Merit badges are one of the most recognizable elements of Scouting, and for good reason — they give scouts the opportunity to explore new subjects and learn valuable skills! In fact, there’s such a wide range of badges to earn that in my troop we often joked that there’s a merit badge for everything. In some ways, that’s true!
How do you earn a Merit Badge? To earn a merit badge, a scout must fulfill each official BSA requirement with their badge counselor, along the way demonstrating skills and learning terms to increase their understanding of the badge’s subject. There are over 135 merit badges available for scouts to complete, in topics ranging from chess, to carpentry, to citizenship.
While merit badges may just seem like colorful pieces of fabric to those unfamiliar with Scouting, if you’re a scout it’s vital you understand their value! In this article, I’ll be quickly teaching you everything that’s worth knowing about merit badges. Afterward, you’ll practically be a merit badge expert!
So, sit back, relax, and get ready to learn everything about merit badges that you’ll need to know to become an Eagle Scout!
What is a Merit Badge?
Have you ever thought about what the term “merit badge” actually means? Well, merit is defined as “the quality of being good or worthy” according to the Cambridge Dictionary. Wearing a “merit badge” seems to mean that if a person is wearing it, they are “worthy of wearing” that badge. But, what must a scout do to be worthy of wearing a particular merit badge?
Well, let’s check out an actual merit badge to find our answer…
Right above us is a picture of the Communication merit badge. To earn this badge, a scout must deliver a speech, attend a community meeting, and teach a class (just to name a few of the many requirements). As you might’ve noticed, the design of the merit badge itself already tells us a bit about why a scout might be worthy of wearing this badge!
A merit badge’s descriptive design help to remind scouts of the lessons they’ve learned along their journey to complete the badge requirements. Here’s a quick breakdown of the Communication merit badge’s symbolism:
- Signified by the quill and paper: A scout had to perform written communication tasks, helping them to improve their written language skills.
- Signified by the speaker at the podium: A scout had to practice public speaking, as clear communication is a must-have in the professional world.
- Signified by the super old rotary phone (lol): A scout had to practice verbal communication, a skill that makes their leadership more precise and impactful.
As you can see, to be deemed “worthy” of wearing a merit badge, a scout must have developed a strong understanding of the badge’s topic. They’ll also need to have completed challenging requirements to gain a full picture of the topic they’re learning. 🙂
So to tie it all together, what is a merit badge? A merit badge is a symbolic award worn by scouts to represent their proficiency in the badge’s subject. That means if a badge shows a symbol of, for example, a chef’s hat and other cookware, the scout wearing it will be able to prepare a meal and speak knowledgeably about proper nutrition!
How do Scouts Earn Merit Badges?
So, now that you fully understand what merit badges are, it’s time you learn how to start earning them for yourself, FAST! To earn your Eagle Scout rank, you’ll need to complete at least 21 merit badges — 13 of which are the infamous Eagle-required badges (click the link to see my difficulty ranking for each Eagle-required badge!). In this section, I’ll make sure you’re prepared! 😉
First, I’d highly recommend checking out the informative video (15:42) below. It’ll provide you with an amazing overview of how to find and earn merit badges. The scout who created it, Mac Guzman, runs an awesome Youtube channel, so you should definitely subscribe to him if you like what you see!
Now that you know all the different possibilities for earning merit badges, it’s time to start working on some merit badges of your own! To do this, I’d recommend checking out my article on The Right Way To Organize Merit Badge Counseling Meetings to learn how to find counselors and schedule time-effective meetings.
So now that you know how to start earning merit badges, you might have a few in might that you’d like to take on. Not so fast! First, I want to give you a few helpful tips so you can earn merit badges even faster (and better understand the subject matter!):
- Start multiple merit badges at once so that you always have something productive to work on.
- Circle or write down your “next steps” so that you’re never at a loss for what to do if you have some free time.
- Talk with your merit badge counselor when starting out to decide on the best timeline for earning your badge. Stick to it!
- Take note of the badge requirements that’ll be most difficult to complete. Then, ask yourself what needs to be done, where it needs to be done, and when you can do it. That’s how to make a solid plan.
- Work together with your Scouting buddies to complete merit badges.
- Use helpful online resources like ScoutSmarts!
At this point, the only question that’s left for you should be, “What merit badges should I earn first?” If that’s what you’re wondering, great question! In this next section, I’ll give you a few suggestions of the best merit badges to earn, based on your own interests!
What are the Best Merit Badges to Earn?
Just like anything else, some merit badges are more difficult to complete than others. The easiest merit badges can often be finished in one day, whereas some badges may take months to even a year to fully complete!
To give you an idea of what types of merit badges are available, here’s a list of great badge ideas, based on category. Some are fun, some are educational, and some offer you the chance to learn useful life skills!
P.S: I won’t go over every single merit badge that exists, as this article would end up being way too long! If you’re interested in merit badge ideas though, I’d encourage you to check out The BSA’s article on merit badges for a complete list of every single badge!
Merit Badges that Teach Academic Subjects
- Engineering: If you’re thinking about becoming an engineer or going into a STEM-related field, this merit badge will be right up your alley. In completing it, you’ll learn a lot about physics and even create a few nifty gadgets of your own!
- Mammal Studies: This badge will teach you a ton of interesting facts about the furry critters that roam your neighborhood. Plus, you’ll even be able to carry out a project aimed at helping some number of mammals!
- Public Health: Especially after Covid-19, public health is more important to understand than ever. In earning the Public Health merit badge, you’ll learn the science of illness, as well as how to keep yourself and your family safe from disease.
Merit Badges that Teach Important Outdoor Skills
- Camping: This might be one of the most recognizable badges of all time! To earn the Eagle-required Camping merit badge, you’ll need to spend 20 nights camping out and learn a variety of useful outdoor survival skills. I really enjoyed earning this badge!
- Orienteering: You’ll be using more than just a map and compass to earn the Orienteering merit badge! You’ll also need to interpret topographic maps, learn the different orienteering symbols, and participate in a few fun orienteering events.
- Gardening: Gardening will give you a newfound appreciation for plant life. From growing fruits to maintaining a composting bin, get ready to get your hands dirty if you decide to complete this very hands-on merit badge!
Merit Badges that Teach Crucial Life Skills
- Personal Management: This may be of the toughest merit badges out there, but it’s also one of the most useful! You’ll learn how to save money, budget, and invest so that you can have a future filled with financial security.
- Emergency Preparedness: Are you prepared? You’ll need to be if you want to earn this Eagle-required badge! In it, you’ll learn about how to respond to emergency situations like fires, car crashes, natural disasters, and more.
- Citizenship in the Community: You’ll never look at your community the same way again after earning this badge. Don’t worry, that’s a good thing! To complete Citizenship in the Community, you’ll need to attend town meetings, interview public officials, and volunteer with a local organization. This is an incredibly important merit badge for sure!
Why do Merit Badges Matter?
Merit badges offer scouts a unique way to explore new areas of interest and expand their knowledge. Through the Eagle-required badges, scouts learn important principles that will serve them well throughout their lives. Thus, merit badges are an essential part of the Scouting process.
Let’s take a quick look at what actually goes into earning a merit badge (hint: it isn’t easy). As an example, lets talk about two very different badges: Astronomy and Personal Fitness.
In earning the Astronomy merit badge, some of the things a scout must do include:
- Learn how to properly use and take care of telescopes.
- Observe the moon and sketch it through its different phases.
- Visit a planetarium or participate in an astronomy-related activity.
- Demonstrate first aid methods for any likely hazards one might encounter while practicing astronomy.
- Clearly explain what it is we’re seeing when we look towards the night sky.
In earning the Personal Fitness merit badge, some of the things a scout must do include:
- Explain the benefits of good nutrition and why it’s good to have regular physicals every year.
- Devise and follow a 12-week comprehensive fitness plan.
- Show improvement in various areas of their physical fitness.
- Understand the role that healthy habits play in their lives and plan to improve wellness.
- Learn about career opportunities in personal fitness.
As you can see, merit badges are a valuable part of Scouting. They provide a great method of helping scouts learn complex topics in a fun and engaging way. Additionally, merit badges teach scouts the importance of planning and overcoming challenges, which is an incredibly useful skill to bring into the “real world!” 😉
I hope this article has taught you a lot of useful information so that you’re inspired to get out there and earn as many merit badges as possible! In my own Scouting experiences, I found earning badges to be a great way to explore new areas of interest and learn valuable skills. Hopefully, the same is true for you too!
If you’re just starting out in Scouting, I’d highly suggest checking out my article on the Advantages and Value of Becoming an Eagle Scout. A big part of overcoming difficult challenges is having a “why” in mind that motivates you to keep pushing forward.
Once you learn the various reasons why earning Eagle will positively impact your life, you’ll be prepared to put in the hard work to make it happen!
Congrats on reaching the end of this article! I’d encourage you to share it with your Scouting buddies if you think they might be interested (especially if they need some encouragement to earn badges). Hope to see you here at ScoutSmarts again soon and, until next time, best of luck on your Scouting journey! 🙂