A professional embalmer or director of funeral services must have a state license, which he can obtain only after getting a certificate or degree in mortuary science and passing the state board examination. The American Board of Funeral Service Education accredits colleges that provide these degrees. Several ABFSE-accredited schools offer online mortuary science programs, allowing students to complete a large amount of their coursework remotely.

Required Classes

To be accredited, the ABFSE requires that programs teach public health, social sciences, business management, law and general education. Public health includes courses in microbiology, anatomy and embalming chemistry. Social sciences covers sociology, bereavement and the history of funeral service. The American Academy McAllister Institute of Funeral Service also includes a course on psychology and counseling to assist grieving families. Business management courses such as mathematics and accounting help funeral directors to keep their small businesses running, and law courses such as ethics and mortuary law ensure that funeral directors are aware of their legal obligations to clients. Several of these courses are offered online by ABFSE-accredited schools, including but not limited to Amarillo College, Arapahoe Community College and the American Academy McAllister Institute of Funeral Service.

Required Labs

ABFSE-approved online programs require students to meet in person for two to five weeks to complete clinical practice labs, during which they must participate in a minimum of 10 embalmings to meet the ABFSE requirements. Some schools, such as the Pittsburgh Institute of Mortuary Science, allow students to choose a local funeral home at which to complete their embalming labs. Other schools, such as Arapahoe Community College, Vincennes University and the American Academy McAllister Institute of Funeral Service, require that students complete their clinical practice on campus.

Online Certificate of Funeral Service

Some online programs such as Amarillo College and Commonwealth Institute of Funeral Service offer a certificate of funeral service, which can be completed entirely online within a year. These programs are intended for students seeking a funeral director license. They are not accredited through the ABFSE and do not include embalming labs. After completing the online certificate programs, students are eligible to take the funeral director state board examination, but their license is not valid nationwide. Only students with associate degrees in mortuary science are eligible for national licensing.

Online Associate Degrees

Online programs that include a clinical practice lab and are accredited by the ABFSE may award students with associate degrees upon completion of the program. This qualifies students to take the national board examination for nationwide licensing. Amarillo College and Arapahoe Community College provide two-year Associate of Applied Science degrees. The Pittsburgh Institute of Mortuary Science offers an Associate in Specialized Technology degree, and Vincennes University offers an Associate of Science degree, both of which can be completed within two years. The American Academy McAllister Institute of Funeral Service provides an Associate of Occupational Studies degree, which takes three years to complete online.