2014 merit badge rankings: Which were the most and least popular?

Step aside, First Aid. There’s a new king of merit badges.

The Cooking merit badge, which joined the Eagle-required list on Jan. 1, 2014, was last year’s most-earned merit badge. First Aid came in second after being No. 1 every year since at least 2009 — the first year for which statistics are available.

A whopping 99,908 Scouts earned the Cooking MB last year. That was nearly 19,000 more than First Aid.

What were Nos. 3 through 136? Find the complete list and tons of analysis after the jump. 

About the Cooking MB’s big leap

Now that Cooking is required for Eagle, we can expect to see it near the top of the merit badge leaderboard for some time. But its rise to No. 1 in 2014 might have been a one-time thing.

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 counts toward Eagle, and it looks like a ton of Scouts decided to go ahead and earn Cooking using the old requirements last year.

(By the way, any Scout who begins work on the Cooking merit badge on or after Jan. 1, 2015, must use the new requirements.)

Cooking merit badge’s new spot atop the rankings is the big news for 2014, but it isn’t the only noteworthy statistic.

Where I got these numbers

As with my 2014 analysis of the 2013 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

As you’d expect, Nos. 1 to 13 are Eagle-required merit badges. These are the merit badges Scouts must earn on their journey to Eagle, so they’ll always top the list.

Nos. 14 to 22 — Rifle Shooting, Fingerprinting, Archery, Leatherwork, Wilderness Survival, Wood CarvingKayaking, Canoeing and Fishing — are offered at most summer camps, giving Scouts a convenient opportunity to earn them while spending a week at camp with their friends.

Same with No. 25, Lifesaving.

But let’s consider Nos. 23 and 24: Art and Chess. They aren’t summer camp staples, and they’re not exactly stereotypical Scouting topics.

To me, these two show how well-rounded most Boy Scouts are. The Art merit badge taps into a boy’s creativity and artistic spirit, while the Chess MB harnesses his brain’s cognitive abilities.

Chess could be the fastest-growing new merit badge. It debuted in September 2011, and it’s been in the top 25 every full year since (2012, 2013 and 2014).

The Bottom 10

There are no bad merit badges. There are some merit badges, however, that aren’t earned as often as the “big guys.” Scouts who have one (or more) of these merit badges on their sash can feel pretty good knowing they’ve done something few other Scouts have done.

2014’s rarest merit badges were: Gardening, Composite Materials, Landscape Architecture, Drafting, Surveying, American Labor, Journalism, Stamp Collecting, American Business and Bugling.

How rare were these merit badges? Well, consider this: Last year, more Scouts earned the Game Design MB than these 10 merit badges combined.

Does your Scout have more than one of these rare merit badges? Wow! Let me know in the comments section.

By the way, if you’re up for a challenge and are qualified, why not offer to be a merit badge counselor for one of these rare merit badges in your district or council?

Movers and shakers

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

Top 5 gains:

  • Game Design: 114 to 51 (+63)
  • Sustainability: 131 to 84 (+47)
  • Programming: 133 to 113 (+20)
  • Cooking: 15 to 1 (+14)
  • Search and Rescue: 58 to 49 (+8)

We already discussed Cooking’s big jump. The other four are relatively new merit badges. These often take two or three years to gain their footing as more and more Scouts learn about them. Nice to see these catching on with Scouts so quickly.

Top 5 drops:

  • Cinematography: 67 to 97 (–30)
  • Model Design and Building: 105 to 118 (–13)
  • Dentistry: 98 to 108 (–12)
  • Truck Transportation: 111 to 122 (–11)
  • Sculpture: 50 to 60 (–10)

The Cinematography merit badge dropped so much because it no longer exists. It has been replaced by the Moviemaking merit badge, which debuts at No. 79 on the 2014 list.

As for the other four, the drops are probably a result of normal merit badge fluctuation.

5 merit badge showdowns

Watch as these similar merit badges go head to head. The MB’s 2014 ranking is in parentheses.

  • Kayaking (20) floated by Canoeing (21). I guess two blades are better than one.
  • Snow Sports (65) froze out Water Sports (105). I guess Scouts prefer their H2O of the solid variety.
  • Coin Collecting (87) was collected more than six times more than Stamp Collecting (134). Don’t tell the U.S. Postal Service.
  • Fishing (22) caught on more than Fly-Fishing (92). Just be patient, Fly-Fishing.
  • Orienteering (36) found a way past Geocaching (37). These two were in a tight race last year, too, with Geocaching coming out ahead. Let the debate between GPS devices and map and compass continue.

The 2014 merit badge rankings

OK, enough analysis. Here’s the complete list.

Those marked in blue are Eagle-required. Those marked in orange are new, meaning they debuted in 2010 or later.


* On required list for Eagle Rank

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

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

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

Want the complete numbers from 2009 to 2014?

Here you go. Now you can import the data into your favorite number-crunching software. Let me know what you discover while playing with the numbers.

Thanks to the BSA’s Frank Ramirez and Lynn Adcock for getting these numbers for me.

About Bryan Wendell 3281 Articles
Bryan Wendell, an Eagle Scout, is the founder of Bryan on Scouting and a contributing writer.