Getting schooled on rules for merit badge classes, fairs and universities

Merit badge classes, fairs and universities allow Scouts to pursue several badges in one day or weekend, often working with highly qualified counselors in unique settings. However, organizers and unit leaders must make sure Scouts and counselors aren’t taking shortcuts to boost badge counts.

Is group instruction permitted?

Yes. It’s acceptable and even desirable at times. However, each Scout must actually and personally complete each requirement before the counselor signs off.

What does ‘actually and personally’ mean?

Each Scout must complete the requirements as written. If a requirement says “show,” the Scout can’t just watch a demonstration; if a requirement says “discuss,” the Scout can’t just listen to a discussion without participating.

Who can teach in a group setting?

All instruction must be overseen by an adult member of the BSA who is registered as a merit badge counselor, approved for the specific badge and current in Youth Protection Training. However, it’s OK to use guest instructors, speakers and other volunteers to facilitate learning.

Is group instruction better for certain badges?

The approach works best when the benefits are compelling. Factors could include strong interest from Scouts in a subject area, access to counselors who might not otherwise be available or availability of special resources that could enhance the learning experience. The Rifle Shooting merit badge is a good example: It’s popular, requires a specially trained counselor and must be earned at a rifle range.

How big may merit badge classes be?

There’s no set limit, but the preference is for smaller groups, perhaps no larger than a patrol in size. Larger groups are feasible if qualified instructors are assigned to subgroups to ensure Scouts receive individual attention.

What about requirements that can’t be completed in a group setting?

It’s perfectly acceptable — and even preferable — for a Scout to leave a merit badge event with only some requirements completed. He or she can then work individually with a counselor to finish the requirements. The class should focus on requirements that work best in a group setting.

Can an event have prerequisites?

Yes. You could also simply tell Scouts which requirements they must do either before or after the event. Note that in a few cases, like requirement 1 of the Lifesaving merit badge, requirements must be done beforehand.

How do counselors ensure prerequisites have been met?

If the actual work done can’t be brought to the event, pictures and letters from other merit badge counselors or unit leaders are the best forms of documentation.

What should I do if I have concerns about a merit badge event?

See section 11.1.0.0 of the Guide to Advancement.

Where can I learn more?

Group instruction is covered in section 7.0.3.2 of the Guide to Advancement. Members of the National Advancement Program Team have developed a Merit Badge Group Instruction Guide.

21 Comments

  1. It is about time this guide is brought to light. I have seen many group clases that short cut requirements and do not test each scout on each requirement. This happens frequently at summer camps.

  2. Please address merit badge instruction at summer camp for the dozen or so merit badges that are common to all camps. I have found that most badges that are instruction only are taught with group instruction and group answers. This does not apply to most requirements for waterfront, shooting sports, etc..

    • I am an Eagle Scout who served on my local council’s Summer Camp Staff for 5 seasons about 30 years ago. During my time on the Camp Staff, I gave instruction on quite a few Summer Camp merit badges. In regards to merit badge instruction at Summer Camp, I went through every requirement for the merit badge in a class with the scouts over the course of the week. Whenever the merit badge offered a selection of options to be completed, I selected the ones that could most easily be completed while at camp. If a scout chose to fulfill a different optional requirement, than the ones I was providing instruction on, that was also acceptable, so long as it fulfilled the requirement. I will attest that in all cases each individual scout had to provide evidence to me in some manner that they had fulfilled each requirement as written in the most recently published merit badge book at that time. I never gave away a merit badge. I gave out many “partials” during my 5 years on the staff. I also awarded many “completions”. Merit Badges represent an achievement of skill and/or knowledge and must be earned, otherwise the badge becomes meaningless piece of cloth. In addition to Summer Camp Staff, I have also served as a regular merit badge counselor and I apply the same rule when I meet with a scout and their parent(s) — The scout has to provide evidence to me (as the MB Counselor) that they have fulfilled the requirements of the merit badge. If not, I work with the scout until the requirement has been satisfactorily fulfilled.

  3. I assume all the same rules should apply to merit badges taught at Scout camp. I know of many instances where “All instruction must be overseen by an adult member of the BSA who is registered as a merit badge counselor, approved for the specific badge” is done very loosely with teenagers teaching, as well as verifying “each Scout must actually and personally complete each requirement” rather than just being there semi-awake.

  4. Too bad that so many group events do NOT follow the rule about each Scout completing each tequirement exactly as written, actually and personally with a counselor. Too many group events are little more than merit badge mills (including summer camp).

  5. I struggle with scouts who have completed the booklets but do not know the answers. For example: they explain the 3 branches of government in writing but do not have a clue when questioned. They have simply copied the answers from the Citizenship in the Nation merit badge pamphlet. Where do you draw the line for completing requirements.

    • Easy answer…These are the key words for MANY requirements … “explain to your counselor”

      Explain to your counselor is NOT write it down on the worksheet and turn that in like homework. The scout MUST have a verbal discussion with the MB counselor to explain whatever the requirement is.

      I will allow the scouts to have the worksheets and treat it like an open book test…but they cannot read to me word for word what is on the worksheet. If they do, my next question to them is .. “So what does that mean?”

  6. There are way to many MB Colleges being held today and often with MBs that should NOT be done in a Class setting. A Scout should not be able to reach Eagle Scout by just attending MB Colleges and Summer Camp to earn all the MBs. Many of the Eagle Required MBs like Citizenship MBs, Communications, Personal Fitness, Personal Management, Family Life should never be done in a classroom setting but yet I see them offered.

    One example I see for an upcoming MB College. Scout attends a total of 12 hrs of classroom sessions (over a couple of weekends) and could walk away with 2 Eagle Required MBs and a 3rd MB.

    Don’t get me wrong,
    – Some MBs like the Trades MBs are perfect for a MB College.
    – Summer Camp is great for getting many MBs with Aquatics, Crafts, Nature, Shooting, Pioneering.
    – Holding an event which is designed to meet a couple of MB requirements but leaving the Scout to work with a MB Counselor they individually reach out to in order to complete all other Requirements for the MB would work (i.e. Emergency Preparedness 7.Do the following:(a)Take part in an emergency service project, either a real one or a practice drill, with a Scouting unit or a community agency.)

    But the upcoming MB College has a total of 24 MBs that Scouts could sign up for. 6 of which are Eagle Required MBs, but none of those 6 really should be done in a classroom setting.
    American Heritage; Aviation; Chess; Citizenship in Community; Citizenship in Nation; Citizenship in World; Coin Collecting;
    Communications; Digital Technology; Disability Awareness; Drafting; Energy; Engineering; Family Life; Landscape Arch;
    Nuclear Science; Oceanography; Personal Management; Photography; Public Speaking; Space Exploration; Sustainability;
    Textiles; Weather

    • As a counselor for the Citizenship MBs, I respectfully disagree. I have taught The Citizenship in the World at a MB weekend. The registration materials said that there were prerequisites to be done before the class. I required each scout to talk about them, and if they had not done the required homework, they didn’t get signed off. I did offer them the option of setting up a meeting where we could discuss the items they hadn’t previously done. Only 1 scout didn’t fulfill the prerecs and didn’t get the badge that day. Most of them were well prepare with their homework, and eager to learn the rest.

  7. I like the clarification that “it’s OK to use guest instructors, speakers and other volunteers to facilitate learning”. I used to hold an Aviation Merit Badge Day at the airport along with the EAA, pilots, mechanics, Aviation Explorers, etc. and we would have 100 kids broken up into a number of smaller groups moving from station to station. But we were told we could not do it that way because I was the only Aviation MB Counselor and I could only do a max of 10 students. Therefore, I would need 10 MB Counselors. We only had 3 in the entire Council. I stopped doing them all together. And then I was told that specific requirements had to be done as “prerequisites” even though we had a specific station for those requirement. It was a shame that we had to stop, but it became to burdensome as all the scouts were able to fly in a plane that day and learn all about the aviation field.

    • If you are organizing a Merit Badge Skill Center, it is up to you how the merit badge will be presented and taught. If you want to require prerequisites, that’s your choice, if not, that’s your choice as well. If you want to use guest instructors that too is your choice. A prerequisite is simply advance work on one or more requirements that will not be covered and fulfilled during the skill center. In order to complete the merit badge, the scout has to show that counselor that they have fulfilled all requirements, including those not presented in the skill center, in order to complete the merit badge. Otherwise the scout gets a “partial” — credit for those requirements that they did complete, but not a completed merit badge. “Partials” can be completed at a later date by fulfilling the remaining requirements. Guest instructors may teach merit badge skills, but only a registered and approved MB counselor for that badge may review a scout and “sign off” on (award) a merit badge.

  8. I agree that some scouts “game” the system to get as many merit badges as they can….without actually getting any thing out of the merit badge other than signed off. I am a MB counselor for astronomy, cycling, and fly fishing. Most of my scouts come to me through the astronomy MB. Many think that simply sitting for a couple of classes will be sufficient. There are several things they have to do alone such as plotting and observing the phgases of the moon, plan an observing sessions and documenting it, identify some bright stars and constellations. It is very easy to see which scouts had someone else rush them through. All I have to do is ask them to identify and show me any bright star by name….or which planets are up now. Sadly many scouts with the MB fail at this simple “test”.
    That being said…..I don’t want to make it impossible to achieve the MB as that would kill their interest in a possible future hobby or even profession. When they struggle with one partial….,that is where the counselor comes in to assist them.
    But there are some things that you have to stand strong on. My own son (now aged out of scouting and an Eagle Scout) went for the Fly Fishing merit badge. He was able to accomplish all the partials except catching a fish before he aged out. So that was one MB he didn’t get credit for. You HAVE to stick to the requirements or it lets the scouts take the easy way out. When the do complete everything the accomplishment is REAL.
    My son also completed the personal fitness MB with 90 days of swimming 6/10ths of a mile everyday and keeping track of time and distance improvements. He also combined with cycling, walking, and kayaking. I couldn’t believe how committed he was to his goals. Even the lifeguards at the pool were impressed with his hard work. He says that was challenging but very proud of what he was able to do. That is an example of what achieving a MB should result in……a sense of real accomplishment….not just checking off the boxes.
    And yes my son completed the Astronomy MB…..and now belongs to 3 astronomy clubs. That is what the MB program is good for….exposing scouts to new skills, knowledge, civic responsibilities, and future hobbies and even their own profession.

  9. In reading this article, I wonder why merit badge counselors have to sign up every year but Youth Protection is every two. Seems like both should be every year. Maybe at the same time. How merit badges are supposed to be taught does not take up more that two paragraphs so everyone working with scouts would know how merit badges are supposed be taught in all settings and be reminded every year!

  10. I disagree with the blanket statements that some MBs can’t be taught in a class setting, such as the Citizenships and Communications. A good MBC can combine the requirements in a combination of discussion (actively involving every scout) with homework and presentation. It takes some extra work and planning, but seems worth it.

    • Sorry Mark but I completely disagree with you. This has nothing to do with a “good MBC”. This has everything to do with the fact these are Eagle Required MBs and you cannot possibly involve a “class” of 10-12 scouts in a group discussion on every single, separate requirement.

      Citizenship in the Nation
      7 – Name the three branches of our federal government and explain to your counselor their functions. Explain how citizens can be involved in each branch. Explain the importance of our checks and balances system. Describe how each branch “checks” and “balances” the others.

      Scout #1 names the 3 branches. Scouts 2-12 just nod their heads and get credit?

      Scout #1 gives 1 branch, Scout 2 gives 2nd branch, Scout 3 gives 3rd branch. Scouts 1, 2 & 3 each get a partial and scouts 4-12 did nothing.

      Sure you can try to involve all 12 scouts in a discussion about how citizens can be involve and what the checks and balances are…but they are all only partially answering the requirement.

      Meeting the MB Requirements is NOT just attending a Class and getting a pass on Class Participation. If that was the case, just sign the history teachers up and pass anyone who took their class (I’ve hear this suggested before too.)

  11. Dale Bitsch said: Guest instructors may teach merit badge skills, but only a registered and approved MB counselor for that badge may review a scout and “sign off” on (award) a merit badge.
    How would one know that the person signing of the merit badge is registered and approved to “sign off” on (award) a merit badge?

  12. One of the primary roles of the district advancement chair is to maintain the list of merit badge counselors. Every Sm is given that list annually in our district. Some councils do it by council. Some councils do not care and leave it up to the troop to monitor counselors – especially the more rural areas. Ask your district executive what is expected in your area.

    • If the information that is on the blue card is entered in electronic advancement. After a scout has turned in a blue card to the scout master after a merit badge university. Wouldn’t the name of the merit badge counselor be entered as well as the name of the scout? Then the computer would verify that the merit badge is trained and approved by the council or district advancement committee to train and sign off that badge. Then it is not necessary that anyone know if a merit badge counselor is trained and approved by the council or district advancement committee, since it will be verified? Is this what happens?

  13. Great guild line. I would agree with most everyone (if not everyone). Summer Camps are the worst offenders of this policy. I won’t comment on the reasoning. I’m sure everyone can figure that one out on their own.

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