How Can I Become a Funeral Director?

Research what it takes to become a funeral director. Learn about job duties, education requirements, licensure and salary to find out if this is the career for you. Schools offering Funeral Service Management degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

What Is a Funeral Director?

Funeral directors are involved in making funeral arrangements. They work with the family of the deceased to make decisions about who will serve as pallbearers, and whether the deceased will be buried or cremated. Other tasks they perform include arranging for clergy or other speakers for the funeral and having an obituary published. They provide transportation for the mourners and deceased, and, in the event a person is being buried in another state or country, they arrange for transportation of the body.

They may do some paperwork on behalf of the survivors, such as transferring insurance policies. Many funeral directors are also responsible for embalming the bodies of the deceased. Compassion and strong communication skills are important qualities for funeral directors, since they work closely with those who are grieving the loss of a loved one or friend. The table below provides more career details:

Degree Required Associate's degree; bachelor's degree is preferred
Training Required Must complete 1-3 years of experience
Education Field of Study Mortuary science
Key Responsibilities Organize and direct funeral services; consult with the deceased's family to arrange details; coordinate burial, cremation and transportation of body; process insurance paperwork
Licensure Licensure as a funeral director is required in all states (including Washington, DC), except Colorado
Job Growth (2014-2024) 7%* for morticians, undertakers and funeral directors
Median Salary (2015) $48,490*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

What Would I Do as a Funeral Director?

Your main priority as a funeral director is to manage funeral rites for the deceased. Different cultures have different customs and expectations for funeral directors to follow. However, you'll typically be responsible for preparing the remains of the deceased and overseeing the funeral or ceremony held in their honor.

As a funeral director, you'll work to meet the wishes and demands of a deceased individual's family members and friends. You'll work with them to prepare obituary notices, determine the location and date of a wake and arrange necessary hearse transportation. Other burial logistics include working with clergy or other religious ceremony officiators, completing necessary paperwork and directing mourners. You may also be responsible for embalming the bodies of the deceased if you're licensed to do so.

What Training Programs Are Available?

If you're interested in becoming a funeral director, you'll need a formal education. You can enroll in an associate's or bachelor's degree program in mortuary science. The American Board of Funeral Service Education accredits about 56 of these programs across the country (www.abfse.org). While enrolled in such a degree program, you're expected to learn about human anatomy and embalming techniques. You might also study the business aspects of the mortuary science industry. Such programs also focus on client services, accounting and funeral service law.

What Licensure Will I Need to Have?

All 50 states require you to gain licensure before you can perform as a funeral director. Each state has their own licensing requirements, but most require applicants to have at least two years of education in mortuary science along with one year working as an apprentice under a licensed funeral director. Many states require you to take and pass an examination before you can gain licensure. Some states may require you to get a separate licensure in embalming before you can begin as a funeral director.

What Salary Could I Expect to Earn?

25,470 individuals were employed as funeral managers morticians, undertakers and funeral directors in the United States in 2015, according to data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (www.bls.gov). The median annual salary in the field in that year was about $48,490. Some of the top-paying states for funeral directors in 2015 included Delaware, New Jersey and Massachusetts.

What Are Some Related Alternative Careers?

Another job in the funeral industry is that of a funeral manager, which typically requires an associate's degree, though a bachelor's may be preferred for some positions. Funeral managers handle the business side of a funeral home, from managing the staff to handling the budget to doing marketing work. If the compassionate work that funeral directors do with families and loved ones appeals to you, you might also consider becoming a social worker. Social workers assist individuals and groups who need help, whether they're struggling with unemployment, addition, illness, divorce or another issue. The entry-level degree for this job is a bachelor's, though clinical social workers must hold a master's. Social workers typically need a license or certification as well, similar to funeral directors.

To continue researching, browse degree options below for course curriculum, prerequisites and financial aid information. Or, learn more about the subject by reading the related articles below:

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  • Penn Foster High School

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  • Saint Louis Community College

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    • Missouri: Saint Louis
  • Pittsburgh Institute of Mortuary Science Inc

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    • Pennsylvania: Pittsburgh
  • Ogeechee Technical College

    Campus Locations:

    • Georgia: Statesboro
  • Lake Washington Institute of Technology

    Campus Locations:

    • Washington: Kirkland
  • John A Gupton College

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    • Tennessee: Nashville
  • Stanford University

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    • California: Stanford
  • Harvard University

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    • Massachusetts: Cambridge
  • San Antonio College

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    • Texas: San Antonio
  • University of Pennsylvania

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    • Pennsylvania: Philadelphia