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Today, nearly any question can be answered with “Google it.” Despite how much information is available in an instant, myths and urban legends still persist. This is true for Girl Scouts and the Gold Award.  Like the game Telephone, with each retelling, little facts about the Gold Award and how a girl earns it, get confused and changed into something different.

Save it for later!

It’s time for some myth-busting—here are eight things you may have heard or thought about the Gold Award:

1.  The Gold Award requires a ton of paperwork.

True, but misunderstood!  The Gold Award is the highest award a girl can earn in Girl Scouts.  So yes, there is some paperwork. You can help your Girl Scout not be overwhelmed by reminding her it is really just two items—a project proposal and the final report. As with any successful project, a Gold Award Take Action Project needs a budget and a timeline. The budget and the timeline are the two supplemental items submitted along with the proposal.

Both the proposal and the final report are designed to address the major elements of a project. The answers to the proposal questions develop the critical details of the project plan. The final report demonstrates how the plan described in the proposal was successfully implemented, including how the girl made adjustments along the way to respond to any challenges that occurred.

2.  Somewhere there is a list of pre-approved Gold Award Project topics. Girls are expected to pick from this list.

Myth!  Nope, there is no such list, and there never has been. This myth qualifies as a Girl Scout campfire legend—an idea that appears every few years and then fades away, only to reappear again.

The Gold Award process asks each girl to consider the issues that are meaningful to her, to investigate the problems and challenges facing her community (locally, nationally, or globally), and then to implement a project that addresses those issues in a sustainable way. The notion of a “preapproved list of projects” works directly against the goal of having each girl identify an issue that she is passionate about, and applying her unique creativity toward solving that issue.

Pro Tip:  Looking at lists of past Gold Award recipients’ projects can be one source of inspiration to spark a brainstorming session. Keep in mind, if your Girl Scout is reviewing project summaries on a council website (GSNorcal’s or any other Council), she is likely reading a very brief summary of a project that spanned several months.

Pro Tip: Some community organizations, because they regularly host several service projects by Scouts and other youth groups, may create their own list of “approved projects”. If a girl is working with an organization that gives her a list of “pre-approved Gold Award projects,” she should discuss this with GSNorCal staff so they can reach out to the organization to better inform them about the Gold Award program and its requirements.

3.  Gold Award Projects cannot solely benefit Girl Scouts.

No longer true but read carefully! Fifteen or twenty years ago, it was common to see Gold Award projects that were directly focused on the Girl Scout community. As the program evolved to what it is today, the requirements shifted so that Gold Award projects could no longer be focused inward, on serving Girl Scouts—projects had to look outward to the larger community problems and issues.

In the last year or so, GSUSA has made a minor change in the program rules to once again allow Gold Award projects that address an issue or need within Girl Scouts.  This does not mean any proposal for a project benefiting Girl Scouts will be approved. The criteria to approve a Girl Scout-centric project is very specific. The project must align with a stated Council or National initiative or annual goal.

The overwhelming majority of Gold Award Take Action projects are done outside of the Girl Scout community.

Pro Tip:  Girls who are considering a Gold Award Take Action Project that directly benefits Girl Scouts (example: rehabilitating an overgrown hiking trail at a Council-owned camp property) should contact the Higher Awards Program office before developing their project proposal to ensure it meets the narrow guidelines for projects benefiting Girl Scouts.

Gold Award Girl Scout Wisdom:  “I organized and taught a 3-week math and science camp for over 50 students at the local Newark Library. When the Branch Manager of the Newark library reported the success of my initiative to the non-profit Newark Library League, they raised funding for future library educational programs.”

4.  Gold Award projects must be global in scale with a huge budget to make an impact.

Myth! A Gold Award Take Action Project is meant to be impactful, but that does not mean the project must be grand in scale, take place in another country, or require a large budget. Some Gold Award projects may require significant funding or focus on a community outside of the United States, and that’s great. However, a project right here in a girl’s hometown community is every bit as meaningful and important as those implemented farther afield.

The Gold Award guidelines require that a Girl Scout research an issue, identify a root cause, and then take action to address that root cause in a measurable and sustainable way. There are no program guidelines about where the project takes place. Gold Award projects can take place anywhere: within the geographic boundaries of our Council, at a school just across town, in another state, or wherever the girl’s interest takes her. Some of the most personally meaningful projects are those focused on an immediate, local community, for example:

  • A math and science summer camp elementary school students (Newark)
  • Training and Outreach for EMTs to respond effectively for the Deaf Community (Palo Cedro)
  • A wheelchair-accessible community garden for an independent senior community (San Jose)
  • Peer tutoring program for Spanish Language students (Gilroy)
  • Mental Health Awareness and Advocacy for high school and middle school (Palo Alto)
  • Duck habitat restoration and education of migratory paths (Marsh near Suisun City)
  • Japanese oral history an interactive program for the visitor center (Angel Island)

There is no minimum budget expected for Gold Awards. Project budgets vary wildly and are not a measure of a project’s value or impact. The project that rebuilds an animal habitat in at a local wildlife preserve or zoo requires truckloads of building supplies and therefore has a large budget. An anti-bullying campaign for a local elementary school likely has a smaller resource needs, with a corresponding smaller budget. Both projects are Gold Award-level in their effort and impact.

5.  The Gold Award Project cannot start before the summer between Sophomore and Junior year.

Myth! Nope. Not true.  Both Seniors (9th, 10th) and Ambassadors (11th, 12th) are eligible to earn the Gold Award. To be eligible, girls must have completed two Senior or Ambassador Journeys, or have completed a Silver Award and one Senior or Ambassador Journey. The prerequisites must be completed before the project proposal is submitted, and the proposal must be approved before she begins implementing her project. Once the prerequisites are completed and the proposal is approved by the Committee, the girl has the green light to move forward and implement her project plan – her grade level, and the time of year are not factors.

Pro Tip:  Girls who are registered individually, and not affiliated with a troop (Juliettes, IGMs) are eligible to earn the Gold Award. They follow the same prerequisites and process requirements.  In place of the “Troop Leader” signature for the proposal, final report, and related forms, a Juliette can ask a Service Unit Manager or Council staff member to review and sign her paperwork.

6.  The Gold Award must be completed by a girl’s eighteenth birthday.

Possibly True, but not necessarily… A girl has until her eighteenth birthday or the end of the Girl Scout Membership year (September 30) following her high school graduation – whichever gives her more time. Here are some examples of three possible situations.

  • Lauren:   Lauren is a senior in high school. Her eighteenth birthday is in April, and she will graduate from high school in May of that same year. Lauren has until September 30 of that year – five months after her eighteenth birthday and four months after graduation to complete her Gold Award project and have her final report approved.
  • Anya:  Anya is also a senior in high school, with a later than a typical birthday.  Anya will finish high school in June at the age of seventeen, with her eighteenth birthday happening five months later in November of that year.  For Anya, the end of the membership year is not her final deadline.  Instead, she has until her eighteenth birthday in November to complete her Gold Award project and have her final report approved. 
  • Emily:  Emily is a Senior in high school with a Fall/Winter birthday just like Anya. However, Emily turns eighteen in November at the start of her senior year and will be eighteen and a half by the time she graduates from high school in the Spring. For Emily, the final deadline to complete her Gold Award project and have her final report approved is September 30 – the end of the membership year for her last year as a girl member. Emily’s deadline is four months after high school graduation, and just under two months before her nineteenth birthday.

7.  The Gold Award is not achievable for girls with disabilities or other challenges.

False! The Gold Award is achievable for every girl who wants it.   Girl Scouts is welcoming and inclusive for girls of all abilities.  Programs are designed to be flexible and adaptable to meet the unique needs of girls across a wide spectrum of mental and physical abilities.  Similarly, within the basic requirements framework, the Gold Award is adaptable – creating an opportunity for each girl to design and implement a meaningful project that makes an impact on her community — challenging her to explore and build her skills, while expanding her understanding of an issue and herself.  Generally, the Committee evaluates proposals based on the skills, maturity, and capability of typical 15-17 year-olds.  Parents, troop leaders, and troop volunteers can support the Gold Award Committee’s work by advising them of any circumstance they should consider as part of the proposal review.  Committee members are passionate advocates for the Gold Award program and fierce supporters of all girls who want to pursue the Gold Award.   Given the necessary information and context, they can help a girl, and her project advisor, develop a Gold Award-level project that meets the requirements of the Gold Award program and is appropriate for her.  Naturally, any personal information shared with the Committee is used only in their role as Gold Award mentor, with confidentiality and care.

Gold Award Girl Scout Wisdom: “I wish I had known how doable it is to do a project! The Gold Award seems big and intimidating, but if you just begin working on it you will see it’s achievable!”

8.  A Gold Award Project can easily fit into the summer between graduation and starting college / work / military service in the Fall.

Possible, but not recommended. It is tempting to think of the 80-hour requirement as equivalent to two weeks of a full-time job, and that it might be easy to slip a Gold Award project into the summer after high school graduation when the pressures of classes and exams are over.

This is a terrible idea.

For her Gold Award, a girl assembles a team of volunteers to work with her. Team members may not be able to devote that much effort to the project to fit a compressed timeline. Also, if your Girl Scout is working with a school or other community organization, approval of some elements of her project may have to be scheduled as part of a board meeting or other staff meeting that could be a few weeks in the future.  And then, of course, summer is prime time for vacation!  Team members may be out of town, and key staff at her partner organization may be out of the office for a few weeks.  Lazy summer days are hard to resist – your girl may find she craves a carefree and fun summer after graduation and before her next step toward college and/or career.

A compressed timeline of about three months leaves almost no time to adjust if something goes wrong with the project plan—the community center could close for unexpected emergency repairs, a volunteer who agreed to teach part of a workshop could be out of town for vacation, or needed supplies could be out of stock – creating a scramble to find replacement solutions. Past Gold Award Girl Scouts agree:

Gold Award Girl Scout Wisdom: “I would have started earlier. A task on my timeline that I anticipated taking one day actually took four months because I needed approval from the School Board.”

Gold Award Girl Scout Wisdom: “I think the main factor I would change is the timing of my project… When completing my proposal, I underestimated the time not only needed to complete the writing of the proposal but also the time it needed to process and approve the proposal. If I completed my proposal earlier, I would have had time to find more volunteers to aid me in this project.”

So, is it possible to fit a Gold Award into summer after graduation? Maybe. Is it recommended she rely on this approach? No!

If you come across any other Gold Award myths that need busting or misconceptions that need clarifying please let us know at awards@gsnorcal.org

We hope that this series of articles helps leaders, parents, and Girl Scouts as they embark on the Gold Award journey!

What to do Next:


Michele Harms—Michele is a long-time member of the South Bay Gold Award Committee. She is a lifetime Girl Scout, now in her 41st consecutive year. As an adult volunteer, Michele has always worked in Older Girl programs. During college, Michele was a mentor for a Cadette troop in San Luis Obispo. She estimates that she has reviewed over 1,500 Gold Award proposals – navigating 3-4 cycles of changes to the program requirements. Michele earned her Gold and Silver Awards with Girl Scouts of Orange County. Outside of Girl Scouts, Michele is a devoted aunt, avid traveler, and Quality Assurance Engineer.

Allison Wright—Allison is a South Bay Gold Award Committee member. She is in her 28th year as a Girl Scout (13 years as a girl, 15 years as an adult). Allison grew up as a Girl Scout in the San Diego council. While at Iowa State University she was a Junior and Cadette Troop Leader in GS of Greater Iowa; a special interest troop leader, and the chair for the council-wide Gold Award committee for GS of Kansas Heartland. Allison is passionate about Girl Scouts; she has continued to volunteer with the program since earning her Gold Award in 2002. Outside of Girl Scouts, Allison is an Aerospace Engineer working in Nondestructive Inspection of Composite Aircraft.