How to Become a Funeral Service Worker
Becoming a funeral director requires courses in ethics, grief counseling, and business law.
An associate’s degree in funeral service or mortuary science is the typical education requirement for funeral service workers. With the exception of funeral service managers, all workers must be licensed in Washington, D.C. and every state in which they work, except Colorado which offers a voluntary certification program.
An associate’s degree in mortuary science is the typical education requirement for all funeral service workers. Courses taken usually include those covering the topics of ethics, grief counseling, funeral service, and business law. All accredited programs also include courses in embalming and restorative techniques. States have their own education requirements, and state licensing laws vary. Most employers require applicants to be 21 years old; have 2 years of formal education; serve a 1-year internship before, during, or after attending a mortuary college; and pass a state licensing exam after graduation.
In some states, licensure for funeral directors and embalmers is separate.
The American Board of Funeral Service Education (ABFSE) accredits 58 funeral service and mortuary science programs, most of which are 2-year associate’s degree programs offered at community colleges. Some programs offer a bachelor’s degree.
Although an associate’s degree is usually adequate, some employers prefer applicants to have a bachelor’s degree.
High school students can prepare to become a funeral service worker by taking courses in biology, chemistry, and business, and by participating in public speaking.
Part-time or summer jobs in funeral homes also provide valuable experience.
Morticians, undertakers, and funeral directors must complete hands-on training, usually lasting 1 to 3 years, under the direction of a licensed funeral director or manager. The internship may be completed before, during, or after completing a 2-year funeral service or mortuary science program and passing a national board exam. Internships provide practical experience in all aspects of the funeral service.
Licenses, Certifications, and Registrations
With the exception of funeral service managers, all workers must be licensed in Washington, D.C. and every state in which they work, except Colorado which offers a voluntary certification program. Although licensing laws and examinations vary by state, most applicants must meet the following criteria:
- Be 21 years old
- Complete 2 years in an ABFSE funeral service or mortuary science program, and pass a national board exam
- Serve an internship lasting 1 to 3 years
Applicants must then pass a state licensing exam. Working in multiple states will require multiple licenses. For specific requirements, applicants should contact each applicable state licensing board.
Most states require funeral directors and embalmers to receive continuing education credits annually to keep their licenses.
The International Cemetery, Cremation and Funeral Association (ICCFA) and the National Funeral Directors Association (NFDA) offer crematory certification designations. A growing number of states are requiring certification for those who will perform cremations. For specific requirements, applicants should contact their state board.
Work Experience in a Related Occupation
Workers increasingly are being required to have some office management experience, particularly for funeral service managers who run their own funeral home business.
Business skills. Knowledge of financial statements and the ability to run a funeral home efficiently and profitably are important for funeral directors and managers.
Compassion. Death is a delicate and emotional matter. Funeral service workers must be able to treat clients with care and sympathy in their time of loss.
Interpersonal skills. Funeral service workers should have good interpersonal skills. When speaking with families, for instance, they must be tactful and able to explain and discuss all matters about services provided.
Time-management skills. Funeral service workers must be able to handle numerous tasks for multiple customers, often over a short timeframe.