What is a Mortuary Science Degree?

Mortuary science degree programs prepare students to work as morticians, funeral directors, and undertakers. The curriculum combines instruction in the scientific, counseling, legal, and business aspects of the field. Topics covered include:


  • Microbiology
  • Mortuary anatomy
  • Chemistry
  • Embalming
  • Restorative Art


  • Death and bereavement in society
  • Psychology of death and dying


  • Mortuary law and compliance


  • Introduction to funeral services
  • Funeral services management
  • Funeral services merchandising and sales

Program Options

It is important for students of mortuary science to choose degree programs that are endorsed by the American Board of Funeral Service Education, Inc.

Associate Degree in Mortuary Science – Two Year Duration
Holders of an Associate Degree in Mortuary Science typically go on to entry-level/assistant roles in the funeral service industry or to further study at the bachelor’s level. The associate curriculum prepares students to write and pass national and state board examinations.

Here are some common associate program courses:

  • Fundamentals of Human Anatomy and Physiology
  • Mortuary Science Human Anatomy
  • Mortuary Science Microbiology
  • Mortuary Science Chemistry
  • Pathology for Funeral Service – the study of the structure and function of the body as it is affected by disease
  • Embalming – the treatment of the human body to delay decomposition
  • Restorative Art – techniques for restoring natural form and color to the deceased body
  • Methods of Disposition – earth burial, above-ground entombment, cremation, alkaline hydrolysis (the use of pressure, heat, and lye to break down the body into its chemical components)
  • Thanatology – the study of death and dying from the social and emotional perspectives; thanatology examines choices in dying, mourning, and the concept of hope in death
  • Funeral Directing
  • Funeral Service Merchandising
  • Funeral Service Administration
  • Law and Ethics in the Funeral Service Industry

Bachelor’s Degree in Mortuary Science – Four Year Duration
Bachelor programs in mortuary science expand upon the topics covered at the associate level. Typically, they also have a practicum component, which provides students with hands-on experience in transferring human remains, embalming a human dead body, directing funeral services, and preparing death certificates, disposition permits, obituary notices, and government benefit forms.

In addition to further examining the topics introduced in associate programs, the mortuary science bachelor’s curriculum includes courses such as:

  • Funeral Service Counseling
  • Funeral Service Standards of Practice
  • Cemetery and Crematory Operations
  • Contemporary Issues and Trends in Funeral Service
  • Anthropology of Death for Mortuary Science
  • Communication and Writing for Funeral Service

Degrees Similar to Mortuary Science

Students of anthropology study the evolutionary history of people, how they interact, how they adapt to various environments, how they communicate and socialize with one another, and how their bodies and cultures have changed over time. The typical anthropology curriculum includes classes in human origins and evolution; archaeological field methods; biological anthropology; forensic anthropology; and language and culture.

Forensic Science
The objective of forensic science is to solve crimes by applying science and scientific methods to the justice system. Degrees programs in the field, therefore, train students to use cutting-edge techniques to examine and interpret evidence in criminal and civil cases. Because forensic science draws upon the sciences of biology, physics, and chemistry, these subject areas make up an important part of the forensics curriculum.

Ministry programs prepare students to become ordained Christian ministers or priests. Individuals who earn a degree in the field may ultimately work as pastors, worship leaders, counselors, church administrators, and/or ministerial educators. Coursework may include study of the New Testament and Old Testament, sermons and religious rituals, biblical counseling, ministerial ethics, youth ministry, and preaching methods.

The scientific study of the mind and behavior is the focus of psychology degree programs. In simple terms, psychology students study the way that humans and animals act, feel, think, and learn.

Religious Studies
The focus of religious studies degree programs is the nature and origin of religious belief and traditions. Coursework includes the study of specific religions such as Buddhism and Catholicism, as well as religious history, politics, and anthropology.

Social Work
Students who pursue a degree in social work gain the knowledge and skills, as well as the ethics and values, to work for social justice for individuals, families, organizations, and communities. The typical curriculum examines issues such as child welfare, mental health, poverty, aging, domestic violence, and marginalized groups.

Degree programs in sociology are focused on studying groups, from two people and beyond. Sociology students examine human behavior patterns and relationships at both the micro-level and the macro-level. They study interactions between individuals as well as in families, peer groups, cultural groups, gender groups, racial groups, religious groups, and social classes.

Skills You’ll Learn

Graduates of mortuary science degree programs come away from their studies with a diverse and transferable skill set:

  • Communication skills – dealing with bereaved family members requires the ability to communicate clearly and with patience and compassion
  • Counseling skills – while they are not professional counselors, morticians and funeral directors are called upon to help people get through one of the first parts of the grieving process
  • Organization skills – morticians and funeral directors must be organized, as they often work with several families at once
  • Scientific skills – because the mortuary science curriculum includes learning skills like embalming and restorative arts, graduates develop an appreciation for science in general
  • Business skills – mortuary science students are also exposed to business management and marketing courses, which lay the foundation for running a funeral home

What Can You Do with a Mortuary Science Degree?

Almost all mortuary science grads go on to work directly in the funeral services industry. Among the positions/titles in the field are:

  • Mortician / Funeral Director / Undertaker
  • Embalmer
  • Restorative Artist
  • Mortuary Make-Up Artist
  • Funeral Services Administrator
  • Funeral Services Assistant
  • Funeral Services Salesperson
  • Obituary Writer
  • Gravedigger
  • Coroner / Medical Examiner – these professionals investigate deaths; working in this field requires further education in the medical field
  • Pathologist – pathologists investigate sudden, violent, and disease-related deaths; working in this field requires further education in the medical field


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