The path to become a funeral director is fairly structured. Each state in the U.S. requires that funeral directors be licensed, and while the specific requirements may vary, there are common elements for each state. For example, funeral directors should have either a two or four-year degree in mortuary science. Apprenticeships are also usually part of the requirement to receive a license to become a funeral director. In addition, states generally require that the person be 21 years old and pass an examination.
Although the minimum age requirement is usually 21 for someone who wants to become a funeral director, it is possible to explore the career opportunity while in high school. If interested, getting a job at a funeral home part time may be a useful way to see if this career would be a good fit. While the job duties likely will not be directly related to what a funeral director does, it can give someone an idea of the atmosphere and environment in which a funeral director works. There are also specific courses that can provide a solid foundation in high school, such as chemistry, biology, and public speaking.
Following high school, enrollment in a two- or four-year mortuary sciences program is generally the next step to become a funeral director. The school should be accredited by the American Board of Funeral Service Education. A variety of courses are involved in earning this degree, ranging from the field of science to business to psychology; for example, students will take courses in science such as physiology, pathology, anatomy, and embalming techniques. They will also take courses in business, such as accounting, business management, and ethics and law. As a large part of the funeral director's job is to comfort the families of the deceased, courses in grief counseling and psychology are also common elements of a mortuary science degree program.
The apprenticeship often required by states before being licensed may be performed either before entering a degree program or while completing the program. During the apprenticeship, which may last from one to three years, a licensed funeral director supervises the apprentice. In this way, the apprentice gains practical experience in the daily operations of a funeral home.
The final step to becoming a licensed funeral director is to pass an exam. This may consist of both written and oral sections and may also include demonstration of certain techniques. Once someone has become licensed, continuing education is often a requirement to maintain the license. Aside from the educational and licensing requirements, it is also important that the person wishing to become a funeral director be compassionate, tactful, and able to handle the stress of dealing with grieving families.