Mortuary Science Degrees: Associate, Bachelor's & Online Class Info

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What kind of job can you get with a degree in mortuary science? Find out about associate's and bachelor's degree requirements, online options and information on courses and careers options.
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Studying Mortuary Science: Degrees at a Glance

If you're interested in funeral work and the posthumous treatment and preparation of human bodies, then an associate's or bachelor's degree program in mortuary science may be for you. Such a program will typically train you to be a funeral service and mortuary science professional. Careers to consider include, but aren't limited to, funeral home management, forensic investigation and grief counseling social work.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the number of jobs for funeral directors was expected to grow by 18% between 2010 and 2020. Meanwhile, jobs for funeral service workers were projected to increase by 11%, which was below average. The BLS also stated that jobs for counselors, social workers and other community and social service specialists were expected to increase by 26% in the same time period. This figure was significantly above the average for jobs across all industries.

Associate's Bachelor's
Who is this degree for? Individuals interested in entry-level funeral home and mortuary work People who want to work as funeral home directors or as entry-level social workers in grief counseling
Common Career Paths (with approximate mean annual salaries) - Morticians and undertakers ($61,000) - Funeral service managers and directors ($61,000)*
- Unclassified social workers ($54,000)*
Time to Completion 1-2 years, full-time 3-5 years, full-time
Common Graduation Requirements - About 70-80 credit hours
- Board exams
- Laboratory/fieldwork requirement
- Roughly 100-120 credit hours, though this can vary from program to program
- Board exams
- Laboratory/fieldwork requirement
Prerequisites High school diploma or GED High school diploma or GED
Online Availability None found at this time None found at this time

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (May 2011 figures).

Associate's in Mortuary Science

Traditionally, an individual would become a funeral director or mortician through an apprenticeship or other hands-on training at a clinic or funeral home. Today, however, most states require at least an associate's degree to gain licensure and enter the field. An associate's degree program in mortuary science will usually prepare you to work with deceased people in a number of locations, such as hospitals, medical centers, doctor's offices, schools and residences. You'll also usually gain some of the management skills needed to eventually manage a funeral home. Although an associate's degree may be enough for certain entry-level positions, a bachelor's degree is often required for many mortuary career options.

Pros and Cons

Pros

  • Can be completed in as little as a year
  • Some associate's degree programs will set you on a track to earn your bachelor's degree in mortuary science in an additional 2 years
  • An associate's degree can qualify you for entry-level positions, such as embalmer

Cons

  • Many jobs in the field of mortuary science require a bachelor's degree
  • Because you'll probably cover a number of skills, you won't yet hold expertise in any specific area
  • If you're currently employed, it may be difficult to attend an on-campus program and online programs are not readily available

Courses and Requirements

Aside from general education requirements, most of the courses that you'll typically take in an associate's degree program in mortuary science cover human anatomy, grief counseling and business. A few classes that you may encounter are:

  • Mortuary management
  • Restorative art
  • Embalming theories and methods
  • Cosmetology and color
  • Modern funerals
  • Human anatomy
  • Surface anatomy
  • Funeral home marketing
  • Mortuary law and ethics

Because most states require licensure to become a funeral director, some associate's degree programs require that you take the National Board Exam to earn licensure as part of the program. A one-year apprenticeship is usually required to become licensed.

Online Degree Options

There are few, if any, online associate's degree options in the field of mortuary science. This is due to the fact that this tends to be a very hands-on practice. Though some of the theory can technically be learned over the Internet, a lot of real-world training is typically required to master this discipline.

Getting Ahead With This Degree

There are steps that you can take while earning your associate's degree to get ahead in the field of mortuary science. For example, stay abreast of the latest in mortuary technology. Computer literacy is not only helpful, but also sometimes required by many jobs that you might be seeking. Proficiency in programs like Microsoft Word, Office, Excel and PowerPoint, as well as solid Internet skills, can all be useful.

Bachelor's in Mortuary Science

A bachelor's degree program in mortuary science usually combines the study of the human body, grief psychology and the mortuary business. Another option is to earn your bachelor's degree in biology with a focus on mortuary science.

Many careers in the field of mortuary science require a bachelor's degree as well as national or state licensure. Social work as a grief counselor for individuals and families may not require funeral service licensure, but usually demands at least a bachelor's degree. However, higher level counseling positions almost always require a master's degree or doctorate.

Pros and Cons

Pros

  • A bachelor's degree in mortuary science can give you the skills you need to run a funeral home or eventually open your own
  • You'll gain a deep understanding of grief, loss and pain and will learn about ways that you can help people cope
  • You could potentially earn a scholarship from the National Scholarship Program of the ABFSE to offset some of your education costs

Cons

  • A bachelor's degree without experience, apprenticeships or fieldwork is usually not enough to get a funeral home job
  • Earning your bachelor's degree in mortuary science can be time-consuming and expensive
  • Many jobs in grief counseling and social work require more than a bachelor's degree

Courses and Requirements

The courses that you're required to take in a bachelor's degree program in mortuary science can vary from program to program. For example, one program may focus more on forensic biology while another may focus on funeral home management. The following are just a few classes that you may end up taking:

  • Physiology of humans
  • Cremation techniques
  • The psychology of grief
  • Grief counseling
  • Restorative art
  • Business law and ethics
  • Thanatochemistry
  • Accounting and financial management
  • History of funeral services

In addition to coursework, many programs also provide you with real-world experience through an internship or apprenticeship.

Online Degree Options

As is the case with associate's degree programs in mortuary science, online bachelor's degree programs in the field are difficult, if even possible, to come by at this time. While you may be able to complete general education courses online, mortuary science classes require too much laboratory work and need to be completed in person. In addition to this, most jobs in the field require real-world experience.

Stand Out With This Degree

While you're earning your bachelor's degree in mortuary science, there are ways you can make yourself stand out in the job market. The following are simple a few suggestions to consider:

  • A strong foundation in computer skills and up-to-date knowledge of mortuary technology can not only help you stand out, but are often mandatory in today's job market.
  • A background in customer service can help beef up your resume.
  • Getting involved with your community can be helpful for both social work and funeral home positions.

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