This guide to earning your mortuary science degree covers all the basics you’ll need to know to prepare for, and succeed in an accredited program. Holding at least an associate’s degree is now considered mandatory in order to work in funeral services in every state, so be sure to familiarize yourself with the steps required to complete your training in this highly-specialized, professional field.
What can I do with a Mortuary Science Degree?
Before we get into the specifics of earning your degree, let’s first take a moment to discuss exactly what you can do with a mortuary science degree. While most students who pursue training in funeral services intend to become either a mortician, there are several other careers available to graduates of mortuary science schools.
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Also commonly referred to as a mortician or undertaker, the Funeral Director is responsible for overseeing and coordinating all aspects of a funeral service. The duties of this professional may even begin before the deceased passes, as many families take steps to plan the funeral prior to their loved one’s death.
Typical job duties of a Funeral Director include:
- Meeting with and providing support to the family in their initial stages of grief
- Facilitating the removal of the deceased’s body from the place of death
- Planning and coordinating the funeral
- Preparing the body according to the wishes of the bereaved and local law
- Filing appropriate certificates and securing other legal documents
- Assisting survivors with death benefit claims
- Providing and coordinating counseling for survivors
The embalmer is a professional who specializes in preparing the body of the deceased for funeral services, burial or cremation through the process of embalming. The embalming procedure requires the removal of blood and its replacement with special embalming fluid, as well as using makeup and plastic surgery techniques to disguise damage and provide the body with a peaceful appearance.
Funeral Sales Associates
Responsible for helping families plan their loved one’s funeral, Funeral Sales Associates assist in choosing caskets, floral arrangements, urns and other items to be used during the ceremony. Individuals who work in this position should enjoy working with people and have good sales skills.
Funeral Director’s Assistant
The first job that many mortuary science students hold in the funeral services industry, the Funeral Director’s Assistant is often an apprentice who is working toward his or her license. Daily responsibilities include:
- Assisting the Funeral Director with preparing the deceased’s body for the funeral
- Preparing floral arrangements and other details for the ceremony itself
- Meeting with the deceased’s family to plan a meaningful ceremony to honor their loved one
Although the duties of this position are often performed by the mortician or embalmer, some funeral homes do employ the Mortuary Cosmetologist as a separate on-site specialist. These professionals are responsible for preparing the body for viewing by grooming hair, applying makeup, and performing manicures.
Earning your Degree in Mortuary Science
Like other types of college degree programs, mortuary science degree programs require between two and four years to complete (depending on whether the student is pursuing an associate’s degree or bachelor’s degree). While many of the other aspects of funeral services training are also similar to other college programs, there are some differences to be aware of.
Prerequisites for Mortician Programs
The typical course prerequisites for mortuary science programs are the same as those for the schools that sponsor the program. This means that, prior to applying for admission into a program, the student will first have to gain admittance to the university by satisfying the standard requirements. These usually include:
- A high school diploma or GED
- A satisfactory high school GPA
- High school transcripts showing passing scores in specific classes
- Satisfactory test scores on an entrance exam or standardized test
- Passing scores in core classes in accounting, anatomy, biology, chemistry, psychology and communications
- Proof of good physical and mental health
What to Expect During Training
Mortician training programs contain a combination of classroom-based study and hands-on learning in labs and at funeral homes. The following takes a brief look at both sections of a standard program.
Standard Class Curriculum
The amount of theory covered in the classroom varies considerably, of course, depending on whether you are pursuing an associate’s degree or a bachelor’s degree. In general, however, you should expect that the program’s curriculum will contain some combination of the following:
- Funeral services and their history
- Embalming and restorative arts
- Mortuary management and applicable laws
- Microbiology and Pathology
- Anatomy and chemistry
The hands-on portion of most mortuary science programs involves apprenticeships or paid internships at funeral homes. Because eligibility for licensing exams in most states requires you to have first completed one-to-three years in an apprenticeship, this is an essential part of any degree program.
During your hands-on training, you’ll be able to observe the daily routine of the funeral director and other funeral services professional, as well as assist them with many of their responsibilities. These include:
- Funeral planning
- Visitation procedures with bereaved families
- Funeral ceremonies
Success in a Mortuary Science Degree Program
In order to succeed in your mortuary science degree program, the first thing you’ll need is a strong commitment to working in the funeral services industry. Many students refer to this as a “calling”, as not everyone is cut out for this line of work.
For this reason, it is strongly suggested that you first acquire some work experience as an assistant at a funeral home prior to beginning any formal program. This experience will expose you to the reality of funeral services work and allow you to speak with the funeral director about exactly what you should expect during your career.
Aside from this preparation, you’ll succeed in a mortuary degree program the same way you would in any other field of study – through hard work!