What Core Classes Are Required to Be a Mortician?

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Funeral director, mortician, undertaker: no matter what you call it, it’s a complicated job. Morticians not only deal with the deceased and the surviving family and friends who are left behind, but they also handle legal and financial issues involved in any death. Morticians must have at least an associate degree in mortuary science, although bachelor degree programs are also available. The core classes cover a wide range of knowledge.

Basic Facts

Before students in mortuary science programs learn the skills needed for the profession, they need background information. Early in the program, students take a basic human anatomy or anatomy and physiology course. Anatomy covers the systems and tissues of the body, focusing on the structures of various regions. A physiology component adds information about the functions of body parts.

In 2020, The American Board of Funeral Service Education textbook survey yielded 10 most frequently used textbooks:

  • Embalming - Mayer
  • Restorative Art - Klicker
  • Martuary Law - Stueve
  • Types of services and ceremonies
  • Funderal Directing & Funeral Home Management - Klicker
  • Pathology & Microbiology for FS - Mullins
  • Complying w/ FTC
  • History of American Funeral Directing - NFDA
  • Fires of Change - Fritch/Altieri
  • Funeral Service Psych & Counseling - Klicker

Professional Talents

Several classes teach students the specialized skills needed for mortuary science. An orientation class introduces students to basic terminology, equipment and laboratory procedures.

In embalming courses, students practice preparing the body, disinfection and using embalming fluids. A restorative arts class covers how to bring back the natural appearance and structure to a body.

Students take microbiology and pathology courses specific to the field, learning about causes of death, safety precautions and special precautions that may be required.

In addition, students get clinical practice in mortuary skills. The practicum may be held on campus, or students may work with local professionals.

Business Know-How

Morticians help grieving people, but they also run businesses. Therefore, students must take classes that help in day-to-day operations. Some are general business courses, such as bookkeeping, accounting and business law.

Other classes cover business practices as they relate specifically to mortuaries, including organization and management, regulations, finance and pricing, merchandising, and sales and marketing. Students also take a course in the logistics of running a funeral service, from filing proper forms to working with clergy.

People Skills

In a counseling class, mortuary science students are exposed to the grief process and learn how to interact with the bereaved. Students develop skills to help clients in mourning and find out how to refer individuals for further counseling.

Counseling classes may use role-playing so students can practice their communication and consolation skills. In addition, some programs mandate sociology and interpersonal communication courses as prerequisites or general education requirements.


Living in upstate New York, Susan Sherwood is a researcher who has been writing within educational settings for more than 10 years. She has co-authored papers for Horizons Research, Inc. and the Capital Region Science Education Partnership. Sherwood has a Ph.D. in curriculum and instruction from the University at Albany.

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