3 questions to ask yourself before becoming a merit badge counselor

Planning to teach them Traffic Safety? School them in Scholarship? Impart your insight about Inventing?

Before you serve as a merit badge counselor, ask yourself three questions:

1. Am I using the latest pamphlet and requirements?

You’ve heard the warning that anything posted online is there forever, right?

That’s true of merit badge requirements, too. A Google search turns up a number of websites with outdated merit badge requirements.

Make sure you’re using the latest and greatest by using this link only: http://www.scouting.org/meritbadges.aspx.

2. Do I have the skills, education, experience and certification required?

Just because you can register to teach a merit badge doesn’t mean you necessarily should. Be sure you have a complete understanding of the subject matter.

It’s about knowing your limits. I feel I’m qualified to teach the Journalism merit badge, and I’ve done so. But Chemistry? No way.

These merit badges require special qualifications or certifications for either the merit badge counselor or the supervisor of certain activities that may be involved, as outlined in section of the Guide to Advancement: Archery, Canoeing, Climbing, Kayaking, Lifesaving, Rifle Shooting, Rowing, Scuba Diving, Shotgun Shooting, Snow Sports, Swimming and Whitewater.

3. Is my required Youth Protection Training current?

If you aren’t sure, contact your local council service center to find out. Or better yet, just log on to your My.Scouting account and take the convenient online Youth Protection Training course.

Subscribe to the Advancement News newsletter

What’s my go-to source for the latest advancement news? It’s the Advancement News newsletter, of course. To subscribe, send an email to advancement.team@scouting.org.

Put “Subscribe” in the subject line. In the body of the email, include only your email address, name and council name.


  1. Bryan,

    Day #6 since the BSA policy change on transgender, still no blogg from you. I can only assume that you are doing heavy research on this topic since you have been timely in the past. Better do your “Ask the Expert” segment for this one.

    Please ask your expert about some practical application concerns that I have.

    How do I as a scoutmaster manage boys (with boy parts) and boys (with girl parts) for tenting/bathrooms/shower houses?

    Do I need to bring a woman (with woman parts) to outings to monitor the boys (with girl parts)?

    If a boy (who has girl parts) decides that it is no longer a boy, does it leave the troop?

    These are some major concerns that need to be addressed. The Chief Scout Executive didn’t detail this in his announcement.

    • Charlie,
      If I may as bold to provide a “Stop gap” response while Bryan does/continues whatever detailed/indepth research to courteously and rapidly reply to your inquiry.

      BSA Lone Scouts. GSA Juliettes.

      These two programs, which have been in place and working decades prior to the current climate, offer full access to assets, resources and programs to all properly registered youth and adult Scouters. I know.

      Based on my military family situation (and, regrettably, single parent status due to divorce when I returned from Iraq) were the perfect solutions to meeting my one daughter and two sons needs in the world of Scouting.

      Our spiritual path/religious dogma–we maintained as a family unit…no one dictating to us based on the Chartering Organization doctrine.

      Our engagement in the BSA LS program (more than one weekday evening, more than one a quarterly outdoor event) was specifically geared to meeting my THREE children labelled as “Students with Special Education Needs (SENs)” as previously self-documented by their biological mother. We, “BSA Lone Scout 13 Fire Owl Patrol” (13 = 1 Dad & 3 Kiddos), do our own thing within the stated dictates, guidelines, rules, programs, themes of the BSA–tempered with our good common sense, common courtesies, mutual respects, and living Values.

      If you have any follow-on questions about the BSA Lone Scout program–please feel free to contact me—I’ve been engaged as a BSA Lone Scout Counselor (i.e. Scout Master, Pack Master) since the 2010.

      As always and ever, faithfully and respectfully, Yours In Service, So Mote It Be;
      Capt. Rick. Briggs
      Killeen, Texas, USA.

    • Charlie –

      Firstly, you might not always know what “parts” a Scout has. If they don’t disclose that information, it’s not the BSA’s place to dig into…. so you might not always know who is (or is not) transgender. Some Scouts will be very assimilated into the male gender schema and other may be less comfortable and need other accommodations.

      Secondly, a “one size fits all” national policy won’t really work. The “correct” answers and appropriate responses will vary greatly state to state (as laws vary), Scout to Scout (as individuals situations vary), and situation to situation (as individual troops and events vary). The best course of action would be to talk with the Scout and their parents to determine how to best handle these issues on a case-by-case basis.

      • It’s my duty as scoutmaster to provide for the safety of the scouts. Not sure I can do that with these new gender issues. Someone please tell me how. Just hoping that I won’t encounter a transgender person isn’t a solution.

        • Charlie, you say that your duty as Scoutmaster is to “provide for the safety of the Scouts” and that you are now unsure how to do that with “these new gender issues.” So out of curiosity, what “new” issues that didn’t exist before do you feel will arise that will make you unable to provide that safety for your Scouts? What’s changed?

          As I said in my above post, the best solution on how to deal with the issue is to talk with the individual Scout and their parents to determine how to best handle any issues on a case-by-case basis. The right solution for accommodating one transgender Scout might not be the right solution for another transgender Scout. It’s a spectrum and not all transgender individuals are in the same place or want/need the same things. Some trans Scouts may appear and act very “traditionally male”… some may not. Some trans Scouts may use a “male” name… some may not… Some trans Scouts may feel more comfortable using the “mens” room… some may not.

          There is not going to be a black-and-white “one-size-fits-all” policy for this… some transgender Scouts may feel more comfortable using the bathroom that matches the “parts” listed on their birth certificate… but for others it may be much more appropriate for them to enter a bathroom that matches their gender identity and outward appearance rather than the one that matches their chromosomes. And some states may allow, disallow or require different things too. You might have two transgender Scouts in your unit and each one is “in a different place” with how they identify and want/need to be treated.

          As you said, your job is to oversee the safety of the Scouts… so I would hope you’re already working to assure that there isn’t bullying, assault, inappropriate contact, discomfort, stress, etc. for any of your Scouts. It really doesn’t matter what “parts” the Scouts have… bullying, assault, inappropriate contact, discomfort, stress, etc. can happen if you have a troop of Scouts who all identity as “straight cisgender males”… or if your unit is co-ed… or if your unit also includes Scouts who are transgender, gay, non-binary, genderless, or asexual. The new policy doesn’t really change anything (besides allowing Scouting to welcome more individuals into the program).

    • Our district had a round table meeting last Thursday and our DE read a verbatim script about this change. I don’t expect that Bryan will be going into detail here. From what was in the script this is all being handled on a case by case basis.

      I personally won’t worry about all of this ahead of time. Yes I know of some transgender youth in my area. But there aren’t a lot out there. And if the percentages of those who consider themselves male who want to be a scout reflect the general male population you just aren’t likely to need to worry.

      But generally if the person decided to “no longer be a boy” then said person certainly wound’t be eligible any longer.

      I can tell you that any said youth would expect to be treated the same as any other. And from what I have seen in my unit, I highly doubt there would be any reason for anyone to know different. So far there has only been one scout in a tent at a time when changing clothes.

    • Bryan –

      Something screwy is going on here. Charlie’s comment has garnered over 700 ratings (500+ thumbs ups and 200+ thumbs down). The next highest-rated comment on this post has gotten only 30 reactions (which is 4% of the engagement Charlie’s comment has) and the average for the 33 other comments on this post is less than 1% of Charlie’s (with less than 5 ratings each). Looking at other posts on this blog, it’s rare that an individual comment gets over 70 ratings, let alone getting over 700! Scouting Magazine’s Facebook posting of this blog post has garnered only 210 reactions, and the official tweet of it got just 7 “likes”…. yet Charlie’s comment here has somehow gotten 700+ reactions? Seems like someone is stuffing the ballot box to artificially inflate the interest in this topic.

      • Yep. It is possible for someone to use browser tricks to add multiple thumbs up (or down) to a comment. It appears that’s what he has done here.

        • It’s possible that the LGTBQ ASDFJKL; crowd frequents this blog and gets like minded souls to chime in.

          Souls who have no affiliation with Scouting.

  2. I don’t like the term “teach” for Merit Badges (MB) just as I don’t like the term “class” for a Merit Badge event (Forum, College, University, Day, Roundup, etc.). While learning usually takes place by the Scout during their interactions with the Merit Badge Counselor (MBC), MBs are not school and MBCs are not just teachers.

    MBCs are meant to allow the Scout to explore 136 areas that he may be naturally curious about and/or the completion of the Eagle required MBs.

    If the Scout does work on their own, sometimes the MB counselor just checks to make sure the requirement is met and has a discussion about the requirement to find out what the Scout learn or how difficult it was to complete the requirement. The Scout learned on his own and the MBC “taught” the Scout nothing about that requirement.

    Sometimes there is instruction needed such as with the Surveying MB. It is probably rare that a Scout has access to surveying equipment and be able to meet the requirements on their own without assistance from an expert. In this case, the Survey MBC would show the Scout how to use the equipment and take measurements. Then, the Scout would demonstrate that he can meet the requirements that require the use of the survey equipment.

    I concur with #1 above because I have seen many MB events still requiring the on-line course as a prerequisite for the completion of the Search & Rescue MB event though that requirement was dropped over 2 years ago. There are other examples and when I bring this up to the MBC, I get all sorts of looks and remarks like “That’s the way we have always done it” or “That’s what my pamphlet says” or even, “I don’t care. I’m doing it my way.” Life is always evolving and so is the BSA including the MB program.

    • Having observed Merit Badge “Days”, etc., I agree. Paying a fee and being guaranteed an MBC signature for two, three or more MBs for simply sitting in a classroom setting is not the way it should be done. Some of my Scouts a few years ago attended these and came back with First Aid, Public Speaking, Citizenship in the Community, Welding, Art, and a couple of other MBs signed off by counselors appointed for the event, for being in class for an hour each…no prerequisites. Most of the Scouts asked me to help them, after the fact, to actually do those requirements that asked for action…things like really speaking, really visiting an art gallery, demonstrating CPR, etc.

      • My son got a partial on first aid at merit badge college because he didn’t know some of the skills for rank. He finished it at summer camp. He did have pre reqs for the others.

  3. YPT is rather important, though I reflect on my own Scouting years and wonder whether we were doing it right or not by today’s standards..

    If adult leaders need to have multiple parties present, wouldn’t a MBC? Because I can recall several times where it was just me and my MBC, alone, for long stretches of time. Nothing nefarious occurred, in fact it was nice to discuss some old stories for the elderly gentleman (and help him feel important and useful to “the younger generation”, he told me later).. but was it in violation of YPT?

    • There has to be 3 people in the room: MBC & 2 Scouts (wouldn’t recommend); MBC, Scout, & Sibling (wouldn’t recommend) or MBC, Scout, & 1 other adult (could be parent or another Scouter).

      A lot of people think there has to be 2 adults in the room, but technically it is not required . . but a good safeguard to be sure. Just never 1 on 1 contact between a Scout and adult (trained or untrained).

      • Why don’t you like two scouts? That seems ideal to me because it means that the only adult involvement can come from the counselor.

        • If 1 Scout was 17 & the other 11, probably no issue. Just wouldn’t feel good about two 11-year old Scouts going over to Mr. MBC’s house to work on their Woodworking Merit Badge because he had a full workshop. Better to be safe than sorry in today’s environment . . . from both the Scout and adults perspective.

      • Video recording the MB session could be used to protect the interests of all parties. It would depend on the state the MB is being taught. CYA is always the best option from being accussed of something.

    • Yes, even a counselor needs to follow the YPT rules of no one on one contact in the current rules (which may or may not have been in place when you did your badges).

      That doesn’t mean that you need two Scouts or two registered adults, though – for instance one of our Eagle Scouts turned adult leader/MBC often met Scouts in a public spot (like a coffee shop or fast food place) to discuss their badges.
      That way, even if it was just the two of them at the table, there were always other adults present (the employees and/or other customers) in case anyone tried to suggest something happened (and likely it would keep them from doing so falsely as well).

  4. I’m glad you stated the Youth Protection training requirements. This is a challenge for many districts in ensuring MBC’s are keeping up to day.

  5. Here is/are the pages 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….”


    *** 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.


    • I have no major issues with the handout. I’m still waiting for the first Scout to call me out of the Blue. I’ve done MBs before normal meeting time, usually my son + 1 or 2 others. Done many different MB events in all manners of format. Prerequisites are a must for the 1-day events. For the ones that meet more than once, “homework” can be handed out for which requirements need to be completed before the next meeting. I do Merit Badges at the National WWI Museum in KC. Started with American Heritage, but then it got saturated. Switched to CITW and had 65 on the Wait List for the 1st event. Hold 2nd event in April in 2 different rooms to get all that wanted it taken care of it. Cost is $15, but all goes to the museum for the snack, room rental, private tour, admission afterwards to the museum, and a special patch.

  6. Bryan … What is your opinion on allowing senior scouts in the troop instruct junior scouts in the same troop on merit badges that the senior scouts have already earned.

    • My troop growing up did it all the time BUT the MBC was supervising the older scouts. He usually was sitting in a chair, and watching.

      I’ve done that before.

    • Art: I think BSA doesn’t have an issue with it as under Life Scout Rank Requirement 6, it says to:
      “While a Star Scout, use the Teaching EDGE method to teach another Scout (preferably younger than you) the skills from ONE of the following choices, so that he is prepared to pass thse requirements to his Scoutmaster’s satisfaction.”

      Option h in this requirement says, “Three requirements from one of the required Eagle merit badges, as approved by your Scoutmaster.”

      Sounds like a Scout can teach a requirement for a Merit Badge. The MBC would need sign off, however, on meeting the requirement to the MBC’s standard.

  7. Brian, I would add the following:

    a. am I willing to work, counsel young men, ages 11 to 18, and also interact with their parents?

    b. Do I wish to assist Scouts ONLY in home town, adjoining towns, or local district?

    c. Is there someone in my local area who can resolve issues, provide support of any kind, any time, if I have any questions, concerns, etc.??

    d. Does a Merit Badge Counselor need any previous Scouting experience?

    ** ** *

    Merit Badge Counselors of the 21st century are not the same as the previous generation, namely with the importance of YPT. Very, Very few Scouts will work on a Merit Badge with any Counselor who is either not an adult Leader of the Scout’s troop, a Council sponsored mass-MB give-away activity or Summer Camp staff member.

    I have not been asked by any Scout in over ten years for any Merit badge I might be approved. So, its a MOOT POINT for me these days.

  8. Remember that all of this also applies to Nova Counselors and SuperNova Mentors. Mentors must apply to serve and be approved by the council to verify their STEM creds.

  9. Bryan and others on the team,

    I watch your page here: http://blog.scoutingmagazine.org/merit-badge-calendar/
    for updates, as I have been waiting for the rumored Exploration badge to get released. Yesterday in another council’s scout shop I was looking through the clearance stuff and looked up at the MB wall and low and behold their was a badge there I had not seen before. And yes, it was Exploration.

    I love the requirements for this badge, super well thought out and very defining of expectations and impossible to do in a single day. There is class work and learning to be done, study of other explorations, study of scientific principle and then the best part of it, an open ended practicum that the scout gets to define the scope of….. and it can be epic or mundane, but it has to line up with the scientific principles of exploration. City Scouts can do Urban Exploration, Country Scouts can do countryside exploration, those who want to go big and do so, those who are limited can scale down, I am really happy with this badge.

    So all that to ask if the update page is a dead feature now or if there will be updates there in the future? And are there any new badges in the works? And there are a few badges like Truck Transportation that are looking at a massive update at the Federal Government has passed laws affecting how the Trucking Industry does logs (the book refers to paper logs but the industry is in the process of switching to the mandatory Electronic Logs) I have reached out to the email on the national site, but are there sub committees for the specific badges?

        • The National BSA seems to be run more by lawyers, bean counters & corporate donors these days, than folks truly interested in scouting. So those not in the board room have to wait for the “go ahead”.

      • Waiting for the “green light”?!? What’s the hold up? I became a councilor for the Exploration merit badge back in December. I bought the book last month and I already have a Scout who has completed all the requirements and he’ll be getting the patch at a Court of Honor next week (our advancement chair just bought the actual badge for him yesterday). Scouts are earning this, yet BSA isn’t ready to talk about it? Huh?!?

  10. Last year my council started requiring all MB counselors to not only have YPT (which no one had any issue with) but also to physically attend council-sanctioned 2-hour MB counselor training in the evening.

    I’d been a registered MB counselor for 10+ years (and registered scout leader for 15+ years) with ample skills/experience/certs for the badges I taught. But suddenly if I didn’t make more time in my insanely busy schedule to have rudimentary training on something I’d done for 10+ years my name would be stricken from the MB counselor roles. Because of my scoutmaster and OA lodge adviser roles, along with being an education non-profit board president and holding down a full-time IT manager job I had no “free” nights for that training.

    That resulted in my name and the names of many other adults in our troop (and every other troop in the council) being de-registered as MB counselors, which means less MB opportunities for our scouts.

    I wrote a formal letter of complaint to the council and national office. Nothing changed. Meanwhile scouts in our council go to summer camps in other councils, and they earn MBs from youth and adults who haven’t attended our council-mandated training. There’s no logic to it whatsoever.

    Be thankful that the rest of you readers and leaders (including Bryan) seem to be in councils without such dumb rules that make it harder for scouts to learn and earn advancement.

    • Our council has a training requirement for MBCs, but it is only 1 hour long. It’s held quarterly at the same time as our district’s Round Table, but if requested our District Training team will do it for a troop if they have a bunch of parents wanting it. The actual “training” takes less than 30 minutes, but then it is opened up to questions. I can sum up the training I received in 4 bullet points.

      1. Don’t meet one-on-one with any Scout.
      2. Be familiar with your subject enough that you can be a resource for the Scout.
      3. Have the Scout meet each requirement as written, nothing more or less.
      4. The purpose of the program is to gain familiarity with the subject, not become an expert. Having completed the First Aid Merit Badge does not make one an EMT (I know that some will disagree with this one).

      Of course, there is more to being a Merit Badge Counselor then this but these are the high points.

      • Those 4 bullet points could be listed on the MB counselor registration paperwork to save a bunch of volunteers a lot of wasted time driving to/from that training and then sitting through “Captain Obvious” sort of stuff for an hour or whatever amount of time is involved.

        Bullet number 1 is well-covered in the mandatory YPT that all scouting volunteers take, which makes it redundant. Having it redundantly listed on MB counselor paperwork is fine though.

        • I personally wouldn’t mint a little more MBC screening. We recently had Scout attend a MB day. The councilor was teaching Citizen in the world and did not know key points of geography and political affiliation. But the worst was when one Scout tried to correct the councilor was told to it was rude to correct an “elder”. I complained to the hosting Troop organizer and was told they put up with her “mistakes” because she’s been a loyal patron of the unit for years. I wouldn’t honor the Scouts cards until we went through the book and the worksheet they were given withcorrected information.

  11. Question 4. Why am I doing this? What is my motivation?

    1. Do it for the scouts!

    2. Do it to share your passion for the area of interest. Perhaps you can ignite the fire in a scout to share that passion. And just as important, perhaps a scout, being fully informed will realize, this area of interest is really not for me.

    3. Remember the experience is at least as important as the badge. It is okay, if every scout you counsel does not earn the merit badge. Don’t be a rubber stamp. (A scout is Trustworthy).

    4. Be a guide beyond the Merit Badge. Live the scout law with the scouts you counsel.

  12. I will go on a limb and say that in some cases I totally disagree with a common thing expressed here. A counselor doesn’t always need to be an expert. They need enough knowledge to help the scout along the path. It certainly helps to be an expert. But there is no requirement (outside a few badges) for good reason.

    Consider also that the counselor does not need to TEACH the MB. The counselor needs to be convinced the scout has learned/performed what the badge entails. Consider this for a moment. A Scout takes welding class in school. In class he does everything in the requirements. But… his teacher is not YPT certified nor willing to register. Now what?? I know my answer is to find a willing volunteer to ensure that the scout really has met the requirements and is willing to become a counselor. Said volunteer might just speak with the teacher to ensure the requirements were met.

    • Kirk: Concur with your perspective to a point. I think I could be a First Aid MBC even though I am not in the medical field. Having spent 23+ years in the Army and gone through numerous First Aid classes with them, I probably will know if a Scout can properly tell me how to treat Heat Stroke. If the Scout wanted to dive deeper into the subject of Heat Stroke, I would be at a loss other than to say, “the body is overheating and needs to be cooled off.”

      As for your Welding example, I have never welded before in my life so don’t know a good weld from a bad weld. Talking to the teacher is great, but as the MBC you are attesting to the fact that the Scout has met the standard for the requirement. I would rather be the one making that determination instead of relying on someone I do not know and thus for that reason I would never become a Welding MBC. If the Scout needed a Welding MBC, I would have him seek out one in our council or if there was none help him find someone that is a welder and work with them to become a MBC.

  13. That’s my late son, Will, fishing from the wheelchair. The goal of making it to Jamboree got him through cancer treatment in 2013. He relapsed and passed away Aug. 2016, but seeing this photo makes me smile!

  14. Note that Merit Badge Counselor training is now available online. So you can take both Youth Protection Training and that training online. You do not need any face-to-face training. That’s also a good refresher training for longtime counselors. In my council, merit badge counselor applications must be approved by the council Advancement committee.

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