Introduction to Merit Badges

Merit Badge Plan
A part of the advancement program of the Boy Scouts of America, the merit badge plan is one of the most unique educational tools ever devised.

What Is a Merit Badge?

A merit badge is an award that is presented to a Scout when he completes the requirements for one of the merit badge subjects. The badge is only a small piece of khaki cloth with a design embroidered in color. The significance is as large as the interest of the merit badge counselor who helps a Scout towards his goal of achieving the merit badge.

Millions of Scouts “browse” among the more than 120 subjects, choosing those that seem most interesting to them. Some subjects are in craftwork, some in vocational fields, some in service to others, and many in cultural or self-improvement areas. In addition, certain merit badges are required for the Eagle Scout rank.

It is in the career fields that adults can make a vital impact on the life of a Scout by helping him with merit badges. Badges such as Entrepreneurship, Graphic Arts, Engineering, Chemistry, and many others provide the finest kind of orientation toward a possible career for the Scout.

Service clubs, unions, and professional societies often support the merit badge program through their vocational guidance committees. Members offer their services as counselors, and the group as a whole may help recruit and train counselors for districts or councils.

Merit badge counselors provide the means for Scouts to explore many subjects that may not be available to them otherwise. The Scout who has earned a number of merit badges gains confidence, finds greater purpose in life, and becomes a better person from his experience. This cannot happen without the service of thousands of merit badge counselor experts in particular subjects and interested in helping Scouts grow into men of character who are ready to take their place in the world of work as participating citizens.

Earning a Merit Badge

Working on merit badges is especially enjoyable when Scouts work together. The BSA encourages this by making the buddy system a part of the merit badge program. Together the two meet with merit badge counselors, plan projects, and keep their enthusiasm high.

The requirements for each merit badge appear in the current BSA merit badge pamphlet for that award and in the book Boy Scout Requirements, available at Scout shops and council service centers. When a Scout has decided on a merit badge he would like to earn, he must follow these steps:

Obtain from his Scoutmaster a signed merit badge application and the name of a qualified counselor for that merit badge. (A counselor must know the subject well, be able to work effectively with Scouts, and be currently registered as a merit badge counselor with the Boy Scouts of America.)

Along with another Scout, a relative, or a friend, set up and attend the first appointment with his merit badge counselor. The counselor will explain the requirements for the badge and help the Scout plan ways to fulfill them so that he can get the most out of the experience.

Complete the requirements, meeting with his counselor whenever necessary until he has finished working on the badge.

The advancement program allows the Scout to move ahead in his own way and at his own speed. Rather than competing against others, he challenges himself to go as far as his ambition will carry him. The rate of advancement depends upon his interest, effort, and ability.

How the Merit Badge Counselor Helps

The Scout contacts the Counselor, probably by phone. The Counselor may tell him what is expected of him over the phone, or he may want to make an appointment to discuss this with the Counselor face-to-face. Personal contact will make earning the badge a better experience for you both.

The Scout should bring a merit badge application signed by his Scoutmaster or Varsity Scout Coach on his first visit. He must always be accompanied by a buddy.

In the initial discussion of what is expected, the Counselor may want to start by finding out what the Scout already knows. Spend some time helping him learn the remaining requirements, or give guidance in completing projects. The Counselor can set up additional meetings with the Scout – not only for the purpose of passing him on the requirements, but rather to help him understand the subject.

The Scout, along with his buddy, should make another appointment with the Counselor when he thinks he is prepared to prove his ability. A date, time, and place are set.

When the Scout meets with the Counselor, he should bring with him the projects required for completion. If these cannot be transported, he should present satisfactory evidence, such as a photograph of the project or adult certification. His Scoutmaster or Varsity Scout Coach might, for example, certify that a satisfactory bridge or tower has been built for Pioneering, or that the required meals were prepared for the Cooking merit badge. The Counselor’s job, in addition to coaching, is to satisfy him/herself that the requirements have been met.

When the Counselor is satisfied that the Scout has met the requirements, you sign his merit badge application.

More or Less?

The Scout is expected to meet the requirements as stated-no more and no less. Furthermore, he is to do exactly what is stated. If it says “show or demonstrate,” that is what he must do. Just telling about it isn’t enough. The same thing holds true for such words as “make,” “list,” “in the field,” and “collect, identify, and label.”

On the other hand, the Counselor cannot require more of a Scout than stated. The Counselor must not, for example, say, “I want to be sure you really know your stuff, so instead of the 20 items in your collection, you must have 50 to get my signature.” The Counselor can suggest, encourage, and help the Scout to get 50 things, but he/she must not require it.

Hopefully, the Counselor will share and show the Scout many aspects of the merit badge the Scout is working on, but the Scout does not have to show his knowledge of those things beyond the requirements.

Where Do You Meet?

Always use the buddy system during a meeting.

If the merit badge subject relates to a job or profession, then the place of work might be the best place to meet with Scouts. Hobby related subjects usually are handled in the home or shop where the hobby is done. Wherever the proper materials for use in coaching Scouts is where the meeting should take place. For a few subjects, coaching will happen in the field or where special equipment is at hand. Rowing, Rifle Shooting, Swimming, and Astronomy are good examples.

How Many at a Time?

Frequently the skills of a subject can be taught to several Scouts at one time. This has a time advantage for the Counselor. However, completing the requirements must always be done on an individual basis. A Scout may not qualify for merit badges by just being a member of a group that is instructed in skills.

Scouts must qualify by personally satisfying their merit badge counselor that they can meet all the requirements. This may be hard to do in a group. When one Scout in a group answers a question, that can’t possibly prove all the other group members know the answer. Then, too, each Scout learns at his own pace. No Scout should be held back or pushed ahead by his association with a group.

Do You Need a Merit Badge Pamphlet?

It’s a good idea to obtain the latest printing of the pamphlet on your subject. It is the starting place for Scouts to work with the knowledge and/or requirements of the merit badge. They also contain suggestions for projects. It will contain the latest requirements and information. The printing date is in each pamphlet. A complete list of merit badge pamphlets is printed on the inside back cover of all pamphlets with the latest revision date of each. By checking this list in any current year’s pamphlet, you can find out whether your pamphlet has been updated. Most pamphlets are reprinted each year, and the contents are updated periodically.

Please take note of the following information:

The requirements in the merit badge pamphlet may NOT be the current ones, even if the pamphlet is current. Please check the requirements listed in the current Boy Scout Requirements Book (No. 33215D), which is issued annually, to verify that you are using the current requirements.

Once the Scout starts working with a merit badge Counselor, if the requirements change, he should continue to use the requirements in effect when the Scout began, unless the SCOUT desires to use the new requirements. However, if he wishes to use the new requirements, he must use ALL of the new requirements. He may not pick and choose a selection from the old and new requirements.

NOTE: Scouts may advance toward the ranks of Star, Life, and Eagle Scout, and earn Eagle Palms, by earning Merit Badges until their 18th birthday.

Information on this page are excerpts from:

If you have suggestions for improvements in the requirements or pamphlet, please send your comments to: Boy Scout Division, Boy Scouts of America, 1325 West Walnut Hill Lane, P.O. Box 152079, Irving, TX 75015-2079.