Merit Badges are one of the best known components of the BSA program. Scouts are able to earn over 130 merit badges in a variety of topics ranging from hobbies, to sports, nature and environment, STEM, scoutcraft, career exploration, and life skills. While merit badges are a requirement for scouts to achieve higher rank advancement, some Scouts may choose to complete Merit Badges just because they are fun and interesting.
Scouts who wish to advance to Star, Life, or perhaps even Eagle Scout need to complete 21 merit badges, of which 13 must come from a list of “Eagle-Required” badges. The Eagle required badges typically cover core Scouting skills like Camping or Cooking, or help Scouts develop leadership and life skills like Personal Management, Communications, and First Aid.
There are a variety of ways Scouts can earn merit badges and there is NO one “right way” to complete the badge, But overall, there is a process for tracking a Scout’s progress on merit badges. The BSA suggests that the scout:
- Determine which badge(s) are interest. Older scouts, the Scoutmaster, parents, and the Advancement Chair are all resources the scout can use to understand the time commitment and available opportunities to complete a particular badge of interest. The scout is encouraged to speak to other scouts to see if there are a few scouts who would like to work together on a badge.
- Review the requirements for the selected badge(s). Scouts are expected to have read the requirements and have a merit badge “workbook” or “worksheet” available to begin work.
- Arrange to speak to the Scoutmaster about his interest and request a “blue card” to begin working on the badge.
- Ask about ways to earn the badge, if not enrolling in a pre-scheduled merit badge program. The Scoutmaster or Advancement Chair can provide a list of local merit badge counselors and/or programs through which the badge can be earned.
- Reach out to the Merit Badge Counselor or review the merit badge program’s pre-requisites and guidelines. Some programs and counselors have specific issues they want to discuss with scouts before the scouts begin work. Different counselors have different standards on what they expect. It is always a good practice to communicate with the counselor (or read the course details) so there are no “do it again” surprises when the work has been completed.
- Work on the requirements. Some requirements can and should be completed through independent study or effort. Others require working with other scouts (carrying skills in First Aid, cooking for a group) or adult supervision (e.g., climbing or shooting). Some counselors ask that scouts check in mid-way, or throughout the program to get credit as you go. Others prefer to meet with scouts only when all requirements are completed to the best of the scout’s ability. Again, check with your counselor — counselors are volunteers, so it is good practice to be respectful of their time and to make it easy for them to mark items complete.
- Meet with a BSA-approved merit badge counselor for that badge. The counselor will review and “sign off” on completion of all the requirements, usually on the physical blue card. Some counselors use various BSA digital systems to document merit badge process. Summer camps often issue reports or spreadsheets for progress for all scouts in a troop. And when physical blue cards are not practical due to timing or the nature of a program (e.g., a virtual program or merit badge university with thousands of scouts), any of the above or an email from the counselor can be accepted.
- Hang onto partial blue cards. When some, but not all, of the requirements of the merit badge have been met, counselors will initial the relevant requirements and the “partial” blue card will be returned to the scout for safekeeping. It is the scout’s responsibility to track his partial blue cards (a binder or the pocket of the Scout Handbook are both good places). The scout can continue to work on requirements until he ages out, and then can take his partial blue card back to any BSA-approved counselor (it does not have to be the same one, and can be a counselor from another council, or even another state). This process can be repeated until the badge is completed.
- Get the final blue card signatures. Once a merit badge counselor has initialed the final requirement and the badge is complete, the counselor should also sign the scout and troop portions of the blue card as complete. The BSA considers the badge to be earned as of this date, if needed for rank advancement. The counselor should keep the “Counselor” portion of the blue card, and the remaining two (or all three, if the counselor has forgotten) should be provided to the Scoutmaster to sign. The scout should then retain the “Applicant” portion of the blue card before turning in the final portion (“Application for Merit Badge”) to the Advancement Chair. If any signatures or dates are missing, the Advancement Chair will work with the scout to ensure the scout has a complete and accurate record of accomplishments.
- Get the badge. Once the Advancement Chair receives the completed blue card, s/he will enter and approve the completed badge into Scoutbook, the BSA’s official online record-keeping system. The date earned will be recorded based on the date of the counselor’s final signature. Parents and scouts are encouraged to check Scoutbook periodically to ensure that completed badges have been recorded and marked as “Approved” (if they are marked as “Completed” but not Approved, they will not be awarded at the next Court of Honor). The physical badges and merit badge certificates will be awarded at the next quarterly Court of Honor. At this point, the badge will be marked as “Awarded” in Scoutbook.
- Keep good records. Advancement Chairs are human and computers can be unreliable. Please keep the Applicant portion of the blue card – at least until you have verified the badge has been properly recorded in Scoutbook and you have received your merit badge certificate. If you are pursuing Eagle scout, you are encouraged to keep all records (blue cards and certificates) until you have completed your Eagle Board of Review, just in case there are any questions about dates or eligibility.
Selecting a Merit Badge
Ways to Earn Merit Badges
Merit badges can be earned in a variety of ways ranging from complete self-study to fully programmed. A scout can begin working on a merit badge any time after joining a troop, based on interest.
A scout is always welcome to work on a badge on his own or with a parent or other friends and/or adults. However, the scout’s accomplishments must be accepted by a BSA Council-approved merit badge counselor. Some counselors will not accept certain requirements completed before the scout has an introductory conversation; others have pre-requisites and/or want to pre-approve certain requirements. So if a scout wishes to work on a badge on his own, the first step is to reach out to the Advancement Chair to get suggestions for merit badge counselors. The Troop maintains a list of active counselors for all the Eagle-required badges, and also can point you in the right direction for Elective badges.
The scout should reach out to the counselor to determine if the counselor is available and what his or her expectations are. For example, some will ask the scout to complete all the requirements on their own and simply to arrange a meeting at the end to demonstrate their accomplishments. For badges requiring activities that are not transportable (e.g., “painting a wall” for Home Repairs, or “participate in a team sport” for Athletics), the merit badge counselor will specify what they accept as proof of this requirement – which could be a photo or video, a letter from a parent or coach, or the scout’s word and written explanation. Merit badge counselors will also specify whether they expect the scout to have read the full merit badge pamphlet or to have completed a merit badge workbook, before any meeting.
NOTE: While many counselors will allow parents to initially make a connection or set up meetings, the ultimate goal is for Scouts to take ownership of their merit badge progress, and to reach out directly to the merit badge counselors – with only a CC to a parent and/or Scoutmaster/Advancement Chair.
Merit Badge Resources
The Boy Scouts of America publishes merit badge pamphlets for each badge. These pamphlets contain the requirements to earn the badge and a wealth of helpful information that will help you to do so. Troop 28 maintains a library with current[/learn_more]
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Parents of Troop 28 Scouts are approved counselors for many of the most popular merit badges. We also have a directory of the adult Scouters in the area who are approved counselors for all merit badges.
Merit Badge Workbooks