A funeral director has a very important job. They offer much-needed services (not to mention compassion and kindness) to people struggling to cope with the death of loved ones.
Jump ahead to these sections:
That’s why, even though doing a job that involves encountering grief daily may sound emotionally-draining to some, many funeral directors actually derive great satisfaction from their work. They enjoy the rewarding feeling that comes from knowing they’ve truly helped their customers in extremely valuable ways.
You might find that type of career appealing. If so, keep reading. This blog will describe how to become a funeral director. It will also let you know how much you might make in this role, what your duties would involve, and what you can do if you think you might like to be a funeral director, but you’re not completely sold on the idea just yet.
Steps for Becoming a Funeral Director
If you’re wondering how to become a funeral director, you’ll be happy to learn that although the process of working your way up to this job is moderately lengthy, it’s not complicated. This isn’t the type of career people take various paths to.
Becoming a funeral director almost always involves following the same key steps as everyone else in this line of work. They are:
Step 1: Study early
If you’re a high school student who thinks they may want to become a funeral director someday, there are steps you can take now to prepare yourself ahead of time. They essentially involve studying subjects like biology, business, and chemistry.
If your high school has any clubs that offer public speaking opportunities, you should join them as well. This will help you develop much-needed skills.
Funeral homes in your area might also give part-time or summer jobs to high school students. Contact a few to see if such positions are available.
Your duties as a part-time funeral home worker will probably be fairly limited. However, this experience will help you make connections, and give you a better sense of whether working at a funeral home is truly your long-term career goal.
Step 2: Get your degree
Getting a major job in the funeral services industry almost always requires having at least an associate’s degree in funeral service or mortuary science. Courses in these degree programs may cover such topics as:
- Grief counseling
- Business law
Many community colleges offer 2-year degree programs for those interested in pursuing this type of career. However, if you want to improve your chances of getting a job early, you can enlist in 4-year programs instead. They’re also available through some colleges and universities.
Step 3: Training
Becoming a funeral director requires training. This involves working under the direction of a licensed funeral director. Training periods usually last one to three years.
Although this is the third step on this list, in some cases, you may combine it with the second step. Some people undergo training while earning their degrees. However, it’s common for many to wait until they’ve received a proper education before moving on to this stage.
Keep that in mind when considering degree programs. Some may help graduating students find funeral directors to train under, instead of leaving them to fend for themselves after graduation. Research your options to learn if any offer this type of assistance.
Join Cake's monthly newsletter.
Learn all you need to know about end-of-life.
Step 4: Licensing
Except for Colorado, most states require funeral service workers to obtain state licenses. Funeral service workers need to be licensed in Washington, DC, as well. In most states, you’ll also have to earn a certain amount of education credits each year to keep your license as a funeral director.
Each state has its own set of licensing laws, exams, and policies. In general, though, applicants usually must be at least 21 years of age, complete an accredited American Board of Funeral Service Education degree program, pass a state board exam (and/or a national board exam), and complete their official training.
Becoming a Funeral Director: Frequently Asked Questions
Knowing how to become a funeral director is important, but you might still have some other questions about the job. Questions such as:
What does a funeral director do?
Funeral directors provide a range of services to those who’ve just lost loved ones. They might also handle the disposition of unclaimed bodies in circumstances when morgues are no longer responsible for them.
Specific services a funeral director might offer include storing a body, embalming it, arranging a viewing, coordinating with cemetery owners and/or undertakers, and handling official documents and declarations, to name a few.
It’s worth noting that a funeral director doesn’t necessarily handle all these tasks on their own. As the name implies, they direct the overall funeral, delegating tasks to those with the necessary qualifications.
It’s also important to remember that part of a funeral director’s job involves providing genuinely compassionate service. A funeral director isn’t merely someone who assists with key funeral planning and end-of-life processes. They’re someone who does their best to make life easier for those who may be struggling with very difficult experiences.
Thus, it’s a good idea that anyone becoming a funeral director prepares to help themselves cope with the painful emotions their work will naturally involve. Even someone who genuinely appreciates the value of the work they do can still struggle to remain emotionally healthy when they work with death every day.
That’s not at all meant to discourage you from trying to become a funeral director. It’s meant to highlight the importance of identifying ways to practice much-needed self-care if you do get this job one day. You’ll be much better equipped to provide mourners with the compassion they need and deserve if you’re addressing your own needs as well.
What’s the average salary of a funeral director in the US?
Various factors can affect how much a funeral director earns. This is partially because a funeral director is often essentially an independent business owner. Thus, the amount of money they make depends on the quality of service they provide. A funeral director with a poor reputation will naturally have much more trouble attracting customers than one who prioritizes customer satisfaction.
That said, according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median pay for funeral service workers in 2019 was $58,310 per year.
How do you become a funeral assistant?
You may not know for sure that you’d like to be a funeral director. Thus, the idea of spending years completing a degree program and undergoing all the necessary training, only to find the work isn’t for you, might understandably discourage you.
Or, you might want to work in this industry, but you may not want all the responsibility that comes with being the one in charge.
Luckily, you have another option: you can become a funeral assistant instead.
A funeral assistant typically doesn’t need to have a license or degree to work at a funeral home. That’s because the tasks they handle don’t require special knowledge and training.
Those tasks may include (but are not always limited to):
- Transporting a corpse to the funeral home.
- Initiating contact with the bereaved.
- Decorating and organizing the viewing room.
- Ensuring viewing rooms have needed supplies.
- Greeting visitors and directing them to the viewing room or guest book.
- Thanking visitors for coming when they leave.
- Arranging travel from the funeral home to the cemetery or crematorium.
- Ensuring all vehicles in the funeral procession have their lights on and the lead car has a funeral flag.
- Handling minor emergencies and unexpected circumstances, such as calling 911 if a visitor experiences a medical emergency.
Working as a funeral assistant gives you the chance to determine if you’d like to become a funeral director in the future. Again, you also don’t need a degree or license to become one (although some funeral directors prefer their assistants to have relevant education and training). All you need is a high school diploma.
If you already know people who work in the funeral service industry, they could help you get this type of job. If you don’t, it’s possible to land a funeral assistant job simply by applying.
The following are some ways you can boost your odds of standing out to potential employers:
- Get customer service experience. Funeral directors want to know their assistants have the tact, patience, and empathy needed to work with emotional people.
- Volunteer to help with funerals or related tasks through religious organizations or memorial societies.
- Emphasize absolute professionalism in your cover letter and interview attire. You can’t approach the role of a funeral assistant with a casual attitude.
How to Become a Funeral Director: A Path to a Rewarding Role
Becoming a funeral director requires earning a degree and undergoing training because the work of a funeral director requires expertise and dedication. That said, those who have that type of dedication often discover being a funeral director gives them the chance to help others in a way that few other jobs could.
If you know a special (or future!) funeral director or mortician in your life, why not get them a gift? Read our guide on the best gifts for funeral directors for some ideas.
- Bean-Mellinger, Barbara. “What Is a Funeral Home Assistant?” Chron, Hearst, work.chron.com/funeral-home-assistant-8758.html
- “Become a Funeral Service Worker: Career Guide.” Study.com, Study.com, 10 July 2020, study.com/articles/Become_a_Funeral_Service_Worker_Career_Guide.html
- “Funeral Service Workers.” U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, www.bls.gov/ooh/personal-care-and-service/funeral-service-occupations.htm
- Thompson, Jayne. “Annual Salary for a Licensed Funeral Director.” Chron, Hearst, work.chron.com/annual-salary-licensed-funeral-director-9838.html