The BSA divides itself into three program divisions:
Each division is further divided into two or more program sections. The program sections and the year they began are:
Boy Scouting was the BSA's original program, begun in 1910.
Age Range. The upper age limit for Boy Scout troops has always been 18. For almost 40 years, the entry age was 12. The BSA lowered the entry age to 11 in 1949. In 1972, the entry age was slightly lowered again, to 10-1/2 if a boy had finished Fifth Grade. In 1988, the age limit was further adjusted to allow a boy to join either at age 11, or upon completion of Fifth Grade regardless of age, or upon earning the Webelos Arrow of Light award; in 2004, this requirement was clarified to set the minimum age at 10.
Ranks. The earliest Scouts could earn only three ranks: Tenderfoot, Second Class, and First Class, which covered basic Scouting skills. The BSA soon added three higher ranks to recognize First Class Scouts who earned merit badges: Life (5 merit badges), Star (10 merit badges), and Eagle (21 merit badges). In 1925, Star was placed before Life (because the five points of a star could represent five merit badges). Over the years, the advancement plan has changed little in its overall structure, but specific requirements have been changed many times.
Basic Skills and Skill Awards. The first three ranks have always contained a long list of basic skills to learn. In 1972, this list was reorganized into 12 "skill awards." Each skill award was a metal belt loop that provided "instant recognition" for completing a group of related skills (the 12 awards were: Camping, Citizenship, Communications, Community Living, Conservation, Cooking, Environment, Family Living, First Aid, Hiking, Physical Fitness, Swimming). In 1989, the BSA dropped the skill awards, returning to the system used before 1972.
Merit Badges. Prior to 1959, the BSA felt that working on merit badges might distract younger Scouts from learning the basic Scout skills taught in the first three ranks. So Scouts had to be Second Class before they were allowed to earn merit badges, and there were restrictions on that until a Scout completed First Class. In 1972, a certain number of merit badges was required for all ranks (including First Aid and Citizenship in the Community for First Class). This did not work, and in 1976, the merit badge for Tenderfoot was dropped and the number required for Second Class and First Class was reduced. In 1979, the remaining merit badge for Second Class was dropped, and the number required for First Class was reduced to one (First Aid). Finally, in 1989, the requirement to earn First Aid for First Class was dropped. As a result, the merit badge requirements for the ranks have come almost full circle since 1972.
Eagle Scout. The Eagle rank was established as Scouting's highest award in 1911, and the first Eagle badge was awarded in 1912. Since then, about two million boys and men have earned the Eagle badge (adult men could earn Eagle until 1952). At first, Eagle recognized simply earning 21 merit badges. Later, requirements for leadership and service were added. [A comparison of the Eagle Scout requirements from 1911 to the present can be found on our Eagle Requirements page.]
Board of Review/Court of Honor. Until the early 1950s, troops were generally not allowed the authority to pass off merit badges and ranks. Rather, a Scout was reviewed for his merit badges and ranks at a district or council Court of Honor. The Scout usually received his badge the same evening. Later, as individual troops gradually took over the reviewing and presentation process, the review became separated from the Court of Honor presentation. Since awards could only be presented at Courts of Honor (usually four times a year), Scouts were forced to wait as long as three months to receive the rank or merit badge they had earned. The BSA remedied this problem in 1972 by directing troops to present badges as soon as they were earned. The Court of Honor then became a second, more formal recognition in front of parents.
SPL/PLC. Early Scoutmasters ran their troops much more directly than today's leaders, since they had no Senior Patrol Leader (SPL) and no Patrol Leader Council (PLC). The office of SPL was not created until 1919. The early SPL was usually also a Patrol Leader, who chaired the Patrol Leader Council as a SENIOR Patrol Leader. Gradually, the modern organization developed, with the SPL and Patrol Leaders meeting to plan the troop's activities, and the Scoutmaster acting as an advisor.
Older-boy Options. In an attempt to keep older boys in Scouting, the BSA has often provided a special older-boy program and older-boy patrol within the troop structure. Until the 1950s, this was typically a Sea Scout or Explorer "crew." From 1972 to 1989, it was the Leadership Corps. Since 1990, older Scouts can organize a Venture crew for specific high-adventure activities (and for a while after 1989, could also organize an in-troop Varsity team for sports activities (today, 'Varsity' activities are restricted to the Varsity Scouting program separate from the Scout troop). By 2016, BSA eliminated the term 'Venture' from Boy Scouting (probably because of confusion with its separate Venturing program); BSA currently refers to older-Scout patrols or senior-Scout patrols and activities.
Adult Leaders. All troop adult leader positions have always been open to men. For over 50 years, women were excluded from troop operation except for an optional "mothers auxiliary." More recently, women were allowed to hold any troop committee position but not Scoutmaster or Assistant Scoutmaster. Finally in 1988, the BSA opened these positions to women also. As a result, all adult positions in the Boy Scouting Division (as well as in the other Divisions) are now open to both men and women.
LDS Scouting. Although many churches endorse the Scouting program, only the LDS/Mormon (Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) church has officially adopted Scouting as a church youth program. As a result, LDS-sponsored troops follow some requirements for membership, advancement, and activities set by the church (with BSA approval). For example, LDS troops do not fully accept the 11-year-old Scout entry age. An LDS Scout must still be 12 before he is allowed to participate in the full troop program; 11-year-olds are placed in a special, limited-camping program (formerly called "Blazer Scouts").
Varsity Teams. Started in 1984, Varsity Scouting is an optional sports-oriented program for older boys. Varsity teams are totally separate from the troop (although there was a brief period when older Scouts could also do Varsity activities within a troop). Primary impetus for the creation of Varsity Scouting came from the LDS church, which was experiencing a high dropout rate in its Explorer posts and was anxious to find a more effective way to keep its high school young men in Scouting. Although the BSA did the official development of the program, and has promoted it as a standard BSA offering, most Varsity teams today are still LDS sponsored. Youth membership is male only.
Varsity Terminology and Advancement. The Varsity Scout program uses sports terminology as a tool to reach its target population. Boys are members of a squad, which is part of a team led by an adult coach and a boy captain. The advancement plan is identical to the Boy Scout advancement plan, from Tenderfoot through Eagle. Team members also can earn a Varsity Scout "letter" by meeting certain requirements that primarily involve active attendance at team activities.