Career Development

How to Become a Funeral Director

February 22, 2021

Funeral directors or morticians provide a variety of services to the deceased and their family members. Funeral directors work with clients to determine the best possible service for their loved ones after death. If you are interested in becoming a funeral director, it may be helpful to gain insight into what they do and how to become one before you start your career path. In this article, we discuss what a funeral director does and how you can become one with answers to frequently asked questions.

What does a funeral director do?

Funeral directors or morticians are professionals who assist family members of the deceased with all aspects of planning a funeral service. Some of the responsibilities of a funeral director include:

  • Preparing obituary notices
  • Collaborating with the family of the deceased to arrange the logistics and details of the funeral according to their wishes
  • Establishing location, dates and time schedules of burials, wakes and memorial services
  • Providing the deceased, the family of the deceased and flowers with transportation
  • Setting up and decorating each site for service
  • Overseeing the preparation and shipment of bodies for burials out of the state

Average salary

Funeral directors are usually employed full time and they often work long days including nights and weekends and many funeral directors are on call. The average salary of a funeral director will vary depending on the level of education, relevant work experience and geographical location.

  • Common salary in the U.S.: $54,140 per year
  • Some salaries range from $48,000 to $72,000 per year

How to become a funeral director

There are a few requirements you must complete before you can become a funeral director. Here are the most common steps to follow to become an established funeral director:

1. Obtain an associate's degree

Before you can become a funeral director, you must complete the minimum education requirements and obtain an associate degree. The program you choose should be accredited by the American Board of Funeral Service Education (ABFSE) since many states require accreditation before you can become licensed. There are 60 mortuary science programs accredited by the ABFSE that you may choose from.

During your education in mortuary science, you will be expected to take classes such as professional ethics, microbiology, chemistry, pathology, embalming, mortuary law, anatomy, federal regulations, grief counseling and funeral service psychology. You will learn how to:

  • Dissect cadavers
  • Restore and present a damaged corpse
  • Use embalming chemicals
  • Work with hazardous chemicals and infectious body tissues while following safety procedures

Most programs take about two to four years to complete depending on the degree you select. Some prospective funeral directors may choose to take business courses if they are interested in opening their own mortuary in the future.

You may start preparing for a career in funeral directing by taking public speaking, biology and chemistry courses in high school. Some mortuaries have opportunities for students to gather experience in part-time or summer jobs.

2. Complete an apprenticeship

Once you complete your formal education in mortuary science, you are then required by the ABFSE to complete an apprenticeship that lasts anywhere from one to three years. Depending on your schedule and the state requirements where you live, you may be able to complete the apprenticeship before, during or after your formal education.

When you are an apprentice at a mortuary you may only perform tasks under the direct supervision of an experienced mortician. This will give you hands-on experience in the industry that you will need to obtain a job as a funeral director.

3. Obtain state licensure

To become a funeral director you must pass a state licensing examination after you complete your apprenticeship and at least a two-year degree. Prospective funeral directors should be at least 21 years of age by their scheduled examination date. The subjects that are covered in the exam include psychology, funeral service merchandising, business law, funeral service history, microbiology, pathology, restorative arts, embalming and anatomy. The funeral director and embalming license may be issued separately depending on the state you reside in.

4. Update your resume

After you obtain your funeral director's license, it is important to update your resume. You may add your relevant work experience including the hands-on experience you received during your apprenticeship or internship. You may also include your highest education level along with any professional references. If you had a good rapport with the mortician you completed your apprenticeship with, you may choose to ask them for a letter of recommendation to improve your chances of being hired.

Related: Build your resume

5. Maintain licensure

Your state may require you to participate in continuing education activities to maintain your funeral director's licensure. You have the option to continue your education through distance or on-site learning. You may complete online coursework, participate in webinars or teleconferences for distance learning. On-site learning is typically conducted in person through seminars, workshops and professional development classes.

You may also choose to obtain an optional certification to distinguish yourself in the funeral service industry by becoming a Certified Funeral Service Practitioner (CFSP) offered by the Academy of Professional Funeral Service Practice.

This continued education will ensure that you are updated about funeral service laws as well as trends and advancements in the funeral service industry.

Frequently asked questions

Here is a list of common questions you may have if you are considering entering the funeral service industry as a funeral director or mortician:

What are some characteristics of a funeral director's work environment?

Funeral directors work primarily in a funeral home or crematorium. There are a variety of aspects to their jobs that include traveling to and from funeral services that are generally conducted in a place of worship. Funeral directors spend a large amount of time on their feet and a computer.

What skills do I need to become a funeral director?

The most important skills you'll need as a funeral director are empathy, communication, organization and customer service skills. Funeral directors communicate with family members of the deceased and they must communicate with them in an empathetic way and organize the details of a funeral efficiently since they may have more than one funeral per day.

What are the long-term career prospects for funeral directors?

When funeral directors gain experience and tenure, they may go on to oversee the overall operation or a mortuary by becoming a funeral service manager. Funeral service managers supervise all employees in a funeral home and manage all business operations. Many funeral service managers choose to open their own funeral home businesses.

How can I learn more about becoming a funeral director?

You may learn more about becoming a funeral director by researching the position further to see if it is something you are interested in. A good site to research through is the National Funeral Directors Association website. It may also be helpful to network and talk to those who have been in the industry so they can answer in-depth questions about their professional job duties.

Can I complete my degree in mortuary science online?

The American Board of Funeral Service Education does provide accredited programs through distance learning courses. However, you may not be able to complete your entire degree online. You may have to do hybrid courses that include online and in-person coursework.

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