How to Become a Mortician [Comprehensive Guide]

How to Become a Mortician [Comprehensive Guide]
Last updated at September 30, 2021

To some, a funeral director’s work is somber, but these professionals possess skills that help families through some of the most difficult moments of their lives. If you want to learn how to become a mortician, read on.

If you’re wondering how to become a mortician or funeral director, it’s important to note that it takes more than meeting the qualification requirements to become one. To provide funeral services, one must have compassion and empathy. 

A funeral director’s job involves putting in long hours and dealing with stressful situations head-on. The role requires strong communication skills and business acumen.

However, preparing beautiful memorials to honor the deceased and helping their loved ones grieve can be extremely gratifying. 

We’ve outlined the role’s requirements, responsibilities, salary range, career outlook, and work environment, along with a step-by-step guide to becoming a mortician in this post.

What is a Mortician?

Sometimes referred to as undertakers or funeral directors, morticians help the families of the deceased plan and manage a funeral.

Unlike a medical examiner who performs postmortem examinations to determine the cause of death of a person, morticians help coordinate clergy services, prepare obituaries, schedule ceremonies, and make arrangements for the burial or cremation as required. 

Often, details and specifics of the funeral can be too difficult to coordinate for loved ones. Morticians provide the support families need in their time of grieving and do the legwork when it comes to managing the funeral. Additionally, funeral directors may prepare bodies for the funeral. 

If you’re wondering how to become a mortician, you must understand that the role is multi-faceted and requires a range of skills. Aspiring funeral directors must work to build the following skills:

  • Compassion: The families of the deceased are in their most vulnerable state at a funeral. A mortician must act with compassion and treat clients with respect.
  • Open-mindedness: Every family and culture has different traditions around death. Morticians must respect the wishes of the deceased and loved ones without judgment.
  • Empathy: While morticians may not understand their client’s grief, they must validate their feelings, have a comforting demeanor, and sympathize with them.
  • Interpersonal skills: Directors work closely with families, and hence must be able to communicate clearly and compassionately. Tactfulness is also required when explaining the services offered and the next steps to take.
  • Project & time management: Besides being clear communicators and experts in mortuary science, funeral directors are also responsible for business operations. The funeral director must work with multiple clients and manage multiple tasks on a tight schedule. Therefore, strong time and project management skills are a must-have.
  • Business acumen: Morticians must have a solid understanding of business aspects like budgeting and inventory, among other administrative matters, to keep their business running.
  • Strength in Mortuary Science: Morticians learn everything they need to know about mortuary science as they pursue their bachelor’s degrees. However, having strength is a must to handle the morose parts of the role. Morticians are often compared to surgeons since they’re just as detail-oriented as the latter.

What Does a Mortician Do?

Traditionally, morticians only prepared the body for the funeral. However, funeral homes got smaller over time, and morticians eventually began interacting with the deceased’s loved ones and arranging and managing funerals. As the role changed, morticians began to be referred to as funeral directors.

The responsibilities of a mortician vary depending on the size of the funeral home. But in general, morticians have the following duties:

  • Working with individuals who want to plan their funeral
  • Moving the body to a mortuary
  • Embalming the deceased for a private viewing 
  • Overseeing viewings to ensure all goes well
  • Performing rites per the requirements of the family
  • Arranging for the final disposition of the body
  • Help the client complete legal and financial obligations by filing death certificates, submitting insurance claims, etc.
  • Directing clients to counselors or support groups so they can cope with their grief

Taking up these responsibilities can be emotionally taxing. Add that to being on call 24 hours a day throughout the year, and the job can also get very stressful. Becoming a funeral director is by no means easy. 

Where Do Morticians Work?

Understanding the work environment is vital before deciding to become a mortician. The majority of a mortician’s time is spent in the funeral home that employs them. 

A mortician may also need to travel to private homes, places of worship, or cemeteries to conduct funeral services. In addition, morticians travel with the bodies of the deceased to cemeteries or crematories at the client’s request.

Most morticians work long shifts through the week and work on weekends to deliver their multiple clients their services in a timely manner. If you decide to become a mortician, bear in mind that you’ll be on call and will need to complete tasks as required.

Besides funeral homes, crematories also hire morticians.

Funeral Directors Salary

According to the data recorded by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, morticians make an average salary of $59,000 per year. However, if you get a job at a Federal Executive Branch, you could make upwards of $80,000 per year.

If you’re willing to move for a job, consider moving to Connecticut since morticians in the state get paid $126,000 per year on average. Minnesota and Massachusetts are two other states that offer morticians high salaries that you can consider moving to.

Career Outlook

According to the BLS, the job growth rate for morticians is 4% over the next decade, which is slower than average. However, with the majority of the U.S. population reaching old age in the coming decades, demand for morticians can be expected to increase.

How Do I Become a Mortician? 

The steps you need to take vary from state to state since every state has different regulations for morticians. To determine your state’s requirements, you can contact the state’s board of funeral service. The details of every state’s board are available on the NFDA website.

Here’s a step-by-step breakdown of how to become a mortician:

Step #1: Get a Degree in Mortuary Science

Most states require you to hold an associate’s degree in mortuary science at minimum to become eligible for a funeral director license. 

You can attend a program either online or on-campus. You can also choose to enroll in a hybrid program. The pros and cons of each program are weighed out in the sections below.

Regardless of which type of program you decide to enroll in, you must ensure that it is accredited by the American Board of Funeral Service Education. Only then will you be eligible for a national license. You can access the board’s directory of 56 approved programs across the country on the official website.

Most accredited programs get you an associate’s degree, and nine approved schools offer a bachelor’s degree in mortuary sciences. Getting an associate’s degree takes two years of full-time study, whereas getting a bachelor’s degree will take you four years.

Step #2: Complete an Apprenticeship

You will likely need to complete an apprenticeship before becoming eligible for a license. Bear in mind that most states – but not all of them –  require you to complete an apprenticeship. 

You will need to find a licensed mortician who is willing to take on and train an apprentice. Depending on which state you live in, you may receive a mortician’s apprentice license after you appear before the state’s board of morticians. You and your sponsor will need to sign an agreement before the board.

Some states require apprentices to assist in funerals and embalmings. If you live in one of those states, you and your sponsor will need to submit the documentation of every task you complete.

While you can begin your apprenticeship before you graduate, many morticians don’t begin before they get their degree. Mortician apprenticeships last between one and three years, and the apprenticeship period varies from state to state.

Step #3: Get Your Mortician’s License for Funeral Service

To become a mortician in all states except Colorado, you will need to get licensed. While licensing requirements vary from state to state, you will need to meet the following general requirements:

  • Be at least 21 years old
  • Obtain a degree in mortuary science or complete an accredited funeral service
  • Pass the state or national board exam
  • Serve as an apprentice for one to three years (depending on state requirements)

If you meet these requirements, you can get a state or a national license, or both if your state demands it. The state board exam is a two-part computer-based exam that has 300 multiple-choice questions. 

The first part (funeral arts section) tests your knowledge about funeral arranging, legal compliance, operations, directing, marketing, and counseling. 

The second part will test your knowledge of topics like embalming and restorative art. You can find the handbook and study material on the International Conference of Funeral Service Examining boards website.

The national exam covers the same topics as the state exam. Also, similar to the state exam, it is also a two-part test. The only difference is that the national exam has 340 questions.

After you get licensed, you could consider getting certified to get more job opportunities and earn a better salary.

Types of Mortuary Science Programs

On-Campus Programs

Traditional on-campus programs allow you to take your classes and complete your coursework on-campus, in a face-to-face setting. 

These programs have set hours for classes and labs. Depending on the program you enroll in, you will be able to take your classes during the morning, afternoon, or evening hours. 

Some students thrive in the traditional educational setting. The personal interactions with the instructors and students, coupled with on-campus assistance and resources, make on-campus programs an enticing option.

However, students that enroll in an on-campus program must commute and work according to an inflexible schedule set by the college’s authorities. This typically results in time away from work and family.

Online Programs

Enrolling in an online program is another great way to obtain funeral service education. Online funeral service degree programs enable you to earn a degree while meeting personal and professional obligations. If you have a full-time job and want to get a degree in mortuary sciences, this type of program is right for you.

The flexibility of taking funeral service classes anytime, anywhere, as long as you have an internet connection, makes it convenient to earn the degree.

However, getting your education with an online program limits face-to-face interaction with the instructors and the students. Additionally, keeping up with the online school typically requires a high level of student motivation.

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Hybrid Programs

If you have time restrictions due to personal or professional commitments but aren’t comfortable enrolling in a fully online degree program, you can consider enrolling in a hybrid program.

In these programs, you must complete a portion of the coursework online and visit campus for labs and clinicals. 

Hybrid programs make for increased interpersonal interactions and also open up access to online resources. Students also don’t have to worry about time and commuting expenses.

But you won’t have full flexibility to study on your own schedule as you do with an online program. Additionally, you will need to have a high motivation level to keep up with your education in a hybrid program. 

Frequently Asked Questions

Can I become a mortician if I have a criminal background?

Individuals with a criminal background can become a mortician if they are otherwise qualified. However, you may not be eligible for a license depending on the conviction and the time elapsed since the conviction. Licensing regulations vary from state to state, so it’s best to contact your state’s funeral service board and inquire.

How to become a mortician in a state that doesn’t have educational requirements?

If you’re in a state that doesn’t require a college education to become a mortician, you could start your career by finding an entry-level position at a funeral home that provides on-the-job training. However, finding a funeral home that hires an untrained candidate without formal education can be very challenging. 

Additionally, you must remember that you will need a high school diploma or a GED before getting hired. 

It’s best to consider completing a training program before looking for a job since you will need to take any open position and complete every assigned task under the supervision of a licensed funeral director.

Conclusion: Should You Become a Mortician?

You can consider becoming a mortician if you are compassionate, have a calm demeanor, and can remain committed to your work. If you become a funeral director, you will enjoy a great salary and benefits. In addition, helping grieving families through difficult times with kindness provides a great deal of personal satisfaction.

With time, you could become a funeral service manager and oversee a funeral home. You could also choose to open your own business.

If you’re still unsure about the career path, you should speak to a licensed mortician to get a glimpse into a mortician’s daily life.

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