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Compassionate Careers: Seeking a Degree in Funeral Services

Compassionate Careers: Seeking a Degree in Funeral Services

While the COVID-19 pandemic has brought a great deal of attention to the mighty efforts of first responders, the crisis also has increased demands placed on so-called last responders – funeral service workers. With fatalities topping up to 4,000 per day in the United States, working regular shifts of ten or more hours has become common for these professionals.

Curious as to what’s involved in a career in funeral and death care services? Here’s an overview:

Responsibilities of funeral and death care service workers

Morticians, undertakers, funeral directors, and others in this line of work obviously deal with dead bodies. Tasks include arranging transport of the deceased and preparing remains for the funeral and burial.

Duties, however, go well-beyond these actions. People in this occupation comfort families during an incredibly stressful time and attend to details to ensure the entire process goes smoothly. They might help write and post obituaries, go over ceremonial procedures and logistics, present choices as to vessels such as caskets and urns, and guide pallbearers through their responsibilities.

Funeral service workers also attend to administrative matters. They file death certificates and other legal paperwork with the proper authorities.


People in this field typically hold an associate’s or bachelor’s degree in funeral services or mortuary science. While exact classes vary by institution, common areas of study include:

  • Anatomy and physiology
  • Psychology and counseling
  • Embalming
  • Funeral service principles
  • Funeral service pathology
  • Funeral service management
  • Funeral service law
  • Restorative art
  • Ethics
  • Cultural diversity
  • Communication and composition

A field experience or internship toward the end of the academic program enables students to obtain hands-on experience. This practical education proves helpful when going on the job market and when seeking licensure.

Obtaining a license

Most states require funeral service workers to hold a valid license. Obtaining one generally involves the following criteria:

  • Being age 21 or older
  • Graduating from accredited funeral service or mortuary science education program
  • Passing a state and/or national board exam
  • Completing one to three years of training under the supervision of a licensed funeral director or manager


According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, funeral home managers earn a median annual wage of $76,350. Morticians, undertakers, and funeral arrangers post a median yearly salary of $54,150.

Things to consider

A career in funeral services is not for everybody. Some individuals feel uncomfortable about the subject of death. Others believe working day in and day out around grieving people seems too depressing.

Those who choose to go into the occupation often express satisfaction in knowing that they are helping others through a difficult time. They want to provide a respectful good-bye to the deceased and assist loved ones in obtaining closure. Patience, compassion, professionalism, attention to detail, and good interpersonal skills serve a funeral service worker well.

Additional information

Interested in learning more about working in funeral and death services? The American Board of Funeral Service Education compiled a list of Frequently Asked Questions that covers a variety of issues. Likewise, the National Funeral Directors Association offers information on getting started on this career path.