Step by step: How to be a merit badge counselor

The merit badge counselor is one of the coolest jobs in Scouting.

These volunteers introduce Scouts to a topic about which they are passionate and knowledgable.

At the very least, a merit badge counselor helps a young man earn a merit badge for his sash and get one step closer to the next rank.

At the most, a merit badge counselor introduces a young man to a subject that could become a lifelong hobby or career.

The first step is to become registered with your local council and complete Youth Protection training. Existing counselors must re-register annually.

Then you must meet these requirements:

  • Be an individual of good character
  • Be age 18 or older
  • Have the skills and education in the subject(s) you want to teach
  • Have good rapport with Scout-age youths and their unit leaders
  • Be approved by the local council

Then, you simply follow the guidance in the six-page “Guide for Merit Badge Counseling,” available here as a free PDF.

The most important part of the guide, in my opinion, is the step-by-step list I have pasted below. 

Step by step: How to be a merit badge counselor

Through your association with youth members, keep in mind you are assisting unit leaders in the advancement program. Leaders coach Scouts on the recognitions they will earn for a particular rank and provide them with the name and phone number of a counselor to contact.

Whether a Scout earns the award or not, a volunteer is always interested in the youth’s progress. The merit badge counselor should feel free to discuss the Scout’s work with his unit leader at any time.

Let’s now review the process of how a volunteer helps Scouts earn merit badges, beginning with the initial contact.

  1. The Scout contacts you, probably by phone. You may tell him what is expected of him over the phone, or you may want to make an appointment to discuss this with him and his buddy in person. Personal contact will make earning the badge a better experience for all concerned.
  2. When you work with a Scout, he must always have someone — a buddy — with him. This buddy may be a friend, group of other Scouts working on the same recognition, or a parent or other adult. This point is emphasized in the BSA Youth Protection training.
  3. On his first visit, the Scout should bring a merit badge application, known as the “blue card,” No. 34124, signed by his unit leader. This lets you know the Scout and his unit leader have discussed earning this badge and authorizes him to meet with you.
  4. In your discussion of what is expected, you may want to start by finding out what the Scout already
    knows. He may already have worked on some of the requirements before meeting with you, but before signing off, it is up to you whether or not he has completed each requirement as written. Spend some time helping him learn the remaining requirements, or give guidance in completing projects. You can set up additional meetings with the Scout — not only for the purpose of passing him on the requirements, but rather to help him understand the subject.
  5. The Scout, along with his buddy, should make another appointment with you when he thinks he is prepared to prove his ability.
  6. This review session might be approached by the Scout with some apprehension. He is familiar with final exams in school and may see this meeting with you as another such experience. You can help by putting him at ease. Talk with him rather than grill or examine him; there is a big difference, yet you can still find out what he knows. Express honest enthusiasm for the things he has done, particularly if projects are involved. Your approval will give the Scout confidence.
  7. When he meets you, he should bring with him the projects required for completion. If these cannot be transported, he should present satisfactory evidence, such as a photograph of the project or adult verification. His unit leader might, for example, verify that a satisfactory bridge or tower has been built for Pioneering, or that the required meals were prepared for the Cooking merit badge. Your responsibility, in addition to coaching, is to satisfy yourself that the requirements have been met. Question the Scout and, if you have any doubts, contact the adult who signed the statement.
  8. When you are satisfied the Scout has met the requirements, you list and initial each completed requirement. The blue card is not signed until all requirements are met. You may work with many Scouts each year as they earn merit badges. However, you might only work with a few. Your contact with these Scouts is tremendously important. Your influence is measured not by the number of Scouts with whom you work, but by the effect upon the lives of those with whom you have an opportunity to work.

Requirements: No more, no less

One last reminder from the guide:

The Scout is expected to meet the requirements as stated — no more and no less. Furthermore, he is to do exactly what is stated. If it says ‘‘show or demonstrate,’’ that is what he must do. Just telling about it isn’t enough. The same thing holds true for such words as ‘‘make,’’ ‘‘list,’’ ‘‘in the field,’’ and ‘‘collect, identify, and label.’’

On the other hand, you cannot require more a Scout than stated. You must not, for example, say, ‘‘I want to be sure you really know your stuff, so instead of the 20 items in your collection, you must collect 50 to get my signature.’’ You can suggest, encourage, and help the Scout to get 50 things, but you must not require it.

23 Comments

    • That’s basically what merit badge counselor training is, but no it doesn’t officially replace it. That being said, although many Districts/Councils mandate that a merit badge counselor has that training, it’s an additional rule added by those Districts and Councils (which they have every right to do). So, if your District/Council doesn’t require that, then you’re good to go after reading this. If they do require that, then you’ll have to go do it.

  1. Something else to consider. Even though the requirements are stated I might ( depending on the badge) expect differnt results from an 11 yr old than a 17 yr old dur to maturiry and life experiences. But if thr requirements are not done as stated I have the scout fix it and we will meet again. I have found some boys sort of just expect the badge even when they cut corners and rush to get it done.

    • I disagree. The requirements spell out what is expected. If you require less, because a boy is younger, he probably shouldn’t be working on that merit badge at that age. A Scout shouldn’t be working on any merit badge until he has the maturity, intelligence, and ability to complete it as expected by the requirements. Shame on the Scoutmaster who allows a boy who is not ready, to work on a badge that he can’t complete.

      • Yes, the standards are the same for any Scout regardless of age and there are no age minimums for any Merit Badge (even though MB events and camps place age restrictions on enrollment). The SM can counsel a Scout against attempting MB for maturity reasons, but cannot stop the Scout from working on the Merit Badge. Adding an age or “maturity level” for a Scout to work on a Merit Badge could be perceived as adding to the requirements.

        I, however, would expect more out of a 17 1/2 year-old Scout in some areas than one that is only 11 years old.The American Heritage Merit Badge requires each Scout to “Rewrite that section [of the Declaration of Independence] in your own words, making it as easy to understand as possible.” The Scout then discusses the paragraph they wrote with the MBC. There is no “standard” on how long the paragraph should be or to what degree of understanding the Scout needs to reach. In other words, the Scout could write “All men are free due to God. When these freedoms are threaten, they can rise up against the government.” I would have to accept that whether it was written by a 1st year Scout or one almost 18. In the discussion, however, I would probe the Scout to discuss particular parts of the actual paragraph and what they meant. My discussion with the older Scout may become more in depth than the younger one due to their maturity level.

      • 1. Per the guide for advancement, scoutmasters no longer allow or disallow scouts from working on

        7.0.0.3 A few merit badges have certain restrictions, but otherwise any registered Boy Scout, Varsity Scout, or qualified Venturer or Sea Scout may work on any of them at any time

        A scoutmaster can coach a scout regarding his readiness, but CAN NOT refuse to sign the card.

        2. The scout has to fulfill the requirements as written, but you can encourage the scout to stretch himself. Example: Communication Merit badge requirement 4

        “Interview someone you know fairly well, like, or respect because of his or her position, talent, career or life experiences. Listen actively to learn as much as you can about the person. Then prepare and deliver to your counselor an introduction of the person as though this person were to be a guest speaker, and include reasons why the audience would want to hear this person speak. Show how you would call to invite this person to speak.”

        A scout came to me and said that he wanted to interview his older brother. While technically this did meet the wording of the requirement (the scout insisted that he admired and respected his brother ) I felt it violated the spirit of the requirement. So I encouraged him to find an adult, a teacher, a principal, or whatever. If the scout had pressed me, I probably would have relented, but I wanted to encourage him to go further

  2. This is a good document, but it entirely misses the most important step:
    Go introduce yourself to local troops.

    Look, most boys don’t have access to the District/Council merit badge counselor list. For privacy reasons, it’s not generally put out publicly where just anyone can find it. And even when it is, it’s generally buried under several different menus and pages in the District’s/Council’s webpage. Many leaders don’t even have this list. So, when a boy needs a merit badge counselor for a particular merit badge, how do they figure out who’s a merit badge counselor? Generally, the boy asks in a troop meeting. And if the adults don’t already have access to that list (and most adult volunteers don’t even know the list exists), then generally some adult in the troop will volunteer to become a merit badge counselor for that badge.

    Look, as a merit badge counselor you’ll have had Youth Protection training and someone will be watching all the time, right? Well that won’t be enough for most families who will tend to be leery of sending a boy to meet with you in your home, or wherever, what with you being a complete stranger.

    Additionally, if a troop has an adult in their troop, someone who’s already an adult volunteer, then that’s who the boys will go to for that merit badge. For instance, if someone in the troop signed up to be a counselor for “Personal Management” then it doesn’t really matter that you’re the head financial adviser for the public brokerage department of Merrill Lynch, or whatever (and I don’t know if that’s a real job or not), and the parent in the troop is just an ordinary parent who read the merit badge thoroughly several times and who has their own retirement accounts — although you’re far, far more eminently qualified you’re not really going to get any boys calling you up to work on that merit badge. I knew a guy like this back in my home town — great guy, very qualified, and Personal Management is an Eagle-required merit badge so every Scout who wants to be an Eagle should be working on it, but he never had even one boy call him up, because they’d say in a troop meeting that they wanted to work on it and some adult in their troop would volunteer to teach it. Eventually he stopped being a merit badge counselor and walked away from Scouting completely.

    So don’t be a complete stranger. Go introduce yourself to the troops in your area. Say that you’re planning on volunteering to teach Merit Badge X and ask whether that’s something that the boys in that troop would be interested in learning. To really get to know the troops well, you might even consider asking if there’s anything else you can do to help, anything else that you might be able to teach.

    Once the troops know you, you’ll get recommendations.

    And if you really really want to be a volunteer for Scouting, but don’t have time to be part of a “once-a-week troop meeting and some weekend-outings” program, then consider volunteering for the District. District Roundtables always need more volunteers. Call your Council up, ask which District you live in, call up the District executive and say that you’re planning on visiting Roundtable to get a feel for it, and that you’d like an introduction to whoever is in charge of Roundtable so that you can volunteer.

    You’ll get to hear all about every upcoming District/Council activity (and several Troop activities), you’ll get to meet and know all sorts of leaders from all levels of Scouting, and you’ll have a great time.

    But you have to get out there and let people know that you’re available. If nobody knows you, you’re never going to get a call from any boys. So go out, meet people, spread the word, you’re ready and willing to become a merit badge counselor. Or, if you really want to volunteer with something and aren’t sure what you can do, go join a local group or your local District, or whatever. Keep asking and someone will help you find something to do so that you can be an integral part of Scouting.

    • Oh, I almost forgot. You may have to set out a program for how you’re going to teach a merit badge.

      “In your discussion of what is expected, you may want to start by finding out what the Scout already knows. He may already have worked on some of the requirements before meeting with you, but before signing off, it is up to you whether or not he has completed each requirement as written. Spend some time helping him learn the remaining requirements, or give guidance in completing projects. You can set up additional meetings with the Scout — not only for the purpose of passing him on the requirements, but rather to help him understand the subject.”

      “The Scout, along with his buddy, should make another appointment with you when he thinks he is prepared to prove his ability.”

      Some merit badge counselors have a defined program for teaching a merit badge. “You come to me and I’ll teach X, Y, Z, then you go do anything additional like a project, then we’ll chat and you’ll be done.”

      Some counselors have a more hands-off approach, “You come to me, we’ll chat, I’ll point you to resources that you can use to learn these things, and I’ll answer any questions that you have along the way, and then when you’ve learned everything and we’ve chatted you can go do anything additional like a project and you’ll be done.

      Naturally, it’s less work for the more defined program. If Scout A goes to Counselor B, then Scout C goes to Counselor D, and Scout C complains about how much work it is, then Scout A might tell Scout C about Counselor B, and Counselor D won’t ever hear from another Scout in that troop.

      Now, whatever your personal views are on how things *should* work, dear Reader, that’s how things do work. So work within the system. Find out who else is a merit badge counselor for something in your area and go chat with them when you’re chatting with the troops. Find out whether they have more Scouts than they can handle or whether nobody ever goes to them, and then figure out why that is (why they have a lot or no Scouts coming).

      And if you’re looking for the list of merit badge counselors, go to a monthly Roundtable meeting for your District. They’ll hook you up, or at least give you the contact information of the person who can hook you up.

  3. The only thing I would add to this is a discussion Abou partial completions. It is perfectly fine to return the blue card with only specific requirements signed off as completed so the scout may later complete the badge. This is often done st merit badge “clinics” and long term camps.

  4. Can an existing MBC be a counselor for scouts from other councils? I would assume this is permissible, but when attending a MBC training session I was notified that I would have to register with that council as well. Is this true?

    • It’s false. As long as you are registered in one council as a MBC for that Merit Badge (MB), you can counsel any Boy Scout or even Venturer working on a MB. I am registered in Heart of America Council and tomorrow I will be working the MIZZOU MB University in Columbia MO that is part of the Great Rivers Council. I have been a MBC at MB events in several other councils as well. If my son is at the event, I would rather be helping out other Scouts than sitting around waiting for him trying to find something to do.

      • Agreed, that a MBC can function outside of their ‘home’ Council, While this not frequent and usually involving a known person from an adjacent Council, I am somewhat troubled by a stranger holding them-self out as a Counselor for a particular Merit Badge and signing off on a number of Blue Cards. The Blue Card is not turned in with the Advancement Report (and even less if electronic) and no one looks at most Blue Cards until possibly several years later for Eagle (and then only that the MBs exist for Eagle…). — BSA does not issue any wallet card or other ID for an “official merit badge counselor”, specific MBs the individual is authorized to counsel, or dates of authorization. There is BSA registration (including: sex offender check) and Council level approval, but no number or list or paper to verify that the person is actually a Merit Badge Counselor, in current good standing, for specific MB(s) beyond their local Council/District level. — Other than the suspicion of the SM handing out the Blue Cards, what protection is there that this “kind stranger” visiting “from afar” wanting to help the boys with a Merit Badge is not a “fraud”? Am I missing something?

        • Yes, the first point of the scout law.

          We volunteers are gatekeepers. If the SM isn’t checking who these counselors are, e.g. by calling their respective council beforehand, sitting in on a session from time to time, and touching base with the scout and his buddy afterword to see what they got out of the badge – informing that fellow’s council if the answer seems to be “not much” …. Well the whole thing’s gonna fall apart.

      • When you fill out the MBC application, you can choose if you agree to work with “only scouts from your troop”, “only scouts from your council”, or all councils everywhere.

        As others have said, you mostly get scouts from a troop you are connected with

  5. I’ve been a Merit Badge Counselor for over 6 years now and still waiting for the first Scout to call me out of the blue to work on a Merit Badge. My name and phone number on the easy to find MBC list on our council’s website by badge & district.

    I’ve worked with some in my troop and many through various Merit Badge events. If Scouts do not complete the prerequisites for the Merit Badge events or complete the requirements (for those events that hold more than 1 meeting with time in between), they do not get the completed Merit Badge.

    Several of those Scouts have contacted me after the Merit Badge event to complete their Merit Badges because they did not meet the requirements during it. We meet at a mutual location (often Panera’s) with the Scout & one of their parents to go over the final requirements. When I take my son to Merit Badge events, I usually contact the event coordinator and offer my services as a MBC. If they don’t need a MBC, I then offer my services to provide any help they need (for the food, tables, or whatever) as it beats sitting around for several hours waiting for my son to get out of his Merit Badge. I don’t sit in on his Merit Badges because he enjoys the freedom away from me.

    • I too have been a MBC for a long time (has it really been 24 years?!?!?!) and can count on one had how many Scouts have contacted me to work with them.

      I like using the public library, specifically the Children’s Area. You don’t need to be quiet, and they have tables for use. In one case, it was the first time a Scout visited the library, and he as amazed at the number of books they had.

    • Agree, many MBCs are contacted by few or no Scouts, especially when not directly associated with an active (ie. advancement oriented) Troop and/or when listed for a less popular Merit Badge. — Leads to the conclusion that _most_ MBs are earned (1) at camp, (2) MB events, (3) Jamboree midway, or (4) in-the-troop from an adult associated with the troop.

    • 1. Dwindling membership
      2. Need 21? 3/year mostly at camp over seven years. Might really need to earn a badge outside of camp once.
      3. So, I put the odds at about 1:99 that, During his tenure a given scout is going to want to earn the MB you teach. Generously assume a 5 year tenure. That’s 1:499 per year.
      4. Multiply by the number of scouts in your district, divide by the number of counselors for that badge. You get the picture.
      5. Finally, stranger danger. Not just on the scout’s part. When I was a kid went to the courthouse to earn Emergency Preparedness from the sheriff and to the bank to earn Personal Managment from the VP. Nowadays the penknife I normally carried would set off alarms.
      6. Transport, I walked to nearly all of my counselors. How many of your district’s scouts live within a mile of you, or this Panera that you speak of?

  6. Existing counselors must re-register as merit badge counselors annually. That process is as simple as notifying your District (or Council) that you wish to continue on or before July 31st of each year.

    However, the way it’s written above, it sounds like they must take YPT annually – and that’s not the case. YPT is the same for everyone. Once every two years is fine.

    • Each council is different. Our period is 1JAN-31DEC each year. We receive a letter in the mail asking: Do you wish to remain a MBC? If yes, update your list of MBs shown. Send in an updated YPT certification if it will run out in the next calendar year. No response means the adult is removed from the MBC list.

  7. The only thing I would add to this article is that if you are signing up as a merit badge counselor for the first time, then you will need to complete a BSA Adult Volunteer application (position: merit badge counselor, position code: 42). IT DOES NOT MATTER if you are already an adult volunteer serving in many other capacities. You must complete a new form for each the new position in the BSA.

    I’ve seen scores of applications delayed months (or more) because they did not include a BSA Adult Volunteer application. And before you hit reply to tell me I’m wrong or that your Council doesn’t follow national policy, go read it for yourself:

    http://bit.ly/11KhOwC
    http://bit.ly/2cbN5Xh
    http://bit.ly/H088uM

    Do I sound cheesed? Yeah. I’m the volunteer at our district who has to explain to folks why they aren’t counselors yet (folks who did not read the directions on the district’s application).

  8. An additional consideration for a MBC is the formal training. While this is a great document it doesn’t complete the training requirement. I would like to see the training as an additional online training module, but it is not available. If you look in my.scouting, anyone as a MBC is still considered untrained if not formally trained as a MBC by the District or Council and then entered into the Training Management system or into ScoutNet. That does count against the District and Council in the overall trained % for many measurements and in the Trained Leaders in my.scouting. So do get the counselors to the formal training at your Training University events or schedule on at the Troop or District level.

  9. Here is the page I pass out to wanna be MBCounselors: How to Become a Merit Badge Counselor

    * Choose a subject (s) you enjoy and/or are expert in and would like to share with Scouts. You need Three Pieces of Paper:
    * Fill out an Adult Volunteer Application. Make sure every blank “has some ink in it”. From here on out, be sure to use the EXACT same form of your name every time! Otherwise, the computer or Registrar may get confused and give you multiple registrations ( “Marion K. Smith” not Mary Smith or M.K. Smith or Marion Smith).
    * Fill out a Merit Badge Counselor Application. Turn both these forms into EITHER the Scout Troop or your “Friendly Neighborhood Commissioner”.
    * Choice: Register with a local Scout Troop or Crew or District (see the form). A local Scout Troop will usually pay the registration fee ($20.? For life…) for you if you register with them . This doesn’t mean you can’t counsel any other Scout that asks you, just that you are on that Troop’s list. See next item.
    * Go On Line, Make a MyScouting account. Your membership number will be added later. Remember the “Same Name Form of” !
    Go to https://my.scouting. org . Read everything, follow instructions, lots of possible trainings, but YOU need “Youth Protection” training for Boy Scout Leaders.
    * Take online training (maybe 20 minutes): Youth Protection (see first page of MyScouting) When done, print out your “Diploma”. This is paper #3. With Scouting, it is ALWAYS a good practice to “make a copy” and “Keep a copy”.
    * Take the Online Merit Badge Counselor info & Training. Not “required” but good to do. And it may be required in the future.
    See http://www.scouting.org/scoutsource/BoyScouts/GuideforMeritBadgeCounselors.aspx
    * Make yourself known thru your own newsletters, Scout newsletter (WODSRTNews for instance) : There are three Districts in Montgomery County: White Oak (mine, eastern County), Seneca, (mid county), and Potomac, (western county). BSA bureaucracy. )
    **Wait for the hoards of eager Scouts to bash down your door…..

    When you are “complete”, the District Merit Badge Dean (I will give you his name later) will add your name to the District List. Three Districts, three lists. These are supposed to be collected into a Council (entire DC-MD-VA area) list. “supposed to be….”

    PG.1/2

    *** You can set up in one of several ways:
    >> Individual Counseling. Wait for the Scouts to call you. Schedule as is convenient to both you and them.
    >> Pre scheduled Merit Badge Classes. Set a date, set limits as to how many Scouts at a time, advertise in the Scout newsletters. You can peruse the Council website for more opportunities: http://www.ncacbsa.org/
    >> Join a Merit Badge Day, or College ? One day, many MB choices. Not all MBs lend themselves to this.
    >> Charge a fee for doing the Merit Badge? Not unusual, Include fair expenses? Copy expenses? Include MB Book? Not for making a profit, but some MBs can lead to a professional standing.

    Comments?

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