How to master merit badges

Merit badges are an essential part of the Scouts BSA advancement program and key building blocks of troop activities. Every Eagle Scout must earn at least 21 of the small round badges, and it’s the rare Scout who doesn’t earn at least a handful during his first year in Scouting. But for all their familiarity, merit badges can be a source of confusion. Here are several issues that tend to trip up Scouts and leaders alike.

Which requirements must a Scout follow?

Each Scout must complete the requirements found at That site always has the most current requirements, which might differ from those found in the Scout’s merit badge pamphlet or The Scouts BSA Handbook (No. 34554), although those publications are regularly updated.

What happens if the requirements change?

If a Scout has already begun work on a badge, he may either complete it using the requirements he started with or switch to the revised requirements. Note, however, that the National Council occasionally will establish a date after which Scouts can no longer use old requirements. This typically happens if the changes are significant.

What happens if a merit badge is discontinued?

If a Scout has begun actual work on a badge, he may complete it even if it has been discontinued. He may also count it toward rank advancement. Just be aware there’s no guarantee the cloth badge will be available at Scout shops.

Is there a time limit for earning merit badges?

No. A Scout could theoretically start a given badge the day he joins Scouting and finish it the day before his 18th birthday.

Can a Scout work with more than one counselor on a single merit badge?

Yes. This is often the case when a Scout starts a badge at summer camp or a merit badge fair and finishes it with a counselor back home. The Application for Merit Badge (No. 34124, better known as the blue card) has a section where multiple counselors can initial requirements that have been completed.

Is there a limit to how many badges a Scout can earn from one counselor?

The National Council doesn’t set a limit, but the unit leader may do so, as long as that limit applies to all members of the unit. It’s certainly permissible to encourage Scouts to seek out a variety of counselors, including those beyond their own unit.

Is there a limit to the number of badges a counselor can counsel?

The National Council doesn’t set a limit, but local councils may do so, as long as that doesn’t pose a barrier to advancement. Keep in mind that a counselor must have the skills and education needed to adequately counsel each subject. In a few cases, such as with aquatics and shooting-sports merit badges, counselors must have special certifications; these are outlined in the Guide to Advancement (No. 33088). The guide also provides policies and procedures for merit badges and counselors.

Are Scoutmasters automatically permitted to counsel any merit badges?

No. Like other volunteers, unit leaders must register as counselors and submit the Merit Badge Counselor Information Form (No. 34405) to the district or council advancement committee.

1 Comment

  1. I took Scoutmaster training during summer camp a few years ago. During the training the instructor stated that as a Scoutmaster I can sign off that a Scout has completed the merit badge, but not act as a councilor unless I and registered for that badge. I’m just wondering if this is true? We are lacking in Merit Badge Counclors in my District, and this puts an undue hardyon the Scout if the badge isn’t completed at summer camp, or a merit badge college.

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