Should Scouts earn merit badges at summer camp?

Ask the Expert: What happened to Bugling merit badge?

Not all merit badges are earned in the traditional troop setting.

Enterprising Scouts can earn them at council-run merit badge “colleges” or workshops, summer or winter camps, or on their own with a registered counselor.

But some troops restrict or even prohibit this practice, insisting that merit badges must be earned under their own roof — with only troop-sanctioned counselors.

True, the Guide to Advancement says Scouts must discuss their choice of merit badge counselor with their Scoutmaster, but some troops take it one step farther, declaring that merit badge workshops themselves aren’t kosher.

Is that OK? That’s what a Scouter named Thomas wondered in an email last week. In his troop, Scouts cannot earn Eagle-required merit badges at events like workshops, instead needing to earn those merit badges in-house. He writes: 


Our BSA district holds various workshops such as Merit Badge Saturday and has arranged for qualified and approved MB counselors to run these sessions. The workshops offer many merit badges including some that are Eagle Required. This is supported by the “blue card,” which states the Scout “may also want to take advantage of opportunities at merit badge fairs or midways, or at rock-climbing gyms or whitewater rafting trips that provide merit badge instruction. This is acceptable …”

A concern is that our local troop had established a policy that no Scout in our troop would be allowed to earn an Eagle-required MB at a merit badge workshop. Some of the adult leaders in our troop voiced an opinion that we can and should place this restriction on the Scouts in order to ensure the Scout has a good experience using our troop approved counselors. Does the BSA allow for a troop to establish a local policy that prohibits the Scout from taking Eagle Required MBs at fully sanctioned and approved events? There are good intentions on both sides of this debate in the troop and we want to align our approach with BSA national policy.

Can you shed some light on this topic?


Thomas S.

So what’s the answer? As always, we turn to those prolific light-shedders in the BSA’s Advancement Team.

The gist of it is this: Though Scouters can get away with it under current rules, the BSA highly discourages troops from restricting where Scouts can earn merit badges. And the practice of preventing a Scout from choosing his own counselor (be it at a workshop or elsewhere) will be prohibited in the 2013 edition of the Guide to Advancement, due out this summer.

Here are some other key points on the matter from the upcoming 2013 Guide to Advancement:

  1. Unit leaders must have a discussion with a Scout before the Scout gets the signed blue card. This discussion is meant to be a “growth-oriented and positive conversation” rather than a restrictive one. 
  2. Any registered Boy Scout, Varsity Scout, or qualified Venturer or Sea Scout may begin work on any badge at any time, provided he’s had this discussion with his unit leader as indicated on the blue card.
  3. But to elaborate on points 1 and 2, the blue-card signature no longer indicates “approval to begin work,” meaning a Scout may count certain requirements for a merit badge before he has the blue card. For example, nights of camping completed before he has the blue card for Camping merit badge will still count. (See this Ask the Expert post for more clarification.)
  4. Units, districts and councils do not have the authority to implement a different system for merit badge approval or documentation.
  5. The Scout and unit leader should come to an agreement as to who the merit badge counselor will be. Lacking agreement, the Scout must be allowed to work with the counselor of his choice, as long as that person is registered and approved by the council committee.
  6. A Scout may want to take advantage of merit badge fairs or midways, or merit badge instruction at rock-climbing gyms, whitewater rafting companies, or museums. That’s acceptable, provided the counselors are registered and the Scout has a discussion with his unit leader and gets a signed blue card.

What I’ve written above is just an overview, and those changes will be further explained and made official when the 2013 Guide to Advancement comes out this summer.

(Update May 15): To give you a taste of what’s to come, I have uploaded the relevant page from the 2013 Guide to Advancement (clicking opens PDF). Take a look, but remember that it won’t become “gospel” until the advancement guide releases this summer.

I hope that clears things up a little. Thanks to the BSA’s Advancement Team for handling all the questions I’ve been throwing their way recently.

Have a question?

Send it to me, subject line “Ask the Expert,” and I’ll try to track down answers when possible.

Photo: From Flickr. Some rights reserved by Fort Meade. “David E. shows his Lego robot to James L. during S.T.E.M. Merit Badge Day when 430 Boy Scouts were scattered throughout the post to earn merit badges in science, technology, engineering”

About Bryan Wendell 3286 Articles
Bryan Wendell, an Eagle Scout, is the founder of Bryan on Scouting and a contributing writer.