The big difference between Cub Scout advancement and Scouts BSA advancement

Rank advancement in Cub Scouting is not like rank advancement in Scouts BSA. And that’s by design.

In Cub Scouting, advancement is grade- or age-based. It’s a rank-per-year system designed to offer age-appropriate fun and challenges as Cub Scouts progress through the program.

Cub Scouts don’t go back and work on ranks designed for earlier grade levels. They also can’t move ahead to the next rank if they finish requirements early.

In Scouts BSA, though, Scouts hold the reins. They advance at their own pace — independent of grade, age or the progress of their fellow Scouts.

While there’s a recommended speed at which ranks are completed, a Scout BSA member can advance at his or her own pace. The only real deadline: age 18, when a Scout is no longer a youth member of the BSA.

Cub Scout advancement

The first badge all Cub Scouts (except those in the Lion program) earn, regardless of age, is the Bobcat badge. After earning Bobcat, Cub Scouts work on advancement for their grade or age level.

  • Bobcat. Earned first by all Cub Scouts, no matter what age they join.
  • Tiger. For boys or girls who have completed kindergarten or are 7 years old.
  • Wolf. For boys or girls who have completed first grade or are 8 years old.
  • Bear. For boys or girls who have completed second grade or are 9 years old.
  • Webelos. For boys or girls who have completed third grade or are 10 years old.
  • Arrow of Light. For boys or girls who have completed fourth grade.

Cub Scouts do not go back and work on ranks designed for earlier grade levels, even if missed because of their time of joining. Likewise, Cub Scouts do not move ahead to the next rank until the completion of the current school year.

The highest rank, Arrow of Light, is earned as the Cub Scout leaves Cub Scouting and enters a Scouts BSA troop.

Scout BSA advancement

Scouts BSA advancement isn’t age- or grade-based. The Scout, with support and guidance from parents and Scout leaders, progresses at his or her own pace.

The Scouts BSA Handbook suggests that members earn the Scout rank “soon after joining.” It goes on to say that earning Tenderfoot, Second Class and First Class should happen within the first 12 to 18 months of joining Scouts BSA.

At Star, Life and Eagle, Scouts tend to spread out a little bit. Some Scouts advance through those ranks quickly while others take their time. There’s no right approach — every Scout is different.

Beginning at the Star rank, the BSA adds time-based requirements:

Star: Active as a First Class Scout for at least four months; serve in a position of responsibility for at least four months.

Life: Active as a Star Scout for at least six months; serve in a position of responsibility for at least six months.

Eagle: Active as a Life Scout for at least six months; serve in a position of responsibility for at least six months.

Add those requirements up, and you’ll get a minimum of 16 months between becoming First Class and earning Eagle. That’s a minimum. I have argued in the past that Scouting advancement is a wonderful journey — not a race.

Clearing up misconceptions

The mechanics of Cub Scout advancement could leave Scouts and parents with a mistaken belief that Scouts BSA advancement works the same way.

There are seven ranks in Scouts BSA, and an 11-year-old Scout has seven years before he or she turns 18. Seven ranks, seven years? Some families assume that a Scout must earn Eagle just before turning 18.

That’s not the case, but it could be part of the reason why the average age of Eagle Scouts is around 17.25.

That’s why the BSA recommends discussing Scouts BSA advancement during new Scout and parent orientation. Some points to make:

  • Advancement in Scouts BSA is based on individual initiative with guidance and encouragement from the patrol leader, Scoutmaster, and other youth and adult leaders.
  • Scouts BSA has seven ranks: Scout, Tenderfoot, Second Class, First Class, Star, Life and Eagle. Requirements are found in the Scouts BSA Handbook and online.
  • Advancement has four steps: Learn, Test, Review and Recognize.
  • Some of the requirements for each rank have a time element, so Scouts will want to plan ahead so they don’t run out of time.
  • Alternative advancement paths are available for Scouts with permanent physical or developmental challenges.
About Bryan Wendell 2797 Articles
Bryan Wendell, an Eagle Scout, is senior editor of Boys’ Life, Scouting and Eagles’ Call magazines.