Careers in Mortuary Services: Options and Requirements

Mortuary sciences usually leads to a career in a funeral home or hospital. Continue reading for an overview of the programs, as well as career and salary info for some career options for graduates.

An associate or bachelor's degree is required to begin a career in mortuary service. An apprenticeship is usually required after graduation. Funeral directors must be licensed by the state, and in some states embalmers must also be licensed.

Essential Information

Careers in mortuary service include jobs as an embalmer, funeral director, funeral service manager, mortician, or undertaker. All states require funeral directors and embalmers to be licensed, although qualifications for licensing may vary. Completion of a mortuary science educational program is usually required.

Career Morticians, Undertakers and Funeral Directors Funeral Service Managers Embalmers
Education Requirements Bachelor's or associate degree Bachelor's or associate degree Bachelor's or associate degree
Other Requirements State licensing Management experience State licensing
Projected Job Growth (2014-2024)* 7% 5% for funeral service workers -6%
Average Salary (2015)* $48,490 $70,890 $40,410

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Career Options

Graduates of mortuary science programs work in the death care services industry, usually at an established funeral home. Mortuary science educational programs prepare students to work as funeral directors and embalmers. These professionals are responsible for arranging funerals and preparing bodies for interment.

Requirements for Mortuary Service Careers

Mortuary Science Programs

Mortuary science educational programs usually take 2-4 years to complete and culminate with either an associate or bachelor's degree. Many community colleges offer associate degree programs, while several colleges and universities offer more in-depth bachelor's degree programs. Other programs are available through specialized funeral service institutions. All programs should be accredited through the American Board of Funeral Service Education.

All programs include courses in anatomy, chemistry, embalming techniques, restorative art, and hygiene and sanitary science. Another important part of any mortuary science educational program is the study of the legal, ethical and regulatory aspects of the funeral business. Courses like mortuary law, business management, ethics and accounting help prepare students for a career as a funeral director. In addition, students will study the social aspects of the business through courses like psychology and bereavement counseling.


Apprenticeships are required by many states and can be completed before, during or after graduation from a mortuary science program. These programs can last from one to three years and require apprentices to work under the direct supervision of a licensed and experienced funeral director. This on-the-job training provides students with experience in all aspects of funeral service.

State Licensure

All states require funeral directors to be licensed, and laws regarding qualifications for licensure may vary. Generally, most states require candidates to be at least 21 years old, have at least two years of formal education in mortuary science, completed a 1-year apprenticeship and passed a qualifying exam. Some states require a separate license for embalmers, while others require all funeral directors to be licensed as embalmers as well. Exams for licensure usually include a written test and a demonstration of skills.

Continuing Education

In addition to formal education and apprenticeships, those who pursue a career in mortuary science will find that continuing education is an important part of the funeral service business. Some states require funeral directors to complete continuing education programs in order to maintain their licenses. Many state and national professional organizations offer continuing education opportunities that address topics like management, communication and counseling.

Career Info

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), morticians, undertakers and funeral directors can expect to see a 7% increase in job opportunities from 2014-2024. Funeral service managers earned $70,890 on average in May 2015, and morticians, undertakers and funeral directors earned $48,490.

Although morticians, undertakers and funeral directors will see an increase in job opportunities from 2014-2024, jobs for embalmers will decline during the same time period. An associate or bachelor's degree is required for jobs in this field, and some positions also require state licensure.

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