If you have an interest in biology, a knack for business, and a desire to work with people in their times of emotional need, a career as a funeral service professional may be for you. There are a number of jobs in this profession, the chief ones being funeral director and embalmer. In many cases these can be the same person. Funeral service professionals are important and respected people within their communities and are adept at bringing comfort to the bereaved, so it’s a job that will give you considerable personal satisfaction.
To work as either, you will want to have a degree in mortuary science. Generally, you will also need to have a license, but the licensing laws vary from state to state and some states may not require a license at all. (See the list at http://www.theconferenceonline.org/statutesCE.shtml for links to local state licensing statutes.)
A national evaluation of your funeral service skills is available from the International Conference of Funeral Service Examining Boards in Fayetteville, Arkansas. You can see their Web site at this address:http://www.theconferenceonline.org/contact.shtml. The Conference offers the National Board Examination (NBE), which will provide you with an assessment of your skills as a funeral service professional that is recognized in all 50 states plus the District of Columbia. In addition, the Conference offers application materials for and detailed information about local certification in the following states: Alabama, Arkansas, Arizona, Delaware, Florida, Hawaii, Idaho, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, Nevada, Ohio, Oregon, South Carolina, Tennessee, Vermont and Washington. You can find links to these applications at this address:http://www.theconferenceonline.org/sbeappsaccess.shtml. For information about applying for licensing in other states, contact the relevant state agencies at the Web site mentioned above.
The NBE is offered by the Conference for a registration fee of $500. You can register for the exam starting at this address:http://www.theconferenceonline.org/order-nbe-reg.shtml#. Tests are given year-round by the Pearson VUE testing company. To find a test location near you, you can use the locator on this page: http://wwwe.pearsonvue.com/Dispatcher?application=VTCLocator&action=actStartApp&v=W2L&cid=439. You can schedule your test at this page:http://www.pearsonvue.com/theconference/.
The test is divided into two sections: Funeral Sciences and Funeral Arts. The subjects covered by the two sections of the test are:
- Funeral Directing (52 items)
- Funeral Service Marketing/Merchandising (22 items)
- Funeral Service Counseling (23 items)
- Regulatory Compliance (38 items)
- Cemetery and Crematory Operations (15 items)
- Embalming (42 items)
- Restorative Art (42 items)
- Preparation for Disposition (22 items)
- Funeral Service Sciences (30 items)
Each section of the test is graded as Pass/Fail, which means you won’t receive a numerical score. As the name implies, test takers either pass or fail. In order to pass the NBE, you must achieve Pass on both sections of the test.
You should arrive at the test center half an hour early so that you can go through identification and seating procedures before the test begins. Most personal belongings cannot be brought into the exam room, but they can be stored in a locker before you enter.
If you fail to pass the test, you can take it again, though be warned that the questions, which are randomly chosen, will be different the next time. There is a 30-day waiting period before you can retake the exam, during which you are expected to do additional studying to compensate for your failure to pass it initially.
If you need to cancel or reschedule after scheduling your exam, you must give Pearson VUE 24 hours notice or you’ll be unable to get a refund on your registration fee. Your scores will be reported to you after taking the exam. However, you will not be told which questions you got wrong.
Why Become a Funeral Service Professional?
There are a great many reasons why a career in the funeral field is a fine way to spend your life and a terrific way to make a contribution to the welfare and happiness of the human race. Let’s look at a few of them:
It’s challenging. Many fields of work only require knowing how to do one thing — manage an office, for instance, or examine patients. But the funeral service field combines a great many disciplines and requires an individual willing to learn something about all of them. These disciplines include biology, business, law, psychology, and, of course, embalming. You have to know biology because you have to understand human anatomy and what happens to the human body after it ceases to work. You have to know business because you will probably be called upon at some point in your career to run a funeral business and you’ll need to manage operations the way any well-trained business manager would. You have to know law because there is a large body of law affecting the way that funerals are handled and how bodies are treated once they are dead. You have to know psychology because you will be interacting closely with people who are in a deeply distraught mental state, having lost a loved one very, very recently. And you have to know embalming because — well, preparing a corpse for burial is the very heart of the funeral business. This is a highly technical operation and it requires highly technical training. If it’s a challenge that you are looking for in your life’s work, this field will provide it.
It lets you bring comfort to other human beings. As a funeral director, you will deal on a daily basis with people who are going through what will possibly be the worst experience of their lives, worse even than their own deaths — the death of someone they have loved and even lived with for years. These are people who feel that their lives have just been ripped apart and have no idea yet how they’re going to put them back together or if their lives will ever return to normal at all. These are people going through the stages of grief and you will need to understand what they are going through if you are to work with them. Through that understanding, you can bring comfort and offer closure to their grief experience by restoring the bodies of their loved ones for the funeral and giving them a lovely ceremony and an elegant headstone and a plot in beautiful surroundings in which to spend eternity. You can bring happiness to people’s lives by doing these things, at precisely the moment when they need happiness most.
You will prepare yourself for your own future. We mean this in many senses. Of course, you will gain a career that will provide you a solid income, one that will allow you to support and raise a family. You will make yourself a respected and important member of the community. But also, by seeing what the ends of other people’s lives are like, you will come to be at peace with the idea that someday your own life will end — and you’ll be surprised at how comforted this will make you feel. By seeing that death is a normal, inevitable and at times even beautiful part of life, you will be far less frightened at the prospect of the end of your own.
Preparing for a Career in Funeral Service
If you’re in high school or just beginning college, it would be a good time to start planning for the career that you want to go into after college graduation. And if you’re starting to think that a career in the funeral service profession might be for you, you may be wondering just how someone goes about preparing for such a career. Well, we’ll give you a few suggestions.
What you study in college is going to be important. The funeral service field requires a remarkably complex body of information if you are going to be good at it and you need to start studying that information as soon as possible. You are going to have to know things about anatomy, business, law and public relations. You will need to combine talents of a biologist with those of a businessman as well as those of a psychologist. Is there a college curriculum that will teach you all of the varied things that you are going to need to know?
Yes, there is. It’s called mortuary science. According to the American Board of Funeral Service Education, there are 60 schools with accredited mortuary science programs. You can find a list of some of them on the International Conference of Funeral Service Examining Boards’ (ICFSEB’s) Web site at this page: http://www.theconferenceonline.org/schools.shtml. Look for a school that you are in a position to attend — that you can afford and that is located somewhere that you don’t mind either commuting to or living in — and study its curriculum. Learn more about the school. You might even want to look into whether you can get a government loan, grant or scholarship that will pay for your education there. (For an easy method of locating government loans, grants and scholarships, go to the Free Application for Federal Student Aid Web site at http://www.fafsa.ed.gov/# and fill out their application. They’ll do the rest for you.)
Most of the schools that offer accredited degrees in mortuary science only offer two-year associate degrees. However, about half a dozen offer complete four-year bachelor’s degrees. You should give serious thought to the latter if you want to be successful in your career. During your college education you will not only want to take courses directly relevant to mortuary science but courses that will make you a more well rounded funeral director, such as courses in math, psychology and English composition. In fact, you can start taking these courses as early as high school, since they’ll prepare you for almost any career that you might eventually choose to go into. You might also look into getting an apprenticeship with a licensed funeral director. Such an apprenticeship is required for licensing in many states.
Unfortunately, all licensing in the funeral service field is performed at the state level, so it’s impossible to summarize everything you need to do to get ready for the requirements that you are going to face. Nonetheless, the ICFSEB has a list of state funeral service licensing boards here: http://www.theconferenceonline.org/reg-agencies.shtml. This list contains all necessary contact information for these agencies, including their Web sites. Go to the one for the state where you wish to practice and find out what they expect of you in order to give you your license to work as a funeral service professional.
And you should take the National Board Exam (NBE), which is administered by the ICFSEB. This is a nationally recognized exam for evaluating your prowess in two different areas of the funeral business: funeral arts and funeral sciences. The results of this test are accepted by the licensing boards in all 50 states plus the District of Columbia. You can find the application form and further explanation on the ICFSEB’s Web site at http://www.theconferenceonline.org/students-nbe.shtml.
The Funeral Service Test
The funeral profession is both an art and a science, and it requires knowledge of both, along with a head for business. If you excel in all three of these areas — the biological sciences, art, and business — then the funeral profession could be an excellent choice for your career. It is a profession that would gain you respect, make you an important member of your community, and possibly even your own business owner. If you are at a point in your life when you are just deciding what career path you wish to take, it is one that you should seriously consider.
There are many different aspects to the funeral service profession. As a professional, you will be called upon to perform many if not all of them. There is the running of the mortuary itself. There is the job of funeral director, the person in charge of all aspects of the funeral and making sure that they function correctly. There is working with the public, often with people in a deep state of grief and bereavement, who will come to you at one of the most desolate moments in their lives. And there is the job of embalmer, the person who prepares the body both chemically and cosmetically. This is a complex job, involving not only knowledge of anatomy and the preservation of bodies, but how to make the bodies look as good as possible, not a trivial task of the case of some tragic deaths.
Entering this field generally requires a degree in mortuary science. Both two-year associate degrees and four-year bachelor’s degrees are available in this subject. Mortuary science covers a wide variety of topics, from anatomy to embalming to restorative art (reconstructing the appearance of the deceased) to business management. It is a curriculum that calls on many skills. Furthermore, a funeral director will be expected to be someone who is good at working with the public and comforting the grief stricken. This is not a simple field to master, but it is an important one.
In most states, being a funeral director or embalmer requires licensure, though the laws for this vary widely from state to state and in some states no license may be required at all. The International Conference of Funeral Service Examining Boards (ICFSEB) offers a list of links to state licensing agencies at this address: http://www.theconferenceonline.org/reg-agencies.shtml. However, the ICFSEB also offers its own exam, the National Board Exam (NBE), which assesses your skills as a trained funeral professional. The results of this test are accepted by all local state licensing boards. For more information, contact the board for the state where you wish to practice.
Registration for the test costs $500. (If you need to retake either section individually, they cost $250 apiece.) You can register using the form at http://ftp.theconferenceonline.org/documents/PrintedApplicationBrochure_000.pdf. You’ll receive email confirmation when your form is received. The test is administered by the Pearson VUE testing organization. Once your application is accepted, you can register with them at 1-800-709-0180 or on their Web site at http://www.pearsonvue.com/theconference. To choose a location near you, consult the locator at http://wwwe.pearsonvue.com/Dispatcher?application=VTCLocator&action=actStartApp&v=W2L&cid=439.
You’ll be given details by Pearson VUE about where and when to show up for the exam. Good luck — in both the exam and in your career!
Funeral Exam Study Guides
So now you’ve been through the registration process for the National Board Exam (NBE), the evaluation test for prospective funeral service professionals sponsored by the International Conference of Funeral Service Examining Boards (ICFSEB) and administered by Pearson VUE. You have a date scheduled. You’re ready for your new career in the funeral business and you want to do well on the test so that you can get the rest of your life started. You certainly don’t want to flunk the test, because that would require going through the entire registration process again and paying $400 if you need to retake both parts of the exam ($200 if you only plan to retake one part). You want to get your 75 percent passing grade on the very first try.
Chances are, you’ve already taken an important step in this direction. You’ve acquired a two- or four-year degree in mortuary science. You’ve taken courses in the things you need to know, including physiology, embalming, restorative art, business management and how to use computers to manage a funeral home. You should be ready to take the exam to pass it.
Yet you aren’t absolutely sure. You have the jitters, that familiar butterflies-in-the-stomach feeling that we all get before taking an important exam. You’re starting to wonder if there might be some things that you still don’t know. What if you enter the exam room, sit down at the computer — and the question on the screen is about something that was covered on a day when you missed class? Or there’s a section of the exam based on a course that you didn’t even get around to taking? What do you do then?
There are steps you can take to be prepared for eventualities like this. The NBE will even help you with some of them. For instance, they make a practice exam available that you can take at your computer. You can order a copy of it at this address:
- They also sell a study guide for $40 that you can order at this address:http://ftp.theconferenceonline.org/documents/NBEStudyGuideOrderForm_000.pdf.
But even this might not cure those pre-exam jitters. Stop worrying, though. There are a number of other study guides out there and having one or more of them to review before the test is a wise idea if you want to pass the exam the first time. (Studying them would be an even wiser idea if you flunk the exam the first time and have to take it a second.) These study guides can be found in bookstores and in advertisements on the Internet. They come in a number of forms, including books, flash cards, CDs, DVDs, even computer software. You can choose the type of learning that works best for you and then study with a friend, which is often the best way to learn a subject. Have the friend drill you on subjects and verify your answers. (This is particularly easy to do with flash cards.)
Even though it can’t give you the actual questions that will be on the test, the study guide should let you know what all of the content areas are that will be covered during it and will probably include sample test questions. A study guide helps you figure out not only what areas you’re weak on but what areas you already understand well, so that you can focus on the areas where you need to increase your comprehension. A study guide can save you hours of reading about the wrong things and point you in the direction of the right things.
Pre-exam jitters can actually hurt you on a test, by making you too nervous to focus properly on the questions and think them through properly. But with a study guide or two in your head, you’ll walk into the exam room calmly and with confidence, knowing that you’re going to pass the exam on the first try!
The Day of the Funeral Exam
First of all, you should have received a letter from Pearson VUE confirming your appointment for the NBE. It will tell you the time and location and you should bring this letter with you on the day of the exam. As with most such exams, you should arrive early (a half hour is customary) to leave room for checking of IDs and advance preparation. If you arrive more than 15 minutes late, you won’t be able to take the exam and you won’t be able to get your $500 fee refunded, so our advice is to give yourself plenty of time, even if you don’t think you’ll need it.
Be sure to bring with you some form of official, government-issued photo ID. This can be a driver’s license (unexpired, of course), a U.S. passport, or some kind of government employee’s ID card (though it can’t be a student ID, even if it has a picture of you on it and you go to a state school). You’ll also need a second form of ID, though you only need a signature and not a photo on this one. Social Security cards are fine as are student IDs, but you can even bring a membership card for a store like Costco or Sam’s Club. All that counts is that it’s signed. If you can’t get all this identification together, the second form can be a signed, notarized photo of yourself. Be sure that the name on the IDs — both of them! — matches the name under which you are registered for the test.
Bring as few personal belongings as possible to the test. You will be provided with a locker by exam personnel. You can use it to store any personal belongings that you do bring with you, including a jacket or purse. As with most such tests, it is particularly advised that you not bring a cell phone into the exam room, even by accident, as this can be used to obtain test answers. Similarly, you cannot have visitors with you in the exam room or anyone with whom you can consult on the exam questions.
At the exam, you will be photographed and the photo will be submitted to the state licensing boards. Since they’ll probably end up on some form of ID, you may want to look your best, though people rarely end up looking their best on ID cards. If for some reason the photo taken at the exam is found unacceptable, you’ll need to provide another, with a notary seal, and pay for it yourself. So don’t stick your tongue out at the photographer. You will also be fingerprinted and your fingerprints checked on both entering and leaving the exam room.
If you need to cancel or reschedule the exam, be sure to let Pearson VUE know at least 24 hours before the exam. Otherwise, you’ll lose your exam fee, which is a lot to lose. And, if you still want a career in the funeral profession, you’ll have to go through the registration process a second time, paying the fees again.
Immediately after the exam, you will receive your score. You need a 75 percent score to pass. If you succeed, you should then begin working with your local state agency to achieve licensing.
After the Funeral Service Exam
Once you’ve completed the National Board Exam (NBE), administered by the International Conference of Funeral Service Examining Boards (ICFSEB) and the Pearson VUE testing service, the hard part will be over — you hope. The test is computer-administered and you’ll be given your score before you leave the exam site, so you won’t be hanging in suspense for very long. If you passed, congratulations! You have a great new career ahead of you. Even if you passed, though, you have more to do. We’ll talk about that in a moment.
If you didn’t pass and you don’t have a sudden change of heart about taking the funeral service business as your profession, you’ll want to take the exam again. This means you have to go through exactly the same process you went through to take it in the first place — applying to the ICFSEB, scheduling the exam with Pearson VUE, paying your $500 exam fee (or only $250 if you only need to retake one of the two portions of the exam) and showing up on exam day. Note that you must wait a full 90 days before you retake the exam (though you can begin the application process immediately). The ICFSEB suggests using the 30 days for study and claims that people who wait longer to retake the exam actually get better grades the second time around than those who retake it quickly. There is no other time limit; you can wait as long as you want to retake the exam, even if you’re only retaking one of the two portions. With luck, this time you’ll get a passing grade.
Now that you’ve passed, you have to begin the process of state licensing. You’ll want a certified copy of your NBE scores submitted to at least one local state licensing agency. Fortunately, the ICFSEB will do this for free — once. If you should want certified copies sent to additional states, you must pay a $50 fee per state and you must pay it at the time of your application. These certified scores are the only form that state licensing boards will accept. You can’t simply tell them what your score was or send a photocopy, and the ICFSEB will refuse to inform them of your score by telephone. If you are willing to pay the $50 fee, however, you can have a copy of your score sent at any time you wish by submitting a request in writing to the ICFSEB by mail or fax.
Although additional certified copies will cost you money, the ICFSEB will send you a wall certificate suitable for framing simply because you passed the test (and paid for it with your application fee). You will also receive an ID card that you can keep in your wallet to prove your certified status. If you’d like to obtain additional copies of these, they can be ordered from the ICFSEB by following the instructions on their FAQ at this address: http://www.theconferenceonline.org/faqs.shtml#. An extra copy of the wall certificate costs $30 and an extra copy of the wallet ID card costs $20.
To complete the process of state licensing, you will have to contact your local state licensing board. The ICFSEB makes a list of local boards available at this address: http://www.theconferenceonline.org/reg-agencies.shtml. It includes information for contacting the licensing authorities in each state by mail, phone, fax, email and via their Web site, if they have one. In fact, you’ll probably want to check out this information before you take the exam to make sure what the proper procedure is going to be for local licensure.