Unlike Cub Scouts, where the scouts all advance automatically at the end of the year, advancement in Boy Scouts is done at each Scouts own pace. Some scouts move up through the ranks very quickly, others move more slowly. Only about 5% of all boys who enter scouting ever earn Eagle, Scouting's highest rank.
Ranks available in Boy Scouts are:
The first four ranks (Scout through First Class) focus mainly on learning skills. These skills include topics from Camping, Cooking, Tools, Navigation, Nature, Aquatics, First Aid, Fitness, Citizenship, Leadership, and Scout Spirit. As the scout progresses through these ranks, the level of difficulty increases. Reaching First Class is a significant milestone, because it signifies that a scout has mastered all of the skills needed to be successful in the program.
The remaining ranks focus on leadership skills. These ranks (including Eagle) all follow the same basic format, although they do get more difficult as the scout advances:
- Active time in the Troop
- Earn Merit Badges
- Participate in or run service projects
- Demonstrate leadership by serving in a troop leadership position or by carrying out a scoutmaster approved leadership project.
Scoutmaster Conference & Board of Review
At the conclusion of each rank, a scout must participate in a Scoutmaster Conference followed by a Board of Review. The Scoutmaster Conference can be done by either the Scoutmaster or any of the Assistant Scoutmasters. The Board of Review is conducted by several members of the troop's committee.
It is important to remember that neither of these activities are quizzes on what was done to get to this rank. You should never hear something like please repeat for me the answer to requirement #6 from the First Aid merit badge. This is time for the troop to get to know the scout a bit better. Questions that might come up are things like "What was the hardest thing you had to do to reach this rank?", "What one thing would you have done differently?", or "What was the most valuable thing you learned?"
Note: The only exception to what was stated above about Boards of Review are:
- The Scout rank does not include a Board of Review
- The Board of Review for Eagle is conducted by the council and not by the troop.
Flight Path to Eagle
There are a number of different ways to reach the rank of Eagle. Just like no two scouts are the same, rarely will any two scouts follow the same trail to Eagle. However, the following plan can provide a solid starting point.
- Earn the Scout rank as soon as possible after joining the troop. The updated requirements in 2016 make the Scout rank more challenging than before, but the troop will help out with this. Weather this is done in the spring or the fall will depend on how early in the spring the pack bridges into the troop.
- Attend summer camp your first summer in the troop. The first year program at all the camps we attend will help a new scout earn at least 40% to 60% of the requirements needed through First Class. We recognize that not every scout is ready to do this soon after joining the troop, but this can significantly help in their scouting career.
- Earn First Class by the beginning of your 7th grade year.
- Earn one rank a year for the next three years.
The benefit of this schedule is that a Scout can earn eagle by the beginning of their Sophomore year in High School. This targets wrapping up most of the program before things get busy in Junior year and gives some leeway in case things go wrong. It also aims to have earning Eagle as something that can be added to a college application. Again, there is no right or wrong way to earn eagle. However, having a plan to start with gives the scout something to work for and to make adjustments to over his 7 years in the program.
Merit Badges are focused studies in a particular topic. Merit badges available range from camping and hiking, to robotics and game design, to automotive maintenance and welding. One common misconception for new families is that merit badge work is top priority. If you look at the rank requirements, you'll find that the first merit badge isn't needed until the fifth rank in (Star). That isn't to say that a scout that isn't First Class should pass up an opportunity to earn a merit badge, but the early rank requirements are a bit more important.
The process for earning a merit badge is roughly the same, no matter the topic or how it is being earned. It is:
- Talk with your Scoutmaster or one of the Assistant Scoutmasters. He can help you make sure that the topic is appropriate for your current level and will get you a blue card. He can also help you find a councilor.
- Talk with the councilor before starting work. This is a step that is most often skipped, however the merit badge councilor can offer many suggestions on the best way to wrap up the process. In the case of a few merit badges, like Game Design, talking with the councilor can shave months or years off of the process. In the case of summer camp or merit badge fairs, this is not possible. However, in these cases, you should look for a set of prerequisites that need to be done prior to the event. (see below)
- Work on the merit badge.
- Get the councilor's signature when the work is completed. Merit badges can not be signed off by troop leadership, only a council approved merit badge councilor. The councilor is the final decision maker regarding when the work to earn a merit badge is complete.
- Get final signatures from the troop and turn the completed blue card in to the committee's advancement chair.
What is a Prerequisite?
If you are earning a badge at camp or at a merit badge fair, there just isn't enough time to get it all done. So, you need to have some work done ahead of time for approval at the event. This ahead of time work is called prerequisites. It is important to know that prerequisites will vary with the event. Merit badge fairs only have a few hours, so they will tend to have more prerequisites than summer camp where you have five days to work on the badge. It is important to check with the event well in advance to know what prerequisites are required. Otherwise, you will end up with a partial.
What is a Blue Card?
A blue card is more formally called an Application for Merit Badge. However, they are printed on small pieces of blue card stock and are more commonly called Blue Cards. A blue card is supposed to be the place where working on a merit badge starts. A scout can get a blue card from the Scoutmaster or one of the Assistant Scoutmasters and should be presented to the merit badge councilor prior to starting work.
A new blue card is divided into three parts. Upon completion of the merit badge requirements, the councilor will keep one of the three parts for their records. The scout will hand the remaining two pieces into the troop. The troop keeps the second of the three pieces once the work is recorded. At the next court of honor, the scout will receive the merit badge plus the final third of the card.
It is important for a scout to keep his portion of a completed blue card in a safe place. While is it not common, it has been known to happen that BSA looses the records for earning a merit badge. Typically, this isn't noticed until a scout is turning in his application for Eagle. In the event of such a problem, the completed portion of a blue card is a scout's proof that the work was done. In the event the scout can't find the card, the troop also maintains a copy. If all else fails, the councilor also has a copy.
What is a Worksheet?
A worksheet is a printable sheet that a Scout can use to help demonstrate the completion of Merit Badge Requirements. There is no one BSA source for these worksheets. A good place to go to find worksheets is meritbadge.org.
What is a Partial?
A partial is slang for a merit badge where the work was partially completed but the scout is leaving the councilor he was working with (i.e., the merit badge fair is done or a scout didn't finish the badge at summer camp). When this happens, the scout will receive back all three parts of the blue card. One the back of the card will be a list of the requirements that were completed. When the scout finds a new councilor, he will only need to finish up the remaining requirements to earn the badge. The only exception to this would occur if a scout misplaces the blue card. In this case, he would have to start over.
Merit Badges Required for Eagle
There are 21 total merit badges required for Eagle. Out of these 21, the following 13 are required:
- First Aid
- Citizenship in the Community
- Citizenship in the Nation
- Citizenship in the World
- Personal Fitness
- Emergency Preparedness OR Lifesaving
- Environmental Science OR Sustainability
- Personal Management
- Swimming OR Hiking OR Cycling
- Family Life