Scouting Awards: Too Much of a Good Thing?


In my church youth group, I work with a lot of high-achieving high-schoolers, young people who are taking multiple Advanced Placement classes, competing on traveling sports teams, participating in all sorts of other extracurricular activities, and otherwise padding their already impressive resumes. I’ve often thought some of them were going overboard in their relentless pursuit of perfection (to borrow a phrase from Lexus). Now, I may have found proof.

A college counselor friend recently shared the results of a study that compared academic achievement in high school with success in college. Here’s the part that caught my attention:

The study found a strong correlation between students taking up to five college-level courses in high school and their first-year grade point average. More college-level courses–up to five–yielded higher academic performance in college. For students taking six or more college-level courses, gains in first-year GPA were marginal or even negative.

In other words, more is better–but only to a certain point. Students whose lives revolve around AP courses often don’t do as well as those who live more balanced lives during high school. Perhaps it’s because they’re burned out on learning; perhaps it’s because they missed out on more important life lessons in high school than those taught in AP Chemistry.

So what does that all have to do with Scouting? Too often, young people bring their all-AP-all-the-time attitudes to our troops. They spend so much time earning dozens of merit badges and other awards that they miss out on more important life lessons than those taught in Chemistry merit badge. (No offense to the chemists in the audience!)

We can’t stop Scouts from pursuing lots of awards–nor should we slow-walk their requests for merit badge counselors. But we can counsel overachievers at Scoutmaster conferences. And we can ensure our patrol leaders’ councils are planning some activities that lead to more than just badges. And we can praise Scouts for their community service and leadership as loudly as we praise them for earning a boatload of badges.

Studies have shown that Scouts who’ve earned at least 21 merit badges and become Eagle Scouts succeed in life better than non-Scouts. I’m not sure that’s necessarily true of those who’ve earned 71 or 101–especially if that’s all they’ve focused on in Scouting.

What do you think? Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments section.

Need more great troop program ideas? Check out the new edition of The Scoutmaster’s Other Handbook, which is now available in both print and e-book formats at


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