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.