Most mortuary science programs are two-year associate degree courses, but a few last for four years, leading to a bachelor's degree. These programs typically cover the whole funeral process, including service management, ethics, business management, counseling and public health and legal regulations. Students also learn practical skills such as embalming and restorative techniques. Many mortuary science graduates work as funeral directors, but some work in other human service-related jobs.
Work as a Funeral Director
The most common mortuary science career is that of funeral director. Many graduates start their careers in funeral homes, where they prepare bodies and plan services, giving advice and support to families. Some work for family-led businesses and others for large funeral corporations. In some cases, graduates start work after college as apprentices to meet state licensing requirements. All states require funeral directors to have licenses, although requirements vary from state to state. Typically, funeral directors must have completed a mortuary science course accredited by the American Board of Funeral Service Education and must have one to three years of apprenticeship experience to become fully licensed.
Start a Funeral Home Business
Some mortuary science graduates set up their own funeral homes. According to the National Funeral Directors Association, approximately 86 percent of funeral homes are privately held. Funeral directors may wait until they have some work experience before starting a business, so this may not be a typical entry-level job after graduation. Mortuary science programs usually include classes on running a funeral business, although bachelor's degree programs may cover this in more detail.
Specialize in Embalming and Restorative Techniques
Mortuary science programs accredited by the ABFSE include courses on embalming and restorative work. Graduates can also opt to work as embalmers or restorative technicians, where they focus on preparing bodies for viewing and disposition. Larger funeral homes may employ embalmers and restorative technicians full time; some individuals choose to freelance, helping funeral homes during busy periods or in cases where they need specialty skills. Embalmers, like funeral directors, may need to serve an apprenticeship before licensing.
Other Mortuary Science Career Options
Some mortuary science graduates choose not to work directly in funeral services. For example, these qualifications may help get jobs in morgues, mortuaries, public health departments and pathologists' offices. Some people move into education, teaching classes in mortuary science, and some work in medical schools as morgue assistants, managing bodies used by med school departments. A degree in mortuary science may also be useful for jobs in businesses that service the funeral sector, such as preneed funeral sales, service merchandising businesses and embalming suppliers.