How to Become a Mortician
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- Morticians don't just tend to the deceased. They coordinate services for grieving loved ones.
- The requirements to become a mortician can vary widely from state to state.
- Almost all states require morticians to be licensed and attend an accredited program.
- Morticians grow their careers with ongoing education about end-of-life celebrations.
"If being a kid is about learning how to live, then being an adult is about learning how to die," Stephen King wrote in his horror novel, "Christine." However, learning about death doesn't have to be horrifying. Morticians help families understand their options and coordinate services for their deceased loved ones.
In 2020, there were 25,000 morticians in the U.S., and the median mortician salary was $54,100, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). Keep reading for mortician requirements and information about breaking into this field.
Steps to Becoming a Mortician
The path to becoming a mortician isn't one-size-fits-all. It varies from state to state. However, regardless of where in the country you live, the following guidelines may help you get started:
- Earn a High School Diploma or GED Credential: Most postsecondary programs that prepare graduates to become a mortician will require you to have at least a high school diploma or GED certificate.
- Learn About Your State Requirements for Morticians: States have different requirements for licensed morticians, so your location will influence how long you must stay in school or if you need to go to college at all.
- Complete Prerequisites: Some postsecondary programs for morticians only accept applicants who have already completed prerequisite coursework. For example, Wayne State University's mortuary science program requires applicants to complete courses in public health, psychology, and more before enrolling in the program.
- Attend an Accredited Program: Depending on your state's laws, you may need an associate degree or bachelor's degree from an accredited program to practice as a mortician. Find accredited programs through the American Board of Funeral Service Education (ABFSE).
- Complete an Internship or Apprenticeship: You must work under supervision for 1-3 years before becoming licensed.
- Pass Relevant Licensing Exams: Once you have finished your education and training, there are three tests you may need to pass to become a licensed mortician. Depending on your state, you will have to pass some or all of the following:
- The National Board Exam (NBE)
- The State Board Exam (SBE)
- Your state's Laws, Rules, and Regulations (LRR) exam
- Participate in Continuing Education: Mortician licenses expire every 1-2 years. To keep your license up to date, you must regularly participate in state-approved continuing education.
Types of Funeral Service Workers
There are different types of funeral service workers. Below, we list three of these job titles and their most prominent responsibilities:
- Morticians: Morticians coordinate services for the deceased — called decedents — and their loved ones. They direct embalming, cremation, funerals, and memorial services.
- Embalmers: Embalming is a chemical process that stops a decedent's body from decomposing. It takes specialized training. Some morticians are also embalmers.
- Funeral Home Managers: These professionals manage all business aspects of a funeral home, including staffing, accounting, and marketing.
What Is a Mortician?
Morticians, also called funeral directors, coordinate the variety of services, processes, and paperwork involved with the end of life. In addition to directing events and technical aspects of a funeral, they also help families cope.
What Does a Mortician Do?
Morticians work many evenings and weekends and may be on-call when not at the funeral home. Their responsibilities include interacting with families, performing services for decedents, and filing rigorous documentation.
When someone passes away, families turn to morticians to help them understand the processes and costs for funerals, burials, and cremation. Morticians also may refer families to grief counselors or support groups. Morticians work with families to receive decedents into their care where they may embalm them or otherwise prepare them for a funeral.
Death comes with administrative aspects as well. Morticians file death certificates and must carefully document every service they perform.
In a typical day working as a mortician, you might:
- Meet With a Family: Get to know family members, including their needs and their religious or cultural preferences. Refer them to any other services or support groups they may desire.
- Embalm Decedents: Dress up in protective gear, wash the decedent, and replace their fluids with a chemical solution.
- Prepare Decedents for Service: Wash and dress decedents, and style their hair and makeup.
- Other Service Prep: Prepare obituaries, receive flower arrangements, and organize transportation to a cemetery.
- Complete Paperwork: Update your records to indicate what services you have performed for decedents and file death certificates.
Each state has different requirements for morticians. Common requirements include:
- Having a high school diploma or GED certificate
- Being at least 18 years old
- Completing an associate degree from an accredited funeral service or mortuary science program, if required. Some states require a bachelor's degree, and some don't have any postsecondary degree requirements
- Working as an intern or apprentice in your state
- Passing one or more national or state exams
You can download a detailed review of licensing requirements for each state from The International Conference of Funeral Service Examining Boards. While it's not legally required, it's a good idea to be familiar with the following concepts:
- Diversity and Inclusion: Different religions and cultures treat the end of life differently. Part of your job as a mortician is to listen to each family's needs and respect their desires.
- Self-Care: Loss will be part of your day-to-day life, including sudden deaths, infant deaths, and other situations where it may be especially challenging to help families find peace. Morticians grieve too, and positive coping skills can be critical to preventing burnout.
Certification Process for Morticians
Establish State Licensure
Nearly every state requires funeral directors to be licensed — you cannot practice without a license. Each state has a different process for gaining licensure. Always start by finding your state requirements, which should be listed on its government agency website.
If you enroll in an accredited associate or bachelor's degree program your instructors can help you navigate the licensure process in your state.
In addition, you can find regional resources to guide you through licensure:
Mortician Salary and Job Demand
The median annual wage for all funeral service workers in 2020 was $58,170, according to the BLS. Funeral home managers earned more than other funeral service workers, at $74,200. Morticians and other funeral arrangers earned median annual wages of $54,100.
Jobs for morticians may be growing slower than others. The BLS projects that employment for funeral service workers will grow 4% from 2020-2030. That is half the projected growth rate for all other occupations.
There are many ways to expand your practice as a mortician. Consider the following:
- Earn Additional Certifications: Some associations, including the National Funeral Directors Association (NFDA), offer certification training programs so you can build skills in cremation or consulting.
- Become a Funeral Home Manager: Morticians who want to become funeral home managers may need to pass additional exams or gain more experience.
- Meet Changing Client Demands: Today, there are more options for decedents than just cremation and burial. For example, people can volunteer to be composted post-mortem. NFDA found that almost 56% of people expressed interest in "green" services, which focus on environmentally and cost-effective funerals and memorials.
5 Top-Paying States
We have listed the top five highest-paying states for morticians below, according to the BLS.
|Average Mortician Salary (May 2020)
Frequently Asked Questions About Becoming a Mortician
How long does it take to become a mortician?
The length of time it takes to become a mortician depends on your state's requirements for licensed funeral directors. Many states require you to have at least an associate degree. Associate degree programs in funeral service and mortuary science typically take 1.5-2 years. After graduating, you will need to intern in your state for 1-3 years.
How much does mortuary school cost?
According to data listed by the National Center for Education Statistics, most associate of mortuary science programs cost between $5,000 and $13,000 a year.
You can find scholarships for mortuary school via ABFSE, the National Funeral Directors and Morticians Association, and the Funeral Service Foundation.
Can you do mortuary school online?
ABFSE has accredited several online options for mortician school. These programs offer at least half of their courses online. However, you will need to complete some in-person training. For example, courses that train students to prepare decedents for funeral services are typically in person. You also must intern in person before becoming a licensed funeral director.
Feature Image: Nikola Stojadinovic / E+ / Getty Images