Five letters can say a whole lot.
By simply calling someone a “Scout,” you’re saying that person has strong moral character, is confident in the outdoors and has experience leading a team.
In fact, the Scouting name is so synonymous with positive attributes that master storyteller Stephen King included BSA references in more than half of his novels to date.
But there are some places where less isn’t more — where simply calling yourself a Scout won’t quite cut it.
When completing an application for college or a job, it’s not enough to just list Scouting as one of a half-dozen bullet points on your résumé. You need to explain the significance of that experience and how it shaped you.
That’s not just me talking. That’s the advice of the college admissions professionals we contacted last month for this comprehensive look at how colleges weigh an applicant’s Eagle Scout status when reviewing applications.
“While identifying oneself as an Eagle Scout is important, it is also critical to provide detailed information,” says Brandie Eneks, director of freshman admissions at Texas A&M University. “The essay provides a platform for Eagle Scouts to share any unique experiences they’ve had through Scouting.”
When you elaborate about your awards, leadership opportunities, volunteer hours and hands-on experiences, you’ll bring your Scouting experience into sharp focus and make your application soar to the top of the pile.
This advice isn’t just for Eagle Scouts
We spend a lot of time on this blog spotlighting the accomplishments of Eagle Scouts — and with good reason. These young people worked hard to complete the requirements for the highest honor in Scouts BSA.
But the Eagle Scout Award isn’t the sole mark of a Scouting experience worth including on an application. Even if your involvement in Scouting spanned a year or two, you had life-changing experiences worth sharing.
Below, we’ll show you how.
Why context matters
So why isn’t it enough to just list that you’re an Eagle Scout or spent however many years in a pack, troop, ship or crew?
Because colleges and employers want more than the “what.” They also want the “so what?”
Check out these excerpts from two fake-but-realistic résumés — both from the exact same Scout. Which reference to Scouting looks more impressive?
As Scouters, we know what it means to have four years of Scouting experience. It goes without saying that the young person completed service projects, earned merit badges and held leadership roles during that span.
But how would an application reader or hiring manager know that? They wouldn’t, so you have to show them.
Where should you include Scouting experience?
- On your résumé: Under volunteer experience, include an overview of your Scouting accomplishments. If you worked a paid job — at summer camp, for example — list that separately.
- In your cover letter: Think of a particularly memorable Scouting experience — one that helped solidify your skills as a leader and demonstrates your commitment to get the job done. Turn that story into a short narrative that will catch the hiring manager’s attention. Consider which of the following opening passages makes you want to read more:
- Example 1: “I spent four years as a Scout in Troop 123. As senior patrol leader, I learned how to overcome setbacks, lead my peers and work in a productive team.”
- Example 2: “Sunset was just an hour away, but that night’s campsite was still 10 miles down the trail. As the leader of this group of Scouts — someone elected to get the job done — I had a decision to make.”
- In your application: Every college says they take a holistic approach to admissions, meaning they look at everything you send — not just your GPA and test scores. This means you’ll want to include your Scouting experience under sections like volunteer experience or extracurricular activities. If you’re given space to do so, include a few highlights (see the section “Why context matters” above).
- In your essay: Find the university’s mission statement. Which of the university’s stated values align closest with the values you learned in Scouting? In that overlap, you might find inspiration for your essay. If the university values innovation, talk about the time you invented a camp gadget using only the materials in your troop trailer. If the university values leadership, write about the way you led a group of Scouts on a 50-mile hike across rugged terrain.
How to spotlight service projects
Eagle Scout service projects check so many boxes. They show that the young person can manage a multifaceted project, create a budget, lead others and commit themselves to something that takes months to complete. All that, and we haven’t even mentioned the impact on the community.
If you’re an Eagle Scout, your service project should be included in your résumé or application. It also might form the backbone for a cover letter or admissions essay. Tell how you planned, developed and gave leadership to a project that required you to juggle a number of different priorities.
If you aren’t an Eagle Scout, choose any memorable community service project. Describe how the project ignited a passion for selfless service.
These words can be more impactful when paired with numbers, so include how many hours of volunteer time you’ve devoted to Scouting.
If you think it would help, you could also include the “value of volunteer time” calculation, available here. The nonprofit group Independent Sector has determined that each hour you volunteered in 2020 is worth $27.20 to the nation. If you have accumulated 100 hours of service in your Scouting career, that service is worth $2,720.
How to describe leadership experience
Scouting is unique among extracurriculars because it’s truly led by the youth. Make this as clear as possible by sharing how, as senior patrol leader or patrol leader, you planned an entire year of activities, including meetings, campouts and a weeklong canoeing trip.
This advice isn’t just for Scouts with two or three green bars on their sleeves. On a job application, describe how, as quartermaster, you prepared a detailed inventory for $3,000 in troop camping equipment. Or tell in a college essay how, as troop historian, you conducted interviews and historical research to prepare a video celebrating your troop’s 100th anniversary.
How to explain merit badges
The depth of a young person’s Scouting involvement will impress recruiters and application readers. These days, it’s exceedingly rare for young people to be involved in something for more than a year or two.
But the breadth of experiences available in Scouting deserve attention, as well. Every time a Scout earns a merit badge, they gain skills in a subject area with real-world value.
Employers want to hire people who have many talents and can adapt to the ever-changing needs of the workplace.
Colleges want to admit people who demonstrate a range of skills and show a willingness to learn new things.
Share both the number of merit badges you earned and a few specific examples. I’m a big fan of sets of three, so I recommend including a curated trio. But don’t just pick the first three you completed or even those you believe to be the most impressive.
Choose merit badges that demonstrate your skills have more applications than a Swiss Army knife. If you earned a merit badge that has a direct link to the job or university, include that one for sure.
For example, if you’re applying for an after-school job at a pet store and have earned the Pets merit badge, list it. If you’re hoping to major in anthropology and earned the American Cultures merit badge, be sure to say so.
How to include high-adventure experiences
No college or employer wants to read about your vacation. So it’s a good thing your high-adventure experiences are anything but a lazy week at the beach.
Scouting trips lasting a week or longer are memorable for more than the trips themselves. They require months (or years) of planning, training and fundraising.
The story isn’t that you got to go kayaking in Alaska or hiking along the Appalachian Trail. It’s about everything leading up to the trip. It’s about the hurdles you overcame along the way. It’s about how you came back changed forever.
Three other quick tips
- Don’t rely on jargon. Don’t assume everyone knows common Scouting terms like “merit badge,” “senior patrol leader” or “National Jamboree.” Briefly explain why these mattered to you.
- But don’t leave out keywords, either. Building off that previous point, you also don’t want to totally omit Scouting keywords. This is especially important as some employers move to computerized résumé scanners that automatically organize and rate applicants. If you’re an Eagle Scout but only say that you “earned the highest award in the Boy Scouts of America,” the employer might overlook the honor completely.
- Plan for the interview, too. If you make it to a job interview (or if a college on your list conducts applicant interviews), consider how your Scouting experience might be showcased verbally. Interviewers often use your résumé to find icebreakers, and your time in Scouting might be what they choose. Be Prepared to tell your Scouting story by rehearsing it with friends or family.
By following these steps, you’ll demonstrate to the hiring manager or college admissions counselor that Scouting isn’t just another extracurricular activity. It’s a movement that prepares young people for life.