All about earning merit badges

Eleven questions, 120-plus subjects.

Merit badges lie at the heart of the Boy Scout advancement program. Almost every Scout earns at least a few, and a few Scouts earn them all. While merit badges cover a diverse range of subjects, they’re all earned the same way.

Who can sign off on a merit badge? Only a registered merit badge counselor may sign off on a merit badge. He or she must be at least 18 years old, a registered Scouter, and qualified to teach the subject. Counselors must also receive the approval of the council advancement committee.

Can’t Scoutmasters approve badges within their troop? They can, but only if they’re also merit badge counselors. Similarly, a council must have approved a counselor even if he or she only works with Scouts in a single troop.

Are counselors limited to just six badges? No, a council may approve counselors for as many merit badges as they’re qualified to teach.

Is there a limit to how many badges a Scout may earn with one counselor? No, although leaders may encourage Scouts to work with a diverse group of adults.

I’ve heard that merit badge counselors can’t work with their own son. Is that true? No, counselors may counsel their own children. However, it’s a good idea to include other Scouts in the process.

Do Scouts have to earn merit badges in groups? Not exactly. A buddy must accompany a Scout at counseling sessions, but that buddy can be a parent, sibling, or other non-Scout.

How much flexibility do counselors have for interpreting badge requirements? Each Scout must complete the badge requirements exactly as written. For example, if he’s supposed to demonstrate a skill, he can’t just describe it.

Can counselors add to the badge? They can’t add requirements. However, they can offer additional, optional learning opportunities such as a workplace tour or hands-on activity to enhance the experience.

If the requirements in the merit badge pamphlet and Boy Scout Requirements differ, which set should the Scout complete? Scouts should use the requirements in the current edition of Boy Scout Requirements. However, if the requirements change while a Scout is working on a badge, he may complete the badge using the previous requirements.

Are the rules different for summer camp? The same rules apply at summer camp. Staff members under age 18 may assist with instruction, but they can’t serve as merit badge counselors.

Where can I find more information? Reference the “Guide for Merit Badge Counselors”


  1. Please assume these are the facts (And they are.):

    A Scout who is a candidate for a Merit Badge attends six Merit Badge sessions at Summer Camp conducted by a Scout, age 15 or 17.

    The candidate Scout (like all other candidates for that Merit Badge) is tested on one of the twelve requirements for that Merit Badge by the 15-year-old or the 17-year-old Scouts conducting the “sessions”

    The “Blue Card” for that Merit Badge is signed by an adult who spent not a single minute with the candidate Scout. That is the only involvement of an adult in the process.

    My question is this: in what sense and for what purpose(s) has the candidate Scout earned that Merit Badge?

    Yours in Scouting,

    Thomas A. Linton,
    SA, Merit Badge Counselor, and Council Training Committee

    • I am not sure about the quality of the sessions that were conducted, but, in my opinion this is actually how things should run. An older scouts helping a newer scout who is being lead by a qualified adult.
      The adult doesn’t need to actually teach the sessions himself, as long as he is supervising the program and feels certain that the requirements are meet.

    • Procedures for advancement in the camp setting are established by the council advancement committee in compliance with national procedures, and under the direction of the council executive board. The camp director and program director, and the committee responsible for camp program should be included in the process. Resident camp standards require a letter from the council advancement committee approving merit badge counselors; and there are no camp-related exemptions to the rules about who qualifies.

      Per BSA policy, staff members under 18 are not to serve as, or be treated as, merit badge counselors; however, those with subject-matter knowledge may assist qualified and approved counselors with instruction. Classes and activities may take place in group settings, but this must be done in accordance with the procedures described in the BSA Guide to Advancement assuring that only Scouts who actually and personally fulfill requirements receive credit.

      There may be more “behind the scenes” checks and communication between an under-18 instructor and the over-18 councilorin the camp setting that you don’t see… or at least there should be. The “good” camps that I’ve been to has good conselor engagement (both in terms of total over-18 staff members and oversight of any under-18 instructors).

  2. Recently, March 2014 the Knox Trial Council , Framingham, MA held a merit badge college. One of the badges offered was astronomy. In e-mails to me the councilor accused the scouts of lying. While my research showed the councilor was the one mistaken about the subject what I was more disturbed about was the accusation. When I discussed this with the VP for Planning for Knox Trail Council she brushed it off. What futher action can I take? While I do not doubt the councilors’ expertise I am not convinced of his suitability in dealing with young boys. Any feedback would be greatly appreciated.

    • Take it up with your District Executive! He is there to help. We are luck to have a DE that is extremely accessible and helpful!

  3. I had the opposite experience when I was the Medic at a BSA summer camp. In addition to the Medic duties, I also taught First Aid & Emergency Preparedness. I had both an older scout (Who was also an EMT @ 16 years old) teaching some portions of the class.

    I also had a Jr. Counselor 14/15 year old teaching a portion of the First Aid class. The Jr. Counselor and older scout had put together a lesson plan / teaching guide for the entire class, breaking down each requirement and what day we where going to work on them etc…. That booklet is still used at the summer camp to teach the classes.

    I had a Scout leader try to interrupt the class when my Jr. scout was teaching to tell him he was doing it wrong. It became quite a distraction. I was able to pull the leader aside and ask him what the specific issues where.

    It turns out that the adult leader was referencing an outdated Merit Badge book and not the current version. I ended up telling him that if he caused a distraction in the class again I wouldn’t allow him back.

    I don’t see anything wrong with one scout teaching others, in a Boy lead organization. As the adults we should be there to advise, consent, guide as needed. The scouts in class seemed to get more out being taught be peers/school mates better than yet another adult giving them information.

  4. I just finished 2 sessions of railraoding merit badge this past Saturday. As the first scouts finished their train car kit, I would check the car, and then run it on the test track with them. I then asked these Scouts to go back and help some of the other Scouts. I checked each car. This allowed me to spend more time with the vision impaired scout and some of the others who needed even more help. In this case, none of the scout helpers actually signed off on a requirement, nor did they “test” the scout. The only test being a car that ran on the test track.

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