Guide for Merit Badge Counselors

For more information, consult the Guide for Merit Badge Counseling, No. 34532.

To learn more about the merit badge program, click here to go to section 7 of the Guide to Advancement.

The merit badge counselor is a key player in the BSA advancement program. Whatever your area of expertise or interest—whether it is a special craft or hobby (basketry, leatherwork, coin collecting), a profession (veterinary medicine, aviation, engineering), or perhaps a life skill (cooking, personal management, communications)—as a merit badge counselor, you can play a vital role in stirring a young Scout’s curiosity about that particular topic. By serving as a merit badge counselor, you offer your time, knowledge, and other resources so that Scouts can explore a topic of interest.

If you are not yet a merit badge counselor, it is easy to become a volunteer. You will need to register with the Boy Scouts of America, through your BSA local council. This entails contacting the local council, then obtaining, completing, and turning in the “Adult Application.” The council will then process the application. (Every applicant is screened.)

In order to register, merit badge counselors are expected to complete BSA Youth Protection. This training can be done through the BSA’s Online Learning Center. The BSA seeks to create a safe environment for young people and adult leaders to enjoy the program and related activities. BSA Youth Protection training helpspreserve that environment.

Understanding the Scouting Program

The Scouting program emphasizes helping young men develop character, citizenship, and mental and physical fitness. Among the handful of methods used to build on these aims of Scouting are adult association, leadership development, and advancement.

Besides parents and relatives, school teachers, religious leaders, and possibly coaches, most Scout-age youth don’t have much contact with many other adults or professionals. A Scout’s association with his merit badge counselors provides an excellent way for him to grow and gain confidence through exposure to quality adults who serve as positive role models and mentors. Meeting people from business and community leaders to trained specialists and enthusiastic hobbyists, a Scout can experience personal growth and a positive life-altering experience while in pursuit of a merit badge.

The BSA at a Glance

Since its founding in 1910, the BSA has maintained its purpose and mission to prepare youth to become responsible, participating citizens and leaders. Throughout the years, the Scout Oath and Law have served as the guiding light for BSA youth members.

To help carry out its mission, the BSA relies on nearly 300 local councils. These service centers operate autonomously, sort of like franchises. Every local council has its own support staff and operates under the guidance of a Scout executive. To more efficiently serve its members, the local council is divided into districts, which are managed by district executives. The district executive serves as the grassroots contact between the local council and its volunteers.


Scout Oath

On my honor I will do my best to do my duty to God and my country and to obey the Scout Law; to help other people at all times; to keep myself physically strong, mentally awake, and morally straight.

Scout Law

A Scout is trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean, and reverent.

A Merit Badge Counselor Is …

As a merit badge counselor, your mission is to join fun with learning. You are both a teacher and mentor as the Scout works on a merit badge and learns by doing. Your hands-on involvement could inspire a Scout to develop a lifelong hobby, pursue a particular career, or become an independent, self-supporting adult.

A Scout first expresses an interest in a particular merit badge by letting his or her unit leader know. To get the Scout started, the leader gives him or her a signed Application for Merit Badge (blue card) along with the name and contact information for a district/council approved merit badge counselor. The Scout then contacts the merit badge counselor and makes an appointment. The merit badge counselor sets a date and time to meet with the Scout and his or her buddy, and may suggest the Scout bring the merit badge pamphlet along with the blue card.

The blue card is the nationally recognized merit badge record. This tool makes the recordkeeping easier for the Scout, the merit badge counselor, and the unit leader. At summer camp, a Scout may receive partial credit for completion of a merit badge on the blue card, which goes to the Scoutmaster at week’s end. Back home, the Scout would need to contact a merit badge counselor for assistance with completing the rest of the requirements.

At the first meeting, the Scout and his or her merit badge counselor review and set expectations for completing the requirements. In some cases, the Scout may share with the merit badge counselor the work he or she has already started or accomplished. As the merit badge counselor, you and the Scout work out a tentative schedule for completing the merit badge. You should consider both short-term and long-term goals, keeping other obligations (school, Scouting, sports, and so on) in mind, and set dates, times, and a location for future meetings. The number of meetings will depend on the difficulty of the requirements and the preparation and ability of the Scout. Remember, the Scout must always have a buddy with him or her at these meetings.

Your duty is to be satisfied that each Scout who comes to you meets all the requirements for the merit badge you are coaching. You do this by helping Scouts overcome the different hurdles of the requirements and making them aware of the deeper aspects of the subject through their learning experience. You may tell about your own experiences to help positively reinforce the subject matter. However, you may not tack on new requirements or extra work. While you may guide and instruct a Scout on the subject matter, he or she must do the work himself.

As each requirement is completed, you will test the Scout individually, with his or her buddy present. Update the blue card as the Scout completes each requirement. When the young Scout has completed all the requirements, you sign off on the card and the Scout returns the completed card to his or her unit leader.

You may wish to seek additional training from your local council/district on local policies and procedures for merit badge counselors.

Summer Camp Merit Badge Counselors

The same qualifications and rules for merit badge counselors apply to council summer camp merit badge programs. All merit badge counselors must be at least 18 years of age. Camp staff members under age 18 may assist with instruction but cannot serve in the role of the merit badge counselor.

The merit badge counselor assesses the Scout’s knowledge to ensure he or she has completed all the required work—no more, and no less. You may not add to, delete from, or modify the merit badge requirements in any way.

Helpful Hints

Here are some simple tips that every merit badge counselor should keep in mind.

  • Make the Scout feel welcome and relaxed.
  • Stimulate the Scout’s interest by showing him something related to the merit badge subject, but don’t overwhelm the Scout; remember, he or she is probably a beginner.
  • Carefully review each requirement, start with easy skills or questions, and encourage practice.
  • Insist that the Scout do exactly what the requirements specify. Many of the requirements involve hands-on activities that call for a Scout to show or demonstrate; make; list; discuss; or collect, identify, and label—and he or she must do just that.
  • Don’t make the requirement more difficult—or any easier—than stated. A Scout may undertake more activities on his or her own initiative, but the Scout cannot be pushed to do so.
  • During testing, the Scout might need help in a particular area or with a certain skill, and may need to be retested later to ensure the requirement has been fulfilled.
  • Encourage self-evaluation and self-reflection, and establish an atmosphere that encourages the Scout to ask for help.
  • Take a genuine interest in the Scout’s projects, and encourage completion.


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