Thinking of Becoming a Funeral Director?

More women than men are now attending mortuary school, and a rising number of them are career changers. Here's how to enliven your job-finding odds. 

By Nanette Varian • Editor
darla tripoli mortuary cosmetologist photo
Darla Tripoli, funeral director and mortuary cosmetologist since 2003
Photograph: TrujilloPaumier

Don't miss the full featurewomen from around the country tell us why they've switched to a funeral-service career, and what it's like to work in this fieldin the October MORE, on sale now.

In the October issue of MORE (on sale September 27), we showcase women who've decided, in the prime of life, to change careers and become a funeral director. Some were finally fulfilling a long-buried passion, others got the idea after experiencing a well—or badly—done funeral for a parent or grandparent. Some had taken a career-aptitude test (because of a layoff, an empty nest or a gnawing sense of job dissatisfaction) and were gobsmacked to discover that their interests and abilities added up to “funeral director.” All said they wanted to so something more meaningful with their lives.

This career isn't likely to make you rich. But that’s not why the women MORE interviewed entered the profession. “Funeral service is a field similar to social work,” says Nancy Burban, a death-care industry consultant and podcast host. “No one goes into social work to make a lot of money either.” The median salary for apprentices in a recent National Funeral Directors Association survey was $28,000. The median annual wage for licensed funeral directors is $54,330, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, though the top 10 percent can earn close to six figures, or even more if they work in a large metroplitan area.

Still, like most other industries these days, the $11.9 billion funeral-service business faces challenges. Corporate consolidation, a declining death rate and an upswing in cremation have caused a small but steady drop in the number of funeral homes, creating a tight job market in some regions. So we asked women in the business what you should consider before making a switch:

Alexandra K. Mosca is not one to hold back. A longtime funeral director and industry chronicler in New York, she’s posed for Playboy, written a memoir (Grave Undertakings) and admits to having once accidentally sewn her hand to a corpse after a long day. Mosca, who has also written a book about Brooklyn's historic Green-Wood Cemetery, worries about women laying out money—or borrowing it from a bank—for funeral school without doing their homework first. (Tuition for an associate’s degree program can run to more than $11,000 at a community college and over $20,000 at a university or accredited mortuary school.)

“Try and get a realistic picture of the state of the industry in your area by talking to as many funeral directors as possible,” she urges incipient career-changers. “It also helps to work part-time in a funeral home, to get a feel for the business and its activity.”

First Published September 19, 2011

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