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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”