Mortuary Science Degrees

If you are a compassionate person and would like to work in an industry that provides an important service to the families and friends of the deceased, then you might want to consider a major in mortuary science. Funeral directors and other mortuary science professionals must be skilled and knowledgeable in areas as diverse as embalming, the science of decomposition, applying cosmetics to dead bodies, business principles involved in the funeral industry, counseling for bereaved people in mourning, and cultural sensitivity to people who deal with death in different ways depending on their particular ethnic or racial background. Mortuary science degree programs not only equip students with this unique skill set, but they also teach students relevant laws and regulations that govern the funeral service industry. Mortuary science majors are set up to show students the role of mortuary science in communities, and its unique standing as a human services profession.

Students who need to work while attending college have options to attend mortuary science online programs or programs that offer classes primarily on nights and weekends. Due to the hands-on nature of mortuary science education, mortuary science online schools are not always able to provide all courses in an online format. Many online mortuary science schools offer the majority of classes online while lab-based courses, such as embalming and restorative art, are offered on campus in lab environments. Even so, the opportunity to take most courses online gives working students the added flexibility they need to pursue a degree in a way that fits their schedule.

Classes and Assignments of a Mortuary Science Major

Most mortuary science students start out taking courses in accounting, anatomy and physiology, business law and ethics, interpersonal communication, and human relations. Courses specific to mortuary science include death and bereavement, introduction to funeral services, embalming theory and associated labs, mortuary law and compliance, restorative art and associated labs, and microbiology/pathology, particularly as it applies to dead bodies. Other courses include funeral directing, bereavement counseling, and funeral merchandising, as the purchasing of caskets and burial vaults is built into the funeral services profession.

Programs in mortuary science and funeral services will require students to read both scientific and business texts and demonstrate their mastery of the material in midterms and exams. Projects might involve drafting a business plan for a funeral services business, or working to improve an available business plan to make the business more efficient. In counseling courses, students may role-play with other students to learn how to interact with bereaved people and provide grief counseling. In labs, students learn how to sanitize and embalm dead bodies for burial, as well as how to apply cosmetics and do restorative work on bodies in preparation for funerals. Even students attending mortuary science schools online must attend these labs in an on-campus laboratory or actual funeral service setting. The best college degrees in mortuary science require students to complete an internship so they can gain real-world experience in the funeral services industry

Degree Levels for a Mortuary Science Major

  • Associate. Many students choose associate degree programs over less comprehensive diploma or certificate programs because associate programs generally offer the courses and necessary lab work needed to obtain state licensure in funeral directing and/or embalming. Students learn about the human body, funeral arrangements, embalming procedures, and legal considerations and professional ethics associated with funeral services. The majority of mortuary science programs are two-year programs offered by community colleges, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).
  • Bachelor's. Bachelor's degrees in mortuary science are less common than associate degrees, but a handful of colleges and funeral service institutions do offer them. These programs in mortuary science are more comprehensive than associate degree programs, with additional courses like funeral service computing, advanced embalming procedures for special cases (such as burn victims and car accident victims), and a full complement of general education courses in mathematics, writing, psychology, and the humanities. Bachelor's degree programs in mortuary science may be under a related name, such as funeral home management, which generally includes more courses on the business side of managing a funeral home for those who want to advance in the industry.

A Future as a Mortuary Science Major

People who major in mortuary science generally go on to pursue careers as funeral directors (also known as morticians or undertakers) and embalmers. In this way, a degree in mortuary science is one of the most useful college degrees for direct career preparation. As a person gains industry experience, particularly in the business side of funeral services, he or she may qualify for management positions, such as general manager or branch manager of a larger chain of funeral homes. The median yearly salary of funeral directors was $52,210 as of May 2008, according to the BLS. Those who have earned an undergraduate degree in mortuary science and a master's degree in another area may be qualified to teach mortuary science at the college level.