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 person earn a merit badge and get one step closer to the next rank.

At the most, a merit badge counselor introduces a young person 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 the Scout’s 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 them what is expected of them over the phone, or you may want to make an appointment to discuss this with them in person. Personal contact will make earning the badge a better experience for all concerned.
  2. When you work with a Scout, you must always have a second adult present. This point is emphasized in the BSA Youth Protection training.
  3. On the Scout’s first visit, they should bring a merit badge application, known as the “blue card,” No. 34124, signed by their unit leader. This lets you know the Scout and their unit leader have discussed earning this badge and authorizes them 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. They 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 they have completed each requirement as written. Spend some time helping them 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 them on the requirements, but rather to help them understand the subject.
  5. The Scout should make another appointment with you when they think they are prepared to prove their ability.
  6. This review session might be approached by the Scout with some apprehension. They are familiar with final exams in school and may see this meeting with you as another such experience. You can help by putting them at ease. Talk with them rather than grill or examine them; there is a big difference, yet you can still find out what they know. Express honest enthusiasm for the things they have done, particularly if projects are involved. Your approval will give the Scout confidence.
  7. When they meet you, they should bring with them the projects required for completion. If these cannot be transported, they should present satisfactory evidence, such as a photograph of the project or adult verification. Their 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, they are to do exactly what is stated. If it says ‘‘show or demonstrate,’’ that is what they 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.

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