What degree do you need to be an undertaker?

Updated March 23, 2017

An undertaker, also referred to as a mortician or funeral director, primarily works to plan and direct funeral services. In addition to planning and directing funerals, undertakers complete a variety of tasks required to manage the funeral business such as hiring and training staff, maintaining business records and completing required documentation of deaths and burials. To become a licensed undertaker, a person must complete a degree from a mortuary school, in addition to other steps.

General Education

Though undertakers complete a course of study to receive job specific training, undertakers must also complete general education classes at the college level. These classes will help the student develop the knowledge to work with grieving families and perform the business related functions of an undertaker. Though the required classes will vary depending on the school, course in business, psychology and sociology are common. Students may complete these general classes while attending mortuary school or use credits from previous college experience to fulfil the requirements.

Mortuary School Degree

Undertakers must complete a course of study at a mortuary school to become eligible for a license. Though most states require undertakers to have an associate's degree, Minnesota and Ohio require a bachelor's degree. As most states require an associate's degree, most mortuary schools offer a two year degree, with a few offering a four year degree. Mortuary schools train students on specific job related skills such as embalming techniques, funeral law and grief counselling. Upon obtaining a degree, schools will also assist graduates in finding employment opportunities. After graduation, a majority of states require undertakers to complete ongoing training to maintain a license.


Many states require undertakers to complete an apprenticeship with an experienced undertaker. State requirements vary from one to three years, with one year being the most common requirement. Even in the states that do not require this, working as an apprentice can be a valuable experience for a mortuary school graduate. Apprentices work to complete common funeral tasks under the direction of the experienced undertaker who is available to assist with any problems. Mortuary schools often help graduates to arrange apprenticeships.


All states require that undertakers pass an examination before receiving a license. Some states have separate examinations for funeral directing and embalming. Though not required, most undertakers in the states with separate licenses have both licenses as this improves the undertaker's job prospects. An undertaker must receive a license from the state where she will work, though some states recognise licenses from other states. The licensing examinations vary by state, but often include both written and oral questions as well as requiring the examinee to display competency in the practical skills required to complete work as an undertaker.

Cite this Article A tool to create a citation to reference this article Cite this Article

About the Author

Jay Motes is a writer who sold his first article in 1998. Motes has written for numerous print and online publications including "The Dollar Stretcher" and "WV Sportsman." He holds a Bachelor of Arts with a double major in history and political science form Fairmont State College in Fairmont, W.V.