also tend to put in long hours when preparing for a service. Since the details of a funeral service are usually arranged within the first few days after a death, the work can be stressful. Evening and weekend services are common, and funeral directors may also have designated on-call availability for clients who need assistance.

What Is the Compensation for Licensed Morticians?

Compensation for morticians and funeral directors can vary. Some mortuary science professionals earn over $90,000 per year. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median annual wage for morticians, undertakers, and funeral arrangers was $51,570 in 2022.

Is Mortuary School Required?

Most mortuary jobs in the United States require, at minimum, an associate’s or bachelor’s degree in funeral service or mortuary science in addition to holding a license within that state or territory. Educational requirements can differ by location and job title. Many mortuary science professionals call themselves morticians, a term that points to their training in both funeral direction and embalming. Some people in the mortuary field prefer to be known as funeral directors or embalmers, depending on their expertise in planning memorial ceremonies or handling the bodies of the deceased. These two titles can represent separate roles that require separate credentials in some places. In a few states, a high school degree and a certificate or a three-year apprenticeship may be sufficient to earn a license and set up a practice as a funeral director. Embalmers must complete an associate’s or bachelor’s degree and a one-year apprenticeship during or after school.

Mortuary School Can Lead to a Fulfilling Career in Death Care Services

Morticians play an essential role in society by helping the friends and loved ones of a deceased person prepare for funeral services. If you’re looking for a career that allows you to provide compassionate care to grieving people, working as a mortician may be a good path for your future.

Ready to start your journey?

Ready to start your journey?