Mortuary Science

Mortuary Science Bachelor of Science (B.S.) Degree Biology On-campus

About Mortuary Science

Enhance your career qualifications with an undergraduate foundation in biology.

The mortuary science program is a cooperative curriculum program between PennWest California and the Pittsburgh Institute of Mortuary Science (PIMS), located in downtown Pittsburgh.

The program requires three years of study at PennWest California in which you receive a liberal science background in biology, focusing on zoology, botany, cell and molecular biology, microbiology, human anatomy, and human physiology.

Our cooperative program provides you with outstanding training in mortuary science.

The final year of the cooperative program is spent at PIMS, where you learn how to be a funeral home director and an embalmer. Upon completion of the one year at PIMS (which, unlike PennWest California, is based on a trimester system running from August to August), you'll receive an Associate in Specialized Technology degree from PIMS. Your credits taken at PIMS transfer back to PennWest California, and upon graduation you'll also earn a Bachelor of Science in Biology degree with a concentration in mortuary science from PennWest California.

Students completing the PennWest California and PIMS program must then do a one-year apprenticeship with a licensed funeral home director before being eligible to sit for the Pennsylvania state licensing exam - the test required to become a licensed funeral home director and embalmer. 


Career edge: Although a bachelor's degree is not required to become a funeral home director in Pennsylvania, your PennWest California degree in biology with a concentration in mortuary science gives you a distinct advantage. You'll stand out from other graduates when looking to apprentice and train with a licensed funeral home director. Your qualifications also will set you apart when you start looking for a position at an established funeral home. In addition, your PennWest California degree provides a strong foundation should you desire to pursue a career as a coroner.

Solid foundation: Mortuary science majors find PennWest California courses in human anatomy and microbiology most interesting because these areas are closely related to their career path. PennWest California also provides students with business and world religion courses that support their future work in the profession.  Students learn how to prepare the deceased when they attend PIMS. 

Learn about applying

Student-to-faculty ratio at PennWest California.
Credit hours for the bachelor's degree in chemistry, which can be completed in eight semesters or four years.
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Degree Benefits

The mortuary science concentration in the biology degree program at PennWest California prepares students to enter the Pittsburgh Institute of Mortuary Science (PIMS). Students complete six semesters of coursework at PennWest California and then complete their senior year studying embalming methods and funeral direction at PIMS. The mortuary science concentration, through PennWest California's affiliation with PIMS, is accredited through the American Board of Funeral Service Education, National Association of Colleges of Mortuary Science and National Conference of Funeral Service Examining Boards of the United States Inc.

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Graduate Outcomes

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, overall employment of funeral service workers is projected to grow 5% through 2024, about as fast as the average for all occupations. Those who are licensed as funeral directors and embalmers and who are willing to relocate should have the best job opportunities. With the exception of funeral service managers, all workers must be licensed in Washington, D.C., and in every state in which they work, except Colorado, which offers a voluntary certification program. 


B.S. Biology - Mortuary Science Curriculum and Related Programs


Course Credits
General Education Courses 41
Building a Sense of Community
UNI 100 First-Year Seminar
ENG 101  English Composition I
Public Speaking
CDC 101  Public Speaking
Mathematics and Quantitative Literacy
MAT 181  College Algebra
Health and Wellness
Any Health and Wellness Course
Technological Literacy
Any Tech Lit. Course
Any Humanities Course
Fine Arts
Any Fine Arts Course
Natural Sciences
CHE 101  General Chemistry I
Social Sciences
Any Social Science Course
General Education Options
The following courses are suggested electives of professional mortuary science interest. Please consult your adviser for the most appropriate courses for you. At least one course must be an Ethics and Multicultural Awareness Emphasis (EMEL) Course.
  • ENG 102  Composition II or Other English or Literature Course
  • CSC 101 Personal Productivity Software (TL)
  • CSC 201  Internet Concepts (TL)
  • PHI 200  World Religions (HUM, EMEL)
  • PHI 307  Medical Ethics (HUM, EMEL)
  • PSY 100  General Psychology (SS)
  • SOC 100  Principles of Sociology (SS)
  • PHI 308  Bioethics (HUM, EMEL)
  • ECO 100  Elements of Economics (SS)
  • ENG 211  Business Writing (Comp)
  • PHI 100  Perspectives in Philosophy (HUM)
Required Major Courses 32
BIO 120  General Zoology 4
BIO 125  General Botany 4
BIO 215  Cellular and Molecular Biology 4
BIO 306  Human Anatomy 4
BIO 326  General Microbiology 4
BIO 328  Human Physiology 4
BIO ***  300- or 400-level BIO/ENS Course (requires approval of adviser) 4
CHE 102  General Chemistry II 4
Pittsburgh School of Mortuary Science 26
Upper-level Major Courses (fourth year of program) 26
Free Electives 21
Students are recommended to take courses leading to a minor in Business Administration, Psychology or another area of interest. The following courses are suggested choices:
  • ACC 200  Financial Accounting
  • ART 388  Sculpture Studio
  • PSY 211  Social Psychology
  • BUS 100  Intro to Business (SS)
Total 120

Additional requirements, not counted toward the General Education requirements, include:

  • Special Experience Course (1 course required): Any Special Experience Course
  • Writing-Intensive Component Courses (2 courses required): Any Upper-Division Writing Component Course
  • Laboratory Course (1 course required): BIO 215 Cellular and Molecular Biology

Program Note: Student must complete 48 credits of 300- or 400-level courses. The curriculum includes 42 upper-level credits.

PennWest California students in a biology lab observe a specimen on a Petri dish.

PennWest California's Focus

All PennWest California students who apply to Pittsburgh Institute of Mortuary Science (PIMS) are accepted by and graduate from the PIMS program. It is important to know that someone can become a licensed funeral home director in Pennsylvania without having a Bachelor of Science or a Bachelor of Arts degree. The state requires 60 credit hours of liberal studies at a college or university along with an approved one-year curriculum in mortuary science. Other colleges in the western Pennsylvania area have pre-mortuary science cooperative programs with PIMS, but they focus on such areas as business, sociology or liberal studies. PennWest California is the only cooperative program with PIMS that enables students to receive a Bachelor of Science in Biology with a concentration in mortuary science.

A PennWest California student looks into a microscope.

About PIMS

In general, PIMS has a 59% acceptance rate and a 79% graduation rate. You will be well-prepared for your PIMS program of study after completing your degree. PIMS reports that 96% of its graduates work in the funeral science field; 70% pass the National Board Examinations administered by the International Conference of Funeral Service Examining Boards.

A professor and student observe results of a test on a computer screen.

Focus On Biology

A steady demand exists for biologists. For instance, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment of biological technicians is projected to grow 5% through 2024, about as fast as the average for all occupations. Continued growth in biotechnology and medical research is expected to increase demand for these workers. A Bachelor of Science degree in biology from PennWest California gives you a distinct competitive advantage over other graduates. You'll be prepared for advanced studies in biology and related fields, and for industrial and government research, as well as for careers in public health and in the many health-related fields.