If you're interested in becoming a funeral director, mortician or embalmer, one of the first steps you must undertake is the completion of an apprenticeship. Though licensing regulations vary by state, most mortuary apprenticeships last from one to three years and provide practical training and experience in all aspects of funeral embalming and cremation services. The good news is that during your apprenticeship you might earn between $22,000 and $38,000 per year.
In its 2010-11 Occupational Outlook Handbook, the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) provides detailed information about funeral director apprenticeships and salaries. According to the document, industry salaries correspond to level and years of experience achieved by the individual, and are also based on geographical location. BLS reports that in May of 2008, the lowest paid 10 percent in this arena earned below $29,910 per year. The highest -- and most experienced -- 10 percent of funeral directors surveyed earned upwards of $92,940. On average, the middle 50 percent of professionals took home between $38,980 and $69,680 annually, with an overall median of about $52,210. BLS also states that salaries may be slightly lower in small rural areas than in major metropolitan cities.
At the time of publication, Certified Funeral Service Practitioner (CFSP) James M. Fullerton, owner operator of North Iowa's Fullerton Funeral Homes, claims that on average an unlicensed apprentice funeral director earns a starting salary ranging from $22,000 to $25,000 per year. These figures are somewhat comparable to BLS statistics of less than $29,910 annually for the lowest paid funeral directors. In some instances, you can begin a general unlicensed apprenticeship before attending mortuary college. Some industry professionals are content just working as unlicensed assistants at funeral homes. However, there is little chance of advancement or pay increases without obtaining a license.
In some states you can earn an embalmer's license before, during or after completing your apprenticeship, providing that you have achieved a high school diploma and successfully graduated from mortician school. Essentially, you may be able to attend a one-year mortuary college after high school graduation, pass your state and national licensing exams, and start an apprenticeship -- in some states as young as 16. Fullerton mentions that a common starting salary for a licensed funeral director apprentice can be anywhere from $25,000 to $35,000 per year in 2011. These figures fall right between BLS reports of salaries of $29,910 to $38,980 among the lowest paid 10 to 50 percent of funeral directors surveyed in 2008.
All in all, you'll find considerable room for advancement within the funeral direction and mortician industry, and when licensed you can usually expect a benefits package. However, certain aspects of the occupation exist that you should take into consideration. For one, your apprenticeship can last up to three years and you might not expect to earn more than $35,000 a year during that period. Sensitive and overly empathetic individuals may not cope well with facing death and communicating with grieving family members on a daily basis. It is also difficult to keep a 9-to-5 schedule because deaths occur at all times of the day and night. Many funeral directors and apprentices are on call 24 hours a day, seven days a week.