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2015 merit badge rankings: The most and least popular

Meet the new king — same as the old king.

The First Aid merit badge, dethroned by the Cooking merit badge in 2014, reclaimed the crown in 2015.

Put another way: More Scouts earned the First Aid merit badge in 2015 than any other merit badge. And it wasn’t really close.

The Cooking merit badge, which simmered its way to the top of the charts in 2014, cooled to third place in the 2015 merit badge rankings.

The Swimming merit badge dolphin-kicked its way into second, and the Environmental Science and Citizenship in the World merit badges rounded out the top five.

First Aid, first place

Exactly 80,716 Scouts earned the First Aid merit badge in 2015, which put that badge atop the charts. It beat second-place Swimming by nearly 9,000 merit badges earned.

First Aid has been the king every year since 2009 (the first year for which detailed statistics were made available) — except for 2014, when Cooking was No. 1.

A revised Cooking merit badge pamphlet and new requirements were released in 2013. During 2014 (and 2014 only), a Scout could use either the old or the new requirements — his choice. Either version counted toward Eagle, and a ton of Scouts decided to go ahead and earn Cooking using the old requirements in 2014.

When I released the 2014 rankings, I predicted that Cooking’s reign at the top would last only a year, and that’s exactly what happened.

Now that Cooking is required for Eagle, though, we should see it in the top five for good.

Where I got these numbers

As with my 2015 analysis of the 2014 data, these figures come from Local Council Charter Applications. That means they’re based on the actual number earned, not on sales of the badges. Some troops purchase extra emblems in anticipation of future badge earnings, so sales numbers can be skewed.

The top 25

It’s no surprise that Nos. 1 to 14 are Eagle-required merit badges. Scouts are, of course, required to earn these if they want to become Eagle Scouts, so you’ll always find them at the top of the rankings.

It’s in that 15 to 25 range where things get interesting. The Fingerprinting, Rifle Shooting, Archery, LeatherworkWilderness Survival, Wood Carving, Kayaking, Canoeing, Chess, Fishing and Art merit badges are summer camp staples, so one would expect to see them highly ranked.

The bottom 10

I don’t like to think of these as the least-popular merit badges. I like to think of them as the rarest merit badges.

If you know a Scout who earned one (or more!) of these merit badges in 2015, give him a high five. He’s in rare company.

The bottom 10 were, starting with the least-earned: Bugling, American BusinessSurveying, Stamp Collecting, Journalism, Animation, American Labor, Cinematography, Drafting and Landscape Architecture.

If you’re up for a challenge and are qualified in any of those 10 fields, why not contact your council about serving as a merit badge counselor? You could be singlehandedly responsible for one of those merit badges vaulting out of the bottom 10.

One more thing: Put asterisks next to Cinematography and Animation.

The Cinematography merit badge was replaced by the Moviemaking merit badge, but Scouts who started work on Cinematography before it went away would’ve been eligible to earn the badge in 2015.

As for Animation, that one was released in May 2015, so it didn’t get a full year of availability. I expect to see it much higher when 2016’s numbers are released.

Movers and shakers

Which merit badges saw the biggest jumps? Which saw the biggest falls? Here goes …

Top 5 gains:

(I have not included the Animation or Signs, Signals and Codes merit badges because they were introduced in 2015.)

  • Digital Technology — 211.3 percent increase
  • Moviemaking — 62.5 percent increase
  • Composite Materials — 35.3 percent increase
  • Mining in Society — 31.1 percent increase
  • Sustainability — 22.1 percent increase

Digital Technology replaced Computers in 2014, and Moviemaking replaced Cinematography in 2013. So it makes sense those two newer merit badges would be found here.

Same goes for Mining in Society (released in 2014) and Sustainability (2013).

And then there’s Composite Materials. How to account for 26 percent more Scouts earning this merit badge in 2015? Your guess is as good as mine.

Top 5 drops:

  • Computers — 87.0 percent decrease
  • Cinematography — 68.7 percent decrease
  • Cooking — 32.2 percent decrease
  • Traffic Safety — 20.9 percent decrease
  • Whitewater — 19.0 percent decrease

With Digital Technology and Moviemaking on the top five gains list, it only makes sense to see Computers and Cinematography here.

I already discussed Cooking’s drop — from 99,908 earned in 2014 to 67,691 in 2015.

Traffic Safety and Whitewater have no obvious explanation. Perhaps it’s simply a result of normal year-to-year fluctuations.

Merit badge rankings, 2015

There are 136 currently available merit badges, but the list below has 138 because it includes the Computers and Cinematography merit badges, both discontinued.

Rank Merit Badge 2015
1 First Aid* 80,716
2 Swimming** 71,821
3 Cooking* 67,691
4 Environmental Science**** 63,783
5 Citizenship in the World* 60,171
6 Citizenship in the Nation* 57,161
7 Communication* 55,738
8 Camping* 54,342
9 Personal Fitness* 52,499
10 Citizenship in the Community* 52,071
11 Personal Management* 51,105
12 Family Life* 51,008
13 Emergency Preparedness*** 47,879
14 Fingerprinting 43,743
15 Rifle Shooting 43,196
16 Archery 41,879
17 Leatherwork 40,805
18 Wilderness Survival 37,581
19 Wood Carving 36,890
20 Kayaking 34,054
21 Canoeing 29,461
22 Chess 27,235
23 Fishing 26,050
24 Art 24,374
25 Lifesaving*** 23,983
26 Mammal Study 23,427
27 Indian Lore 22,241
28 Geology 22,180
29 Shotgun Shooting 21,895
30 Space Exploration 21,607
31 Climbing 21,574
32 Pioneering 17,341
33 Basketry 17,158
34 Photography 16,931
35 Astronomy 16,706
36 Orienteering 15,642
37 Geocaching 15,582
38 Aviation 15,170
39 Small Boat Sailing 15,092
40 Nature 14,679
41 Weather 14,622
42 Robotics 13,700
43 Fish & Wildlife Management 13,164
44 Forestry 12,905
45 Fire Safety 12,782
46 Music 12,369
47 Metalwork 12,340
48 Game Design 12,313
49 Engineering 11,735
50 Search and Rescue 11,725
51 Welding 11,019
52 Horsemanship 10,878
53 Chemistry 10,560
54 Soil and Water Conservation 10,437
55 Moviemaking 10,064
56 Sculpture 10,042
57 Electricity 10,035
58 Rowing 9,995
59 Automotive Maintenance 9,961
60 Oceanography 9,892
61 Motor Boating 9,880
62 Digital Technology 9,383
63 Pottery 8,384
64 Electronics 8,352
65 Sports 8,272
66 Public Speaking 7,793
67 Railroading 7,651
68 Archaeology 7,590
69 Pulp and Paper 7,379
70 Snow Sports 7,251
71 Hiking** 6,967
72 Nuclear Science 6,728
73 Radio 6,709
74 Reptile and Amphibian Study 6,700
75 Cycling** 6,626
76 Sustainability **** 6,625
77 Crime Prevention 6,581
78 Salesmanship 6,412
79 Disabilities Awareness 6,153
80 Law 5,633
81 Traffic Safety 5,604
82 American Heritage 5,599
83 Bird Study 5,587
84 Scouting Heritage 5,558
85 Genealogy 5,316
86 Woodwork 5,242
87 Plumbing 4,960
88 Scholarship 4,911
89 Coin Collecting 4,715
90 Pets 4,645
91 Mining in Society 4,613
92 Animal Science 4,414
93 Painting 4,245
94 Reading 4,179
95 Collections 4,004
96 Fly Fishing 3,981
97 Backpacking 3,973
98 Safety 3,937
99 Golf 3,826
100 Medicine 3,807
101 Athletics 3,604
102 Programming 3,577
103 Insect Study 3,550
104 Dentistry 3,485
105 Signs, Signals and Codes 3,453
106 Water Sports 3,389
107 Inventing 3,369
108 Architecture 3,362
109 Graphic Arts 3,356
110 Home Repairs 3,288
111 Textile 3,225
112 Energy 3,190
113 Entrepreneurship 2,927
114 Plant Science 2,922
115 Whitewater 2,888
116 Model Design and Building 2,795
117 Veterinary Medicine 2,764
118 Dog Care 2,666
119 Theater 2,665
120 Farm Mechanics 2,244
121 American Cultures 2,233
122 Composite Materials 2,183
123 Truck Transportation 2,157
124 Scuba Diving 2,135
125 Skating 1,972
126 Public Health 1,780
127 Computers 1,686
128 Gardening 1,582
129 Landscape Architecture 1,434
130 Drafting 1,339
131 Cinematography 1,260
132 American Labor 1,106
133 Animation 1,099
134 Journalism 1,037
135 Stamp Collecting 996
136 Surveying 879
137 American Business 587
138 Bugling 492

* On required list for Eagle Rank

** Required for Eagle (must complete Cycling or Hiking or Swimming)

*** Required for Eagle (must complete Emergency Preparedness or Lifesaving)

**** Required for Eagle (must complete Environmental Science or Sustainability)

Merit badge numbers, 2009 to 2015

Here are the year-by-year totals for every year for which detailed stats were made available to me.

Merit Badge 2009 2010 2011 2012 2013 2014 2015
American Business 685 667 707 679 805 650 587
American Cultures 2,710 2,353 2,965 2,883 2,649 2,174 2,233
American Heritage 5,625 5,853 6,645 6,626 6,195 5,333 5,599
American Labor 822 739 1,168 811 1,090 992 1,106
Animal Science 3,444 3,591 3,759 4,503 4,174 4,042 4,414
Animation 0 0 0 0 0 0 1,099
Archaeology 7,821 7,939 9,586 10,316 8,913 8,652 7,590
Archery 46,579 45,039 45,204 48,229 43,879 43,238 41,879
Architecture 2,691 2,840 3,586 3,631 3,956 4,019 3,362
Art 31,034 28,707 32,146 29,273 28,031 25,438 24,374
Astronomy 10,384 10,048 14,941 17,308 16,332 15,758 16,706
Athletics 3,779 3,728 3,411 3,465 3,709 3,241 3,604
Automotive Maintenance 9,181 9,520 10,762 10,784 10,084 9,763 9,961
Aviation 20,787 21,173 21,440 20,751 18,330 17,522 15,170
Backpacking 5,003 4,377 4,445 4,878 4,114 4,169 3,973
Basketry 27,179 23,899 23,505 22,073 19,364 17,531 17,158
Bird Study 6,268 6,668 6,881 6,952 6,405 5,641 5,587
Bugling 662 844 628 613 515 606 492
Camping* 62,774 62,174 62,492 60,772 58,982 54,265 54,324
Canoeing 41,918 40,160 41,601 39,042 33,409 31,833 29,461
Chemistry 8,248 8,661 9,569 9,692 10,731 10,594 10,560
Chess 0 0 6,002 29,298 27,315 25,266 27,235
Cinematography 6,819 6,529 7,245 8,308 8,465 4,026 1,260
Citizenship in the Community* 59,203 58,891 57,785 57,951 56,928 51,728 52,071
Citizenship in the Nation* 64,847 64,683 64,558 64,120 61,272 56,490 57,161
Citizenship in the World* 68,075 67,483 67,779 67,486 64,452 61,303 60,171
Climbing 25,192 23,698 24,617 24,609 22,861 23,200 21,574
Coin Collecting 7,023 6,785 7,052 6,043 5,667 5,303 4,715
Collections 5,614 6,090 5,027 5,077 4,966 4,295 4,004
Communication* 62,153 59,462 60,749 59,345 57,111 54,081 55,738
Composite Materials 1,380 1,603 1,817 1,610 1,817 1,614 2,183
Computers 15,166 14,474 14,712 14,474 15,149 12,973 1,686
Cooking* 24,496 23,548 23,989 23,384 44,903 99,908 67,691
Crime Prevention 6,981 8,049 8,374 8,331 7,274 6,917 6,581
Cycling** 7,736 7,533 6,992 7,053 6,551 6,268 6,626
Dentistry 5,231 5,506 4,491 4,403 4,213 3,416 3,485
Digital Technology 0 0 0 0 0 3,014 9,383
Disabilities Awareness 6,100 7,362 7,503 7,230 6,690 6,204 6,153
Dog Care 3,373 3,455 3,407 3,330 3,351 2,955 2,666
Drafting 1,514 1,516 1,170 1,377 1,440 1,318 1,339
Electricity 11,585 10,419 11,187 11,350 10,968 10,460 10,035
Electronics 7,112 7,452 7,186 8,060 8,753 8,860 8,352
Emergency Preparedness*** 50,707 49,945 50,510 51,035 50,153 46,069 47,879
Energy 3,427 3,203 3,641 3,907 3,989 3,669 3,190
Engineering 7,361 9,459 9,418 9,682 10,445 11,624 11,735
Entrepreneurship 1,609 1,582 1,895 1,932 1,900 2,496 2,927
Environmental Science**** 77,285 74,836 78,719 76,238 71,609 67,218 63,783
Family Life* 58,568 58,767 55,812 56,210 55,080 49,516 51,008
Farm Mechanics 2,625 2,387 2,627 2,457 2,421 2,486 2,244
Fingerprinting 46,808 46,395 53,189 46,594 45,140 43,820 43,743
Fire Safety 17,784 15,483 16,886 14,517 12,988 12,395 12,782
First Aid* 91,334 89,694 94,268 92,312 87,477 80,917 80,716
Fish & Wildlife Management 16,971 14,825 16,162 15,528 13,411 13,749 13,164
Fishing 28,692 29,806 32,048 31,932 29,788 28,119 26,050
Fly Fishing 634 475 4,605 4,291 4,690 4,537 3,981
Forestry 16,843 14,906 16,456 16,309 14,874 14,465 12,905
Game Design 0 0 0 0 2,657 11,853 12,313
Gardening 2,576 2,403 2,422 2,258 1,972 1,641 1,582
Genealogy 5,674 6,386 5,452 5,641 5,740 5,474 5,316
Geocaching 0 4,533 19,419 18,711 17,031 16,785 15,582
Geology 23,640 21,798 23,695 24,015 22,103 21,282 22,180
Golf 7,623 7,236 5,798 5,128 4,921 3,955 3,826
Graphic Arts 2,982 3,093 3,620 3,505 3,140 3,189 3,356
Hiking** 8,074 7,658 7,946 8,132 7,856 7,344 6,967
Home Repairs 5,165 4,572 4,324 4,413 3,790 3,866 3,288
Horsemanship 13,106 13,230 13,814 12,670 10,977 11,905 10,878
Indian Lore 31,293 28,530 28,591 26,705 24,535 22,997 22,241
Insect Study 2,582 3,502 3,579 4,120 3,613 3,164 3,550
Inventing 0 616 2,279 2,592 2,704 2,902 3,369
Journalism 1,285 1,191 1,285 1,184 945 955 1,037
Kayaking 0 0 0 21,765 36,217 35,533 34,054
Landscape Architecture 1,335 1,414 1,475 1,618 1,872 1,496 1,434
Law 7,044 7,333 7,315 7,274 6,946 5,463 5,633
Leatherwork 53,896 50,028 51,535 48,674 44,344 42,565 40,805
Lifesaving*** 28,483 27,739 29,382 28,228 25,945 24,474 23,983
Mammal Study 31,245 28,728 31,028 28,309 24,064 24,060 23,427
Medicine 4,513 4,547 4,480 4,507 3,990 3,725 3,807
Metalwork 12,272 11,597 12,790 13,674 13,259 12,949 12,340
Mining in Society 0 0 0 0 0 3,519 4,613
Model Design and Building 2,586 2,123 2,964 3,120 3,628 2,612 2,795
Motor Boating 12,985 12,578 12,133 12,004 11,012 10,748 9,880
Moviemaking 0 0 0 0 0 6,195 10,064
Music 17,565 16,623 15,875 15,088 14,223 12,903 12,369
Nature 18,404 16,773 18,453 18,114 16,164 15,046 14,679
Nuclear Science 5,881 5,908 6,965 7,114 7,666 6,657 6,728
Oceanography 10,202 11,098 10,720 10,636 10,769 9,991 9,892
Orienteering 20,723 18,328 20,221 18,989 16,909 16,871 15,642
Painting 4,696 4,217 5,087 5,412 4,911 4,346 4,245
Personal Fitness* 58,461 58,988 56,588 56,908 56,295 50,693 52,499
Personal Management* 56,330 56,793 53,459 54,529 53,273 48,299 51,105
Pets 6,900 6,346 6,068 5,904 5,659 4,821 4,645
Photography 17,543 17,479 18,042 18,879 17,800 17,804 16,931
Pioneering 22,596 21,008 23,138 21,550 19,525 18,117 17,341
Plant Science 1,779 1,797 2,614 2,593 2,712 2,680 2,922
Plumbing 7,055 6,233 6,417 5,785 5,178 4,982 4,960
Pottery 9,885 8,937 10,493 10,157 9,869 9,050 8,384
Programming 0 0 0 0 480 2,970 3,577
Public Health 1,928 1,958 1,989 1,783 2,006 1,821 1,780
Public Speaking 6,940 6,671 6,703 6,987 7,289 7,091 7,793
Pulp and Paper 4,933 5,549 6,449 7,495 7,034 6,250 7,379
Radio 7,190 6,994 6,257 6,957 7,208 6,665 6,709
Railroading 7,484 8,868 9,144 8,681 7,191 6,694 7,651
Reading 7,183 6,590 5,889 5,676 5,216 4,712 4,179
Reptile and Amphibian Study 9,902 9,797 9,816 9,772 8,483 7,547 6,700
Rifle Shooting 51,562 50,801 54,276 50,435 47,054 45,839 43,196
Robotics 0 0 5,407 13,262 13,401 13,708 13,700
Rowing 16,878 14,948 15,906 13,769 10,944 10,557 9,995
Safety 4,304 4,088 4,128 3,824 4,349 3,778 3,937
Salesmanship 5,704 6,286 6,765 6,425 6,438 6,648 6,412
Scholarship 7,194 7,034 6,570 6,310 5,956 5,362 4,911
Scouting Heritage 0 3,814 6,407 5,394 5,660 5,572 5,558
Scuba Diving 130 2,962 3,015 2,594 2,370 1,989 2,135
Sculpture 10,372 10,750 13,074 12,829 11,493 9,887 10,042
Search and Rescue 0 0 0 725 10,552 12,359 11,725
Shotgun Shooting 25,086 24,978 27,838 26,173 24,603 23,970 21,895
Signs, Signals and Codes 0 0 0 0 0 0 3,453
Skating 3,360 3,119 3,208 2,220 2,406 2,010 1,972
Small Boat Sailing 19,145 18,471 19,895 18,740 16,857 16,511 15,092
Snow Sports 11,326 11,394 10,586 8,636 9,134 8,227 7,251
Soil and Water Conservation 15,546 15,298 15,554 14,553 11,697 11,296 10,437
Space Exploration 21,977 22,914 23,595 23,557 23,290 22,625 21,607
Sports 10,444 9,550 9,167 9,112 8,950 8,032 8,272
Stamp Collecting 1,087 1,434 1,147 1,045 1,131 863 996
Surveying 1,595 1,539 1,145 1,235 1,307 1,065 879
Sustainability **** 0 0 0 0 590 5,428 6,625
Swimming** 76,807 78,825 80,938 80,376 72,946 72,503 71,821
Textile 2,641 2,232 3,657 4,681 4,673 3,694 3,225
Theater 2,290 2,174 2,201 2,776 2,320 2,273 2,665
Traffic Safety 7,745 7,148 8,665 7,450 7,582 7,088 5,604
Truck Transportation 3,291 2,960 3,009 2,928 2,847 2,182 2,157
Veterinary Medicine 3,018 3,855 3,502 3,460 3,455 2,875 2,764
Water Sports 5,135 4,891 4,783 4,291 3,935 3,594 3,389
Weather 17,927 16,345 18,582 17,869 15,958 15,846 14,622
Welding 0 0 0 4,022 10,919 11,061 11,019
Whitewater 3,993 3,372 4,322 4,149 3,252 3,565 2,888
Wilderness Survival 44,632 41,627 46,757 46,829 43,158 40,395 37,581
Wood Carving 48,489 45,121 45,645 44,927 41,120 38,749 26,890
Woodwork 5,217 5,866 5,590 4,962 5,602 5,198 5,242

Other takeaways or requests?

What other nuggets of fun can you extract from this data? What other merit badge data would you like me to track down?

Leave your comments below.


Thanks to the BSA’s Lynn Adcock for the numbers.

67 Comments on 2015 merit badge rankings: The most and least popular

  1. I am surprised at how low Hiking is on the list.

    • Bryan Wendell // March 9, 2016 at 8:12 am // Reply

      I am, too, actually, but it’s been close to that rank for the past several years. The requirements aren’t easy, especially that 20-mile hike.

      • BuckRunDon // March 9, 2016 at 9:00 am // Reply

        You got that Bryan! Just ask my Son who had to do it last year as his last Eagle Required. Whew! But, for Scouts who don’t swim very well, or like to bike, it’s the only option. But, he was very proud of getting it after that 20 mile hike. He could hardly walk the next day, but he made it!

      • Even strong swimmers might opt for hiking. Son #2 did.

        In terms of availability, aquatics areas aren’t always open. Trails and highways and byways are open year around.
        In fact, it provides a great opportunity for boys in metropolitan areas to “connect” their favorite locations most people only ever reach by driving.

  2. We can see how popular the award required merit badges are.

  3. Kevin Neely // March 9, 2016 at 8:37 am // Reply

    Just taught 7 boys American Labor for the Water and Woods Council in Lansing, MI

    • BuckRunDon // March 9, 2016 at 8:56 am // Reply

      Very Cool Kevin! I took it off the list of one’s I teach this year since no one ever asked to take it. Glad to see Scouts are still interested in it!!

      • Kevin Neely // March 9, 2016 at 9:58 am // Reply

        I put it on as part of my Wood Badge ticket. We used the AFL-CIO building. Several unions had officials attend. All the boys had to do was show up with a lunch, blue card, and pen and paper

        • Keith Jendricks // March 10, 2016 at 7:20 pm //

          I hope you don’t literally mean “all they had to do”. Hopefully they had to explain, draw, develop, prepare, watch, explain, read, discuss, choose, and / or argue. These are actual verbs from the MB requirements. I hate seeing “show up and get the badge” workshops where Scouts sit in a room for several hours and come out with signed blue cards but without new knowledge or skills.

        • Kevin Neely // March 12, 2016 at 9:31 am //

          Keith, yes. I arranged for several different unions to have representatives there. They stayed the entire time assisting as they were impressed that the BSA has this and they wanted to help. It was very interactive not a lecture. One boy even went home and attempted to negotiate a better allowance based on his being older and doing more. The parents who stayed gained a better understanding of what organized labor is about and how non union employees benefit from organized labor

  4. Ron Cornwell // March 9, 2016 at 9:01 am // Reply

    I wonder if the jump in the welding Merit badge has to do with Mike Rowe’s comments at the 2013 Jamboree? The are interesting figures. What’s cool to me is the wide variety of interest, skills and understanding that this list represents. It would be cool if you we able to identify each year, if any one boy (or how many boys) earned all available merit badges.

    • Welding was only available for part of the year in 2012 when it was first released. Since 2013 when it was available for a full year it’s held pretty steady at around 11k. But it could be seeing that level of completion in part due to Mr. Rowe for sure.

    • Possibly because many summer camps are now offering welding. Lincoln Electric promotes this program actively and offers welding equipment to Scouting organizations. And it’s alot of fun!

  5. Bryan, I love your column, but don’t always agree with your math. The Computers merit badge did not drop 669.45%. It cannot drop by more than 100%. Dropping from 12,973 to 1,686 is a drop of 87%. Likewise for the other merit badges you mentioned.

    • Bryan Wendell // March 9, 2016 at 10:02 am // Reply

      Clearly I used the wrong Excel formula. Thanks, Dave. It’s fixed.

      • Sorry to complain Bryan. I really enjoy your column. Whenever our Troop committee is struggling with something, I say “Let’s see what Bryan on Scouting says…”.

  6. I’ve got Surveying and American Labor and I plan to get Journalism, Animation, and Drafting soon.

  7. I would be open to knowing what merit badges would be highly desired to offer at a Merit Badge workshop, besides Eage required. We are about to put on our annual one, then the work will begin for 2017. What kind of experts should I try and find?

    • Having taught at a number of merit badge jamborees, Troop classes, and even a winter camp or two, I’m constantly amazed at the variety of merit badges that interest Scouts. It is very difficult to predict what the Scouts want to take. That said, classes that combine (1) getting up and doing something, (2) require some particular expertise that might not normally be available at the Troop level, (3) require some specialized equipment that goes with the expertise, and (4) can be completed with only a few minimal pre-requisites will always be popular. Among those I teach, my robotics class is universally well-attended, as I have expertise working with robots on Mars and have multiple LEGO NXT sets to build robots. In a similar vein, classes like welding, surveying, and electronics are generally popular. Scouts also seem to take well to new classes (e.g., Animation; Signs, Signals and Codes). Many of the Scouts seem to enjoy earning a badge none of their Troop mates have earned.

      • James Eager // March 9, 2016 at 9:47 pm // Reply

        I have been doing Railroading for the last 2 years at Merit Badge Academy. I have no trouble filling classes (in fact, I limit them for safety reasons, and always fill up). I am willing to share the class materials I use if you can find an instructor. I will also share a presentation on who to contact for supplies and some tools. For an overview, please check out the March 2014 issue of Model Railroad Hobbyist magazine. This magazine can be downloaded for free at: http://model-railroad-hobbyist.com/

    • Kim C.
      To my way of thinking, the MB Workshop should focus on the LEAST POPULAR Merit Badges, rather than the more popular. To give more unique experiences and exposure.

      Next the MB Workshop should focus on the MBs that require equipment, location, experts that are not easily available to individual Troops and SMs. Aviation at an airport. American Labor at a union hall, plus American Business on the same day. Medicine, Dentistry, and Public Health MBs. Search & Rescue with an actual exercise in open country and involving professionals AND volunteers in the field.

      Not the MBs that are available at local summer camps — or no more than to make-up missing requirements from last summer’s camp. Possible an introduction to what will be available for next summer camp, pep talk for planning to go to camp, and prerequisites for MB (and programs) to be offered at the summer camp.

      Personally, I would rather see MB Workshops that each year would focus on a different topic (i.e., 3-4-5 year rotation) such as “Transportation”, “Safety”, “STEM”, “Arts & Music”, “Careers”, etc., plus a few neutral MBs such as Family Life, Scholarship, Reading, Safety, and always Fingerprinting <the only thing simpler than Basket Weaving or Leatherneck.

      Also, why does a MB Workshop have to offer more than a handful or two handfuls, especially beyond the 'neutral' new Scout and fall backs, as just listed. Too many electives becomes confusing — better to focus on a few and a topic for the day. IMHO.

      And, any Merit Badge Workshop/Fair/University should include a short (10 min) play illustrating the steps involved from for one Scout getting a MB from a Counselor (out side of the troop circle), plus "Two Deep" leadership.

  8. Bryan, do you have the numbers for the four historic merit badges that were only available to be earned during 2010? Carpentry, Pathfinding, Signaling and Tracking?

  9. I know it wasn’t the purpose of the post but I notice a troubling trend of the number of people earning most merit badges are going down each year. This is seen most clearly with the Eagle required merit badges. Is this a sign of a decrease in scouting numbers, in scouts advancing or in scouts earning Eagle? Trends like this will take a few years to answer the questions I have but it is still troubling.

    • You are absolutely right. Declining membership is the prime driver behind declining raw numbers of merit badges earned.

      If youth aren’t picking up these skills elsewhere, we as a nation should be very concerned.

      • The trend isn’t actually that strong across these 6 years. There is only a 0.75% decrease in total merit badges per year. Furthermore, the Eagle-required portion form a solid 40% of all badges earned, which has remained essentially constant between 39-41% in these 6 years.

        • .75% per year over 7 years doesn’t sound bad when you spread it out like that, but a 3.78% drop from last year and a 2.74% drop from the next lowest total year in the past 7 does look a little more troubling. Considering an increase in available badges, that skews the statistics further.

        • .75% of a big number is a big number. It’s not as steep as 1-2% decline (more recently), but not at all negligible.

    • The decline was noticeable.
      In the past, a up blip for 100th anniversary was apparent with special rank badges, which might have helped star-life-eagle for the one year.

  10. Bryan – You shortchanged yourself – I think.

    Looking in my (computer’s) folder “Merit Badges (everything)” I see numbers starting in 2008. I’m sure they also came from you. I have them in a spreadsheet so I can sort if asked about a particular year.

    • 2008 – 2010 numbers were all in the excel spreadsheet that Bryan posted as part of the article for 2012’s numbers.

      http://blog.scoutingmagazine.org/2013/04/22/mbs-2012/

  11. Same comment as was pointed out last year, since Moviemaking replaced Cinematography (they have the same advancement #), shouldn’t they be combined in the rankings? Combined it would move the badge up to #51 for 2015 instead of 55 for Moviemaking and 131 Cinematography).

    • Or…calculate the partial- year badges as % of badges earned during the period the partial-year badge was available.

  12. My son earned Composite Materials at summer camp last year. I suspect camps are integrating it into their rotation of handicraft or STEM offerings, which is why it jumped up in the rankings.

  13. ScouterBill // March 9, 2016 at 10:42 am // Reply

    Hey Bryan…you might consider putting a note on Cinematography & Movie Making as well as Computer & Digital Technology since these are replacement merit badge sets. A more accurate ranking would be to include their totals together maybe as a foot note of some sort.

  14. Trenton Spears // March 9, 2016 at 10:51 am // Reply

    Not surprised of its popularity many years ago First Aid was the first merit badge you must earn before you could earn the First Class rank. Trenton Spears, Scoutmaster

  15. SCUBA is probably so low in the rankings due to its cost. To earn the badge Scouts must be fully certified open water divers. In my area that equals a $1000 commitment. It is a life long certification but its a lot of money for a merit badge if you aren’t interested in pursuing the sport afterwards.

    • Jeff Hoffert // March 9, 2016 at 4:05 pm // Reply

      We’ve been able to do SCUBA at a summer camp (Claytor Lake, part of the Blue Ridge Scout Reservation in VA) for $450 including all the meals at camp, SCUBA gear and instructors. We also have a former ASM that will do it for around $400 including the open water dives in a quarry. We’ve had many scouts get SCUBA certified to do a SCUBA live aboard at Sea Base. I prefer to go to Florida to actually dive rather than take classes all week.

  16. The most popular elective badges (non-Eagle required) tell an interesting story. The top 10 are a combination of those that Scouts find EASY (Fingerprinting, Leatherwork, and Woodworking) and those that Scouts find INTERESTING (Archery, Wilderness Survival, and Kayaking). It is slightly disappointing to find minimal career exploration in the top 10 non-Eagle required — for example, no Engineering, Welding, or Chemistry in the top 10 electives (numbers 49, 51, and 53, respectively).

    • All the top non-required badges are traditional summer camp badges. Some camps offer a STEM area, but I would rather see a scout take wilderness survival at camp than chemistry.

      I do find it interesting that Chemistry, Astronomy and Engineering are among the few badges that show an increasing trend from 2009 to 2015.

      • STEM Rules!

  17. And, the least popular Eagle-required badges are Cycling (most prefer Swimming) and Sustainability (new).

    • Jeff Hoffert // March 9, 2016 at 4:15 pm // Reply

      Cycling is a fairly tough badge and they have only recently made a mountain bike version. Most Scouts these days don’t own road bikes. We’ve done a fair amount of cycling in our troop but we have yet to have a Scout express interest in doing cycling. Lifesaving is down the list too, most take Emergency Prep. My son aged out as an Eagle with a partial in EP that he refused to finish instead opting to do Lifesaving as a 14 year old his last year at base camp. He went on to get Red Cross Certified and was a Life Guard thru high school. Lifesaving is pretty tough and I wouldn’t recommend it for a 12 or 13 year old.

      • Jeff Hoffert // March 9, 2016 at 4:18 pm // Reply

        We recommend First Aid and Swimming to our Scouts for their first summer camp, and Environmental Science and Emergency Prep their second year. If they have enough camping under their belts they can do that as well. We always try to work in a variety of camping trips into the calendar every year so a reasonably active Scout can meet the different types of activities required for Camping MB. Cycling, Hike gaining 1000 ft, backpacking, and float trip are the ones we can reasonably get in a two year cycle. In 10 years I’ve yet to have a snow camping experience in NC and snow shoes aren’t required for an inch or two of snow. Getting to the snowy parts of NC for a two night outing is a pretty long drive for a Friday night.

    • James Eager // March 9, 2016 at 9:52 pm // Reply

      In the Life 2 Eagle Seminar, we point out some of the flaws in the Sustainability Merit Badge and recommend E Science instead. When it first came out, before the emergency change to it, we pointed out to Scouts which Scouts could not earn it because of the major errors in the requirements.

  18. Eagle-required badges have essentially remained a constant 40% of all merit badges earned across these 7 years. This is juxtaposed relative to the 13:21 required versus 8:21 elective badge-ratio for Eagle. If Scouts were only earning the minimum number of merit badges required for rank, 62% of all badges earned would be Eagle-required. This means that Scouts are NOT simply earning badges that are required for rank; they are accumulating an excess number of elective badges — approximately 50% more than they need for rank (based on 60%/38%). This is good. Scouts are exploring the world with merit badges. This is partly, but not entirely explained by Eagle Palms.

    • Jeff Hoffert // March 9, 2016 at 4:23 pm // Reply

      A lot of Scouts age out as Eagles with more than the 21 required but don’t have time to get a Palm. Unless you get Eagle with more than 3 months to spare before your 18th birthday you can’t earn a Palm. Then there are the Scouts that drop out without earning Eagle. Fortunately pretty rare in our Troop but it happens. I’ve never had a Scout needing a non-Eagle required merit badge being the hold up for Eagle. It is usually Family Life, Personal Fitness and/or Personal Management that they earn last. Though Cooking becoming an Eagle Required did trip up a few, and became their last Eagle required badge.

      • James Eager // March 9, 2016 at 9:56 pm // Reply

        In our life 2 Eagle seminar, we point out those 3 merit badges, plus – camping and sustainability all having long requirements.

  19. Till have my Drafting merit badge book from 20+ years ago. https://www.instagram.com/p/eh1u_fLsAn/

  20. Norman Pollack // March 9, 2016 at 4:58 pm // Reply

    My son earned the Colonial Philadelphia merit badge that was available to all scouts visiting Philadelphia in 1976. I believe all councils should have a merit badge on their historical area. Maybe even 2 if the area has a large history.

  21. Randy Deprez // March 9, 2016 at 7:51 pm // Reply

    Why the sustained surge in Fly Fishing? Its mot new but sure did ramp up in recent years.

  22. Sorry but fb will not attach a jpg of my 1952 Merit Badge Sash to the NESA post. CMB, NESA Life Member (Eagle Scout 1949).

  23. There seems no way to post a PHOTO to this fb directly (?)

  24. interesting note for my fellow math geeks:

    From 2008 through 2015, the Insect Study and Veterinary Medicine merit badges have both been earned a total of 25,652 times, putting them at a tie for the 107th most popular merit badge in that 8 year span. This is the only instance of identical number of badges earned in the 8 year total. (There were 16,597,703 total badges earned during that span.)

    In individual years, the only instance of two merit badges earned the same number of times the same year is in 2012, when Fly Fishing and Water Sports were both earned 4,291 times, making them both the 97th most popular merit badge that year.

  25. I think its a real issue American Business is nearly at bottom. Should our next generation of business leaders be coming from Scouting?

  26. james evans // April 11, 2016 at 10:39 pm // Reply

    My 14 year old son just earned his 44 th merit badge, stamp collecting at Mattabasett Trail, madness on April 9, 2016. He still needs 3 EAGLE required, and will earn many more, before he ages out because he likes the classes. Most of his badges are stem related.

  27. Andrew Lamis // April 13, 2016 at 6:30 pm // Reply

    I earned American Labor and Public Health last year and stamp collecting in January, which are some of the rare ones. I’m actually going for rare ones just because they are rare.

  28. Bring back Beekeeping (formerly Bee Keeping, formerly Beefarming). One of the original 57 badges, its now more relevant than ever.

  29. B. Catanzaro // April 19, 2016 at 8:36 am // Reply

    How do we re-vamp American Business to bring it up HIGHER! In a society that is unabashedly capitalistic and has an enormous base of small companies, we do little to educate our population to prepare them to be a valued employee let alone run a business. How do we educate the next leaders of business?

    Candidly, running your own business for 90 days is a major challenge for many youth. You can get an MBA without running your own business! How can we re-tool the requirements to generate more interest and make the MB more accessible to Scouts? How CAN I help BSA improve this MB?

    • Can the “running your own business” requirement be met by activity on eBay/Pineterest/etc?

  30. Explains the increase in fast food restaurants. nobody wants to cook

  31. Charlie Zimmerman // May 27, 2016 at 9:11 am // Reply

    Growing in popularity and in the top 5 “movers & shakers” list above!! Learn more about the Mining in Society merit badge and find resources to help Scouts earn the badge.

    http://www.mineralseducationcoalition.org/MiningInSocietyMB

  32. Bryan, could you do an article like this for other BSA awards? It might bring to light many awards that scouts could earn that many don’t consider. It would be interesting in my opinion… thanks! – Steve

  33. Ann Robertson // July 1, 2016 at 8:52 am // Reply

    And here are the most popular Girl Scout badges: https://gshistory.com/2015/03/26/what-were-the-most-popular-girl-scout-badges/

  34. From the new merit badge count list, I noticed the ones near the top are those most offered at our area MBUs & camp. In this day & age of easy accessibility, I feel this is how many scouts have been conditioned to approach merit badges… offer them an event and let the scout select a MB like it is a menu. If our scouts approach MBs from the reverse direction (pick a MB then find the way / event to earn it) I wonder how different the list might look??? (Sorry for typos. I am sitting on a bench while our sons work on their Public Health MB at the Coroners office.)

  35. I have probably personally taught hundreds of scouts in my time as an aquatics instructor, it is always nice to know that I was able to contribute to these numbers in some way.

  36. What is the statistical relationship between new Scouts entering and the most popular badges?

  37. It is sad that Scholarship (88) and Reading (94) are so low in the list. Both of those were common when I was a scout in the 50’s, often one of the first to be earned. Another, Home Repairs (110) and Painting (93) were popular as well. The school related badges may have been because it was generally accepted that teachers were valid counselors for some merit badges, especially those two. The two vocational ones likely were easily garnered simply by doing stuff around the home, which was far more common back then, and encouraged. Others far more common then were similar in that they specifically related to the lives of the scouts, especially the ones related to farming and trade jobs, which many parents did in some capacity then, if only in keeping up their home.

    Stamp and Coin Collecting were fairly popular before the onset of TV and such, as were other similar hobbies. Today that time is likely taken by gaming and other virtual or electronic interests.

    One that I realize will not be moving too much, but I wish could be more encouraged is Scouting Heritage. But, since it is not required, few scouts really are interested in where the program came from or those that made it into the worldwide success it has been. That is a shame in my view, but reflective of the small interest by most in history and other heritage subjects in general.

    Interesting discussion none the less.

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