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What Are ICF Coaching Certifications, and Why Do You Need One?

What Are ICF Coaching Certifications, and Why Do You Need One?

Learn about the International Coaching Federation (ICF), the different ICF coaching certifications, and how earning one takes your career to the next level.


If you’ve been researching how to become a life coach, you likely know there is no one route to working in this field. In fact, there’s rarely a delineated route to any coaching role.

An unclear path to becoming a life coach means education. Depending on the coaching specialty you aim to pursue, start by earning a related college-level degree, and from there, it’s a wise idea to earn a certification.  

The International Coaching Federation (sometimes called the International Coaches Federation) is the world’s most prominent life coaching organization. It offers certifications that prove to-be coaches are well-prepared for their careers. 

Here’s all you need to know about ICF coaching certifications and how to earn one to become the best in your niche.  

What is the ICF?

The International Coaching Federation (ICF) is a governing body that offers life coaching certifications. It’s a nonprofit organization with global chapters, and it hosts conferences worldwide. While the ICF doesn’t provide training programs, it approves ones that meet the organization’s rigorous standards. Coaches with ICF-approved certifications stand out among their peers, demonstrating credibility and high-grade knowledge.

The ICF’s core competencies define the organization’s coaching certifications. These include: 

  • Ethical practice
  • Embodying a coaching mindset
  • Establishing and maintaining agreements
  • Cultivating trust and safety
  • Staying present 
  • Listening actively
  • Evoking awareness
  • Facilitating client growth

The ICF has three coaching certification tiers: 

  • Associate certified coach (ACC)
  • Professional certified coach (PCC)
  • Master certified coach (MCC) 

The three tiers of ICF certifications

Let’s delve deeper into ICF certification levels and what aspiring coaches need to do to earn these designations. 

Associate certified coach (ACC)

To be eligible for this ICF accreditation, you need to meet the following requirements: 

  • 60+ hours of coaching education
  • 100+ hours of coaching experience
  • 10 hours of mentor coaching
  • A passing score on a performance evaluation
  • A passing score on the ICF Credentialing Exam

You can apply for this certification with Level 1 or 2 Accredited Coach Training Program (ACTP) credentials, Approved Coaching Specific Training Hours (ACSTH), or a portfolio. The ICF uniquely defines an ICF portfolio as an application where an aspiring coach lists training hours, describes client experiences, and provides other information, such as performance evaluations.

Professional certified coach (PCC)

To earn this level of certification, you must tick off the following boxes:

  • 125+ hours of coaching education 
  • 500+ hours of coaching experience 
  • 10 hours of mentor coaching 
  • A passing score on a performance evaluation
  • A passing score on the ICF credentialing exam

You can apply for this certification with a Level 2 ACTP, Level 1 ACSTH, or a portfolio.

Master certified coach (MCC)

To earn the MCC credential, you need to highlight the following: 

  • 200+ hours of coaching education 
  • 2,500+ hours of coaching experience  
  • A PCC credential  
  • 10 hours of mentor coaching 
  • A passing score on a performance evaluation
  • A passing score on the ICF credentialing exam

There are two paths to the MCC credential: Level 3 and portfolio.


How to get an ICF certification 

While you may have to build your education as an aspiring coach, certain educational institutions can help. The following courses and programs ensure students meet the ICF’s required training, mentoring, and practice hours. However, the following are only a few ICF coaching programs with fee structures (at the time of writing): 

  • Academic Life Coaching: The institute offers two main courses –– the ALC training program and a coach training program –– and a combination of both. The cost and number of hours depend on the course type.  
  • Newfield Network: The academy offers a coaching for personal and professional mastery course, which emphasizes active listening and communication. The certification cost depends on the number of modules and ranges from $11,400 to $17,900.   
  • Rice University: The institute offers a 105-hour leadership coaching program, which trains students on developing colleagues, team members, and potential leaders. The course is split into four major modules and costs $12,845 + $200 for textbooks.   
  • George Mason University: The institute offers a leadership coaching for organizational well-being program, which also focuses on strengthening company culture through positive changes. It works on ICF’s PCC tier. The course is divided into five modules and costs $11,750.  

Once you complete a training program, you’ll apply for certification through the ICF using the routes described in the previous section. 

Why should you become a certified life coach?

Earning a certification adds a feather to your cap. Although licensing regulations don’t necessarily need a certification on your resume, working toward one takes your career to the next level. Here’s how: 

  • Makes you more credible: Holding an ICF certification helps clients trust that you offer quality services and take the coaching profession seriously. Since the ICF has vetted your practice and education, your clients rest assured that you’re adequately trained for your career. 
  • Shows your commitment: Getting a certification proves you invested time, money, and effort in your career. This demonstrates dedication, passion, and a commitment to doing right by your clients.  
  • Makes you a more ethical professional: What’s the ethical thing to do as a coach? Get a proper education so you’re advising people with the right coaching skills, tools, and knowledge base and not winging your practice. You’ll help clients with sensitive issues, such as areas of their lives in which they feel unsatisfied or stuck, so it’s essential that you train for this work.
  • Boosts your services’ value: Clients new to coaching may underestimate your services’ costs. But your strong resume with gold-standard certifications and training hours can prove otherwise, justifying your charges. 

It’s time to put your certifications to use

Once you’ve trained properly for your career and earned a top-notch certification, you’re ready to offer high-quality services to your future clients. 

But before you sign your first client, ensure your coaching business is as professional as possible. Use a customer relationship management (CRM) tool to safely store client data, take appointment bookings, and securely send messages and documents to clients. 

Practice’s Client Management Software, made with high-achieving coaches in mind, offers all of these features and more. With Practice, you can receive payments and access templates that help your business run more smoothly. Try it today.

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