What degree do I need to be a Mortician/Funeral Director?

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Steve Southerland, a member of the US House of Representatives since 2011, said this regarding morticians: “If you love helping people, and you love trying to bring comfort and peace to their life at a very, very difficult time, you’re going to have to look pretty hard to find a profession that gives you more opportunities than the funeral business.”

This may be a career that many people ridicule or avoid because it borders on the macabre. Perhaps. But consider this fact: according to the National Funeral Directors Association, in 2012, it projected the funeral home business combined with crematories to grow to $16.2 billion in 2014. In the two years from 2011 to 2013, the revenue has increased 5.2% even though the number of funeral homes is in a slight decline. There were 20,915 homes in 2008 and 19,486 in 2013.

As Mr. Southerland so aptly stated, this is a profession of compassion. Obviously, there is the business of generating revenue, but the funeral director must relish the ability to comfort those at a time of grief. In this endeavor, the director facilitates the funeral arrangements by meeting with families, planning church/memorial services, organizing wakes, placing obituary notices in newspapers, and handling the myriad of paperwork required by state and local authorities. Embalming and body preparation may also be within the scope of a mortician’s duties.


The profession is considered as a science as there are associate’s and bachelor’s degree programs in mortuary science. At the associate’s level, the student studies basic knowledge of the human body and posthumous treatment of the body. Typical courses are:

  • Human anatomy
  • Embalming theory
  • Managing a mortuary
  • Modern funeral home practices
  • Funeral service marketing

The bachelor’s degree programs in mortuary science provide courses in:

  • Medical terminology
  • Basic anatomy
  • Sociology of Funeral Directing
  • Principles of Embalming
  • Funeral counseling
  • Restorative Arts

Whether the choice is the two year Associate’s Degree or your four year Bachelor’s degree, the school should be accredited by the American Board of Funeral Service Foundation (ABFSE). This agency is the only one that serves as the national academic accreditation agency for college and university programs in Funeral Service and Mortuary Science Education.

Another education route is an online program in which students can earn an Associate in Applied Science in Mortuary Science. Online programs mirror those taken on-campus. These are common courses studied online:

  • Anatomy
  • Mortuary Management
  • Embalming
  • Laws and Ethics
  • Restorative Art


The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) in May 2013 stated that the median annual income was $51,720. The highest employment level is in the states: Texas, New York, California, Florida, and Ohio. The highest concentration of morticians is in the states: West Virginia, Mississippi, Kentucky, South Dakota, and Kansas.

Most states require a one year apprenticeship which can take place either before or after mortuary college graduation. You will need to contact the state in which you plan to work to ascertain their respective licensing requirements. You could also seek this information from a local funeral home.


The National Funeral Directors Association (NFDA) offers certification courses:

  • Certified Crematory Operator Program (COO)- education in performing due diligence practices and providing families with the best cremation service. This course is recommended by the NFDA due to the rise in cremation litigation.
  • Certified Pre-Planning Consultant- (CPC)-  enhances a funeral director’s reputation through recognition that you’ve met a national standard of excellence in this area.

The NFDA also offers and encourages all those employed in the funeral business to join their association. There is a fee structure and a host of benefits with membership.


According to the NFDA, 86% of funeral homes are privately owned by families, individuals or closely-companies. The remaining 14% are owned by publicly traded companies. The average funeral home handles 113 ‘calls’ per year and has three full-time and four part-time employees.

If this is a profession you’re considering, it may be beneficial to visit a funeral home in a metropolitan area. Meet the director. Be inquisitive about the industry as a whole. This will aid you in being better informed, in order to make the correct career choice.