MB-top20

The 20 most (and least) earned merit badges of 2011

What were the hottest merit badges last year?

I’ve got the answer. Maybe.

So first, a caveat: The friendly folks at the Supply Division tell me there’s no way to determine exact numbers of merit badges earned. That info is tracked by troops — not the National Council.

That said, by examining sales figures, we can get some idea which badges sold more than others in 2011. I’m thinking that if a Scouter buys a merit badge emblem in a Scout Shop or at ScoutStuff.org, chances are good that a Scout recently earned the badge.

After examining the 2011 sales list, here’s what I’ve come up with for the 20 top-selling merit badges of 2011:

  1. First Aid*
  2. Swimming*
  3. Environmental Science*
  4. Citizenship in the World*
  5. Citizenship in the Nation*
  6. Camping*
  7. Communication*
  8. Citizenship in the Community*
  9. Personal Fitness*
  10. Family Life*
  11. Personal Management*
  12. Rifle Shooting
  13. Fingerprinting
  14. Emergency Preparedness*
  15. Leatherwork
  16. Wilderness Survival
  17. Wood Carving
  18. Archery
  19. Canoeing
  20. Fishing

Conclusions:

  • Each of the top 11 and 12 of the top 20 are required for Eagle (marked with an asterisk above).
  • Summer camps typically teach the eight on this list that aren’t Eagle-required.
  • The top three are both Eagle-required and taught at most summer camps.
  • Scouts have embraced technology (with their excitement for cool new merit badges like Inventing and Robotics), but they’re still enjoying “classics” such as Rifle Shooting, Leatherwork, Archery, and Fishing.

What about the other end of the list?

There are no bad merit badges — as far as I’m concerned, they’re all great. But there are some that aren’t earned as often as others, for a variety of reasons.

Adult leaders, I challenge you to add a positive spin to the “bottom 20″ by encouraging your Scouts to earn one of the “20 rarest merit badges” the BSA offers.

Here’s the 20 rarest merit badges of 2011, starting with the rarest:

  1. Bugling
  2. American Business
  3. American Labor
  4. Stamp Collecting
  5. Surveying
  6. Drafting
  7. Landscape Architecture
  8. Journalism
  9. Public Health
  10. Entrepreneurship
  11. Skating
  12. Dog Care
  13. Truck Transportation
  14. American Cultures
  15. Insect Study
  16. Gardening
  17. Model Design
  18. Plant Science
  19. Farm Mechanics
  20. Composite Materials

Conclusion:

  • Many of these require highly specialized merit badge instructors, so be sure to share your expertise with your troop if you work in one of these fields — professional buglers, I’m talking to you.

What conclusions do you draw from these lists? Did anything surprise you? Leave your thought below.

79 thoughts on “The 20 most (and least) earned merit badges of 2011

  1. I would have thought that with all of the fundraising activities troops do that’s centered around sales (Christmas tree lots, for example) that salesmanship would have been in the top 20.

  2. If you remove the ones that are required for Eagle (since going for Eagle skews the numbers in favor of those Merit Badges), what then are the top 20?

    Since Chess was just added, was it included in the sales figures? What’s the time frame of the above sales?

    The Statistician in me needs to know. :)

    • Great questions, Michael. Here’s the top 20 without the Eagle required ones:
      Rifle Shooting, Fingerprinting, Leatherwork, Wilderness Survival, Woodcarving, Archery, Canoeing, Fishing, Art, Mammal Study, Indian Lore, Shotgun Shooting, Climbing, Geocaching, Cooking, Space Exploration, Aviation, Geology, Basketry, Pioneering.

      • Hmmm those look very familiar…oh, scout camp. I think us as adult leaders (committees, districts, and councils) need to come up with ways to use the other MB’s and give our scouts a greater chance to expand their horizon.

        As others have mentioned down the list of comments, we need to partner more with our local businesses and contacts. I know our local university offers clinics for robotics and archaeology.

        • Yeah, I was going to ask, “if you take out merit badges offered at camp, what are the top 20.”

          I whizzed through so many merit badges by leaving one session open and cranking out “do on your own time” badges during that time.

  3. I thought the bugling merit badge was merged with the music merit badge and was no longer available on its own.

    My conclusion–we do a good job with badges at summer camps and merit badge pow-wows, but we could do better getting individual scouts to go directly to counselors for badges without it being part of some bigger group program.

      • What are the requirements to be the counselor for Bugling? I was told the counselor has to have been a bugler for their troop when they were a scout. Is this true? This would mean no woman can ever be the counselor.
        There is a scout in my sons troop that is the troop bugler and wants to earn the badge but has searched the state looking for a counselor and has had no luck. Is this why very few scouts earn it?

        • If you look in the Guide to Advancement, it lists the few merit badges that require some qualifications for the counselor. I haven’t seen anything on bugler there. You should be able to register as merit badge counselor.

  4. No real surprises here, except that Atomic Energy was not in the bottom 20. My conclusion is that perhaps councils and districts need to do more outreach to their local business and professional community to ask them to share their expertise in the “under-served” badges.

      • Great idea. I assume there are limitations on organizations donating money for events. I’ve often thought it would be great to seek monetary assistance for events but have never researched the restrictions etc. Do you have a link?

        • I don’t have specific information about guidelines for corporate sponsorship. Maybe Bryan can point us to this? I know from attending that particular event, that the companies who donate are invited to come in and display some of their technology during a ‘career fair’ the first day of the event. Several of the donor companies also encourage their employees to register as counselors, and make their facilities available for tours the second day of the event. The lead sponsor even gets their logo on the sleeve of the event T-Shirt.

      • Looks like a nice event, but the overwhelming majority of those badges listed could not possibly be earned in one day. I’m hoping this is a “get started” event…

        • My son’s troop goes to this event. They work on 2 badges. It’s 2 Saturdays with pre-work they have to bring with them. One day is field trips and one day is class work.

    • I know of a summer camp that teaches Atomic Energy – they even include a tour of a local nuclear plant. Given the number of nuclear plants in the US, I would think it a wonderful thing if more Summer Camps offered this program.

      • These are all great ideas. There is a nuclear energy plant near our summer camps in northern Illinois. Perhaps the Blackhawk Area Council should research the feasibility of offering the Atomic Energy merit badge at our summer camps.

      • Pipsico Scout Reservation in Surry, Virginia offers the Atomic Energy Merit Badge with a trip to the Surry Nuclear Power Plant. The camp has a wonderful program with an actual Historic Archeological site from the 1600′s.

  5. According to this unofficial list, my son has almost earned the rarest merit badge for 2011: Bugling. He took the class at Winter Camp in December, and now just has to be his troop’s bugler for 3 months. Lol.

  6. I think they tried to dump Bugling last year, but there was a huge outcry for the traditionalists within Scouting, and for the fact tat it was in the original 1910 list, that National decided to NOT fight that fight.

    Nice to see that Scuba Diving isn’t in the bottom 20 also.

    What about Fly fishing? I had heard that that one was considered sort of a dud, and might be dropped.

    • I know this is an old post, just read it with Bryan’s top 12 blog posts email. SCUBA is becoming a popular badge in our Troop as we send Scouts to Sea Base for SCUBA live aboard adventures. One of the summer camps we use (Blue Ridge Scout Reservation in VA) offers it at their Claytor Lake facility. In the past 3 years we’ve had probably 20 Scouts earn it. It’s only been a badge for 3 years or so. I think it was added in 2010.

  7. I would LOVE to see a merit badge fair with the focus being “think out of the box”. Yes, everyone knows the Eagle-required, and they’re always offered, but there are a bunch of fun ones, badges that encourage the boys to learn something totally new, something that might pique their interest towards a new career option in the future. My sons went to the same Boy scout camp two years in a row, and we were unhappy to see that the list for merit badges was exactly the same as the year before. When you factor in the scheduling of the badges, sometimes it restricts the boys. I will suggest this at our next committee meeting, take the bottom 40 or so, find counselors, and make our own merit badge fair with unusual badges.

    • So throw your troop a Spree between Christmas and New Year’s. Field trips are easy, and professionals around you may have time to guide you. You need to charge your Scouts a small fee. I have found that if parents pay for the privilege, Scouts tend to show up. Plan ahead, scour for counselors, and make a schedule. Last year, Theater included a trip to the Christmas Carol at the big theater downtown with reduced ticket prices: large group and Scouts in uniform. Lots of ways to get the lesser earned badges on your Troop sashes. I adore going to the local store and buying 12 of the Composite Materials. I always get asked,”What did you do?” I found a bunch of professionals locally that enjoy teaching! Plan ahead. It is so rewarding!

  8. My son is not yet in Boy Scouts, he is a Webelos II but he has started on learning to play the trumpet. He told me one of the first merit badges he wants to earn is the Bugling one. He thinks that it is important that each troop have their own bugler so that they have their wake up calls when they are camping.

  9. I have to think that part of buglings low rate last year was because people thought it was dropped. And yes, loooong after it was announced it was reinstated.

    Outside of that, with his partial list, I see a lot of emphasis on eagle requireds overloading the need of youth to try new things so they can learn and experience things and grow through the merit badge program.

  10. Roughly half of the “bottom 20″ are linked to a career field. Perhaps there’s an opportunity here to emphasize another aspect of Scouting; equipping the boys with life skills, not just outdoors skills. Partnering with local professional organizations could be a real win-win for communities.

  11. In my opinion, Skating Merit badge is not popular because it’s too hard. I was a skating merit badge counselor. Skating merit badge has one requirement for ice skating that is extremely difficult. Requirement 2-D-1: Perform a forward shoot-the-duck until you’re nearly stopped. Rise while still on one foot.

    My troop had a skating night with the hopes of completing this merit badge. We had some very experienced skaters in our group and even they couldn’t perform this maneuver. The only person who pulled off that requirement was the younger sister of one of our scouts…who was a trained figure skater.

  12. my son earned plant science and graphic arts last year. He was told that they were two of the rarest badges. he’ll be disappointed to know graphic arts didn’t make the rarest list.

  13. Let’s be honest guys….. Most of the merit badges in the bottom 20 are frankly boring to the boys. The requirements read like an assignment from school. Unless the boys know someone directly involved in them, I hardly think they would even give them a second glance. this is not to say they wouldn’t find them interesting once they started, but its getting them to even consider taking them up that is the issue.

    As a merit badge counselor for the Eagle required Citizen Badges, I can tell you that most boys only do those because they are Eagle required. I am also a counselor for Scout Heritage, and only one boy ever approached me for it and he basically stalled on it because he found it boring. If you look at the list of the top 20 without the Eagle required badges, most either seem to have a sense of adventure to them, are fun, or are easily covered at camp.

    • A professional organzation in the DFW area recently sponsored a workshop for the Composite Materials merit badge. The biggest challenge for this badge is the requirement to do two projects. One of the projects the Scouts did was to make a composite hiking staff! They think it is very cool that they have a Kevlar or Carbon Fiber staff! Thanks to the partnership with the professional society, all materials are donated (which can’t be cheap) and professionals volunteer their time. It was a great workshop!

  14. Well I guess im helping out with the rare list. Im teaching the drafting merit badge at a merit badge madness weekend camp at the end of march. Nice to teach something you do at work every day

  15. At many eagle courts that I have attended, the new eagle gets a wall hanging that contains many of the badges that he has earned. If this were a common practice, it would skew the sales of both eagle required and possible some of the other popular badges.

  16. So, when a badge is dropped, it’s based on sales and not on a lack of scouts earning it? Years ago, I read in, I think Scouting Magazine, that when less than X number of scouts (500…1,000, can’t recall in my addled brain this morning) earn a badge for 3 years in a row, it gets dropped by National. Maybe I didn’t read it if National doesn’t actually track earned badge figures.

  17. The truth is youth are pushed to work on the required merit badges ( which is the efficient method ) and then take some other easy, fun ones at summer camp. To earn Eagle a youth only needs 21 merit badges. I live near Houston, Texas and some of the Engineering and Petro-Chemical Corporations offer merit badge days as a Public Relations idea and to help Scouts. Unfortunately the youth very rarely have the opportunity to take career type merit badges like Law, Dentistry, Veterinary Medicine, etc. I remember as a youth I had the opportunity to take some unpopular merit badges Reading, Coin Collecting, Railroading, Painting, Animal Industry, and Architecture because there were counselors near my house and I thought they were easy and wanted a full merit badge sash. You would think that merit badges like Energy, Nuclear Science, Space Exploration, Astronomy, and Computers would be in the top 20 non-Eagle merit badges. The youth like action / sports-type merit badges but some of the requirements are so time consuming the youth get turned off. How about a Leadership merit badge or Political Science merit badge.

    • I disagree, Ron. They may not have the opportunity to attend a merit badge fair, but trust me, if they call Legal Aid and tell them they want to interview a lawyer, they’ll have no problem finding someone to talk about their profession. The same with a Vet’s Office or Dentist. ESPECIALLY in a city as big as Houston, they should be able to easily seek out professionals. Part of the merit badge process is contacting them and making the arrangements. While I think merit badge clinics and summer camp can be a good thing, they should not constitute the whole of a Scout’s experience.

      • I remember doing this with my brother in Cub Scouts. We called the local radio station and asked a question about communications. The guy was really thrilled to be talking with a scout about his job.

    • Bryan answered this, Cooking was in the top 20 non-Eagle required merit badges. Of course, it’s fun and easy and offered at summer camp.

  18. Having experts come and speak at a Troop Meeting will help energize the youth about that persons work or avocation. Everyone likes outside speakers. The youth might not pass the merit badge associated with this but they learn some valuable information about jobs for life.

  19. As a counselor for American Cultures (and a few other merit badges) I would encourage anyone with expertise in an underrespresented area to take the challenge to step up to the plate. I offered this badge in the local troop as a sort of “mini-merit badge university” and there were LOTS of enthusiastic takers and one very gratified counselor!
    For what it’s worth: as I look at my merit badge sash, I realize that I earned not only some “historic” badges (Signaling, for instance) but also some that were not all that common at the time: my first merit badge was Corn Farming, and I was a city kid. Fruit and Nut Growing was one of my most enjoyable.
    The take-home lesson: EVERY badge is the chance to learn something that will serve you later and enrich your life. If you are a Scout, earn a broad selection of badges. If you are a Scouter, encourage that pattern.
    Phil Webber
    Eagle Scout since 1959

  20. Hey Bryan-

    Is there any discussion on them bringing back the 4 special merit badges from 2010? I don’t know a Scout that didn’t try to earn them all – and everyone had fun with them.

  21. Looks like this was a very popular post. Surprised and not surprised to not see Lifesaving – a tough one but a good one. We have a good number of merit badge colleges in Texas; if there’s a good teacher, a merit badge will get a reputation and Scouts may flock to it (Electronics and Law were 2 hits this year). I tell Scouts that they should consider Law and/or Medicine because there’s a good chance that (i) they’ll enter a related field, and (ii) there will be an attorney or M.D. on their Eagle board. Fingerprinting and Basketry impresses no one and I always recommend a Scout select something (anything) else for Camp or a Merit Badge College. Other than required merit badges, I think a Scout should take merit badges from a variety of program areas at Camp (but I’m not a big fan of handicraft), and I’m biased towards the Scoutcraft program area. If you’re in a big enough city call your local Bar Association and see if they’ll put together a Law merit badge day (might try your State Bar to see if they’ll put together a program that local Bars can use). I’m thinking about doing that while trying to get a major local hospital to run a Medicine merit badge clinic and having a “Doctors versus Lawyers Challenge” – see who can put on the biggest program with the most merit badge completions.

  22. Bugling is likely so rare because it takes so long to properly learn the calls. My son went through 10 months of lessons to earn it.

    What I see (excepting Eagle) is that many of the badges that take a real commitment are foregone in favor of ones that can be given (sometimes earned) at camp. I don’t think they’re boring so much as they actually require some measurable work. Kudos to the boys who choose badges where they’ll actually learn something.

  23. I was hoping that I’d have at least one of the bottom 20 merit badges so that I could brag, but alas, I don’t.

    I’m sad to see Entrepreneurship in the bottom.. What an amazing badge! I wish I’d have gotten that when I was in Scouts.

  24. My son just earned the brand new Welding MB and loved it. It was offered during the Texas State Technical College Merit Badge College in Waco. Top notch!

    As a kid I remember wanting to earn the Plumbing merit badge, but I never finished it.

  25. Texas,Texas A&M,Baylor all have great Merrit Badge Colleges. My son had a great time at all three. And was able to get some hard to find merrit badges. Law,Inventing,Scupture. Thank You to those Schools and others that put on these events.

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