Article It's not super easy navigating how the ICF gives out certifications and accredits organizations. We break it down. 1 2023 Life coaching https://www.lifecoachhub.com/img/uploads/articles/thumbs/90_1679580350.jpg Life coach training and certification life coaching Lifecoachhub Pty Ltd LifeCoachHub

How to Get ICF Certification: Level 1, 2, ACSTH, ACTP, CCE, Making Sense of it All

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How to Get ICF Certification: Level 1, 2, ACSTH, ACTP, CCE

Updated March 21, 2023

Coaching is one of the various professions with no formal requirements or licensing. However, as the number of coaches grows, so does the competition. A 2020 ICF Global Coaching Study showed that there was a 33% increase in the number of global coaches from 2015 to 2019. Getting a certification from the ICF may give you a boost (at least in your confidence) to stand out in a field full of coaches. 

There are various organizations that grant accreditation. But for this article, we’ll focus on the International Coaching Federation (ICF). Why? The ICF is a widely recognized accrediting body for coach training organizations and certifying body for coaches. 

The ICF itself does not provide training—it is merely an independent body that conducts its own certification process. Although other life coach certifications exist, the ICF is that which is most familiar and most sought-after by coaches. To qualify for ICF certification, an aspiring life coach must complete training that has been accredited by the ICF, as well as jump through a few other hoops.

In case you missed it, the ICF made some adjustments to its structure, policies, and procedures that took effect on January 10, 2022. Such changes include those to life coach training and accreditation. It was a part of ICF’s effort to keep global coaching practices up to date as coaching grows in popularity. 

But before we go through these recent developments, and the current way to get ICF certified, let’s have a quick look at the ICF’s former offerings, known as their legacy programs. We’ll also lay out the pieces of the certification process jigsaw puzzle, so as an aspiring ICF-certified coach, you’ll know what you’re in for.

The Pieces to the Certification Process Jigsaw Puzzle: 5 Main Parts

Getting ICF Certified: The Pieces to the ICF Certification Process Jigsaw Puzzle

Let’s start by discussing what coach training is meant to accomplish.

The goal of ICF certification is to give the coach the ground work in the ethics, values, and skills a coach must have to be a good coach, as well as practical hands-on coaching experience. There are five main parts an aspiring coach needs to obtain:

  1. Coach-specific training hours
  2. Mentor coaching
  3. Performance evaluation
  4. Coaching experience
  5. ICF Credentialing exam

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1. ICF Foundation Coach-Specific Training Hours

The ICF uses a Core Competency Model for the core competencies that a life coach needs to have. It has four major components: foundation, co-creating the relationship, communicating effectively, and cultivating learning and growth.

  1. Foundation. As a coach, you need to show basic coaching ethics and values such as honesty and integrity–not just with your clients, but with all other people you meet. You also have to adopt a coaching mindset that is open, flexible, and client-focused. As you engage in ongoing learning, you get to develop yourself and your coaching sessions.
  2. Co-creating the relationship. Start with a clear partnership with your clients. This way, you’ll understand their needs and goals more so you can support them to get to where they want to be. That means you have to explain to them the coaching process, plans, goals, and targets of each session. Your coaching sessions also need to feel like a safe space where there’s trust and safety. This will allow your client to be more open in sharing their thoughts and feelings. You also need to make your presence felt. It’s by being there not just physically but more emotionally while showing empathy and keeping your calm.
  3. Communicating effectively. To achieve the goals of your session, you have to actively listen to what your client says. Whether it’s through their words or actions, be mindful of their tone of voice and body language. To allow your client to gain more insight into how to overcome their challenges, you would also have to use coaching tools and techniques. Use powerful questions or invite them to visualize certain scenarios to stretch their thinking and have a more meaningful conversation.
  4. Cultivating learning and growth. Once your client acquires that insight and learning from the last step, it’s time for you to encourage them to act. This calls for a better partnership to identify necessary steps and meet their goals.

These core competencies are the heart of the coach-specific training hours in an accredited ICF certification program. They need to comprise 80% of the program

The remaining 20% can focus on other subjects such as business development and lifestyle factors.

Another factor to the training you’ll receive is that 50% of your teaching has to be synchronous: in other words, in real-time. That could be live lectures, observed coaching, group discussion, etc. The rest of the time can be in the form of homework, online quizzes and other interactions that are not in the presence of a live instructor.

2. ICF Mentor coaching Training

Being a good coach entails having knowledge and skills to fuel your coaching conversations. Whereas knowledge can be acquired through coach-specific training, skills can be enhanced through mentor coaching.

A mentor coach will guide you and provide feedback regarding your own coaching. As a more experienced coach, they will have greater insight into actually doing coaching, and will be able to bring you along under their wing. They’ll help you see where you can improve on your skills. 

You’ll need to experience 10 hours of mentor coaching for at least 3 months. 

3. ICF Performance evaluation

Part of your requirements to earn the ICF credential is to submit a recording and transcript of your coaching session (the only difference is for Master Certified Coach or MCC, you need to submit 2 recordings and transcripts). These will serve as your performance exam which will be reviewed by the ICF assessors. 

Your coaching session has to be within the required duration (20 to 60 minutes). Apart from that, you need to manifest the ICF Core Competencies during your coaching session. Remember our earlier discussion on having the ethics and values of a coach, creating a safe space for your client, and stimulating learning and growth? These are only a few of the vital aspects to be mindful of when conducting your session to hit the mark on your performance evaluation.

4. Experience (ICF Coaching hours with real clients)

Just like any other field, experience contributes a lot to your expertise. It’s the same for coaching. So depending on the type of credential you are applying for, there are a certain required number of hours and clients which need to make up your coaching experience.

For example, if you want to obtain an Associate Certified Coach (ACC) credential, which is the starting point for many, you’ll need 100 hours of experience. As you immerse in coaching with various clients, you could earn the Professional Certified Coach (PCC) credential if you’ve gathered 500 hours from your sessions. Finally, when you already have a ton of experience (2,500 hours), you can consider applying for a Master Certified Coach (MCC) credential.

5. The ICF Test: Credentialing Exam

The ICF credentialing exam (or the “final test” as we call it) is the ultimate measure of your ability as a coach. After all the training, mentor coaching, experience from sessions, and performance evaluation, it’s time to show what you’ve learned.

For this requirement, you are expected to have understood the ICF standards on the values, ethics, and competencies of a life coach. Having said that, your final exam will be based on the 8 ICF Core Competencies. 

You’ll be presented with 81 scenarios where you will be asked to choose one among four responses. A typical real-life situation will be given and you would have to choose the best and worst action.

An investment in knowledge pays the best interest. Benjamin Franklin Coaching Quote

Types of ICF coaching Certifications: ICF Accreditation levels

We’ll go into this in greater detail at the end of the article, but I’ll bring this up now briefly since you’ll see these terms bandied about. The ICF grants three levels of certification, based on your experience as a coach.

There has been a bit of head scratching given that these different levels are based on experience not hours, as for instance in the case of a Bachelor's degree, Masters and Doctorate. However, perhaps it makes sense given that coaching is very hands on (and in fact many say certification and even training are not necessary at all, and that anyone can be a coach, but that’s the topic for another article).

These certification levels are pretty much the same as each other apart from the experience (in particular) and coach-specific training hours (sort of) required.

  1. ICF Associate Certified Coach (ACC): This is where more people will start off

You’ll need 60 hours of coach-specific training hours. You’ll have to rack up 100 hours of coaching experience with 8 or more actual clients, 75 of those hours paid, within 18 months of submitting your application. You also need the 10 hours of mentor coaching we discussed above, and to demonstrate your coaching in a performance exam. Finally, you’ll need to take the ICF Credentialing Exam.

  1. ICF Professional Certified Coach (PCC)

Let’s call this the Intermediate level. You need a bit more education: 125 coach-specific hours of training. You also need much more coaching experience, as only those with 500 hours of coaching even qualify. This needs to be with 25 different clients, 450+ hours of it must be paid, and all must occur within 18 months of submitting your application. But remember this: you don’t have to take all your education at the same time, or in the same place. You’ll need the same number of mentor coaching hours as for the ACC, as well as the performance and credentialing exams.

  1. ICF Master Certified Coach (MCC)

This is for coaches who have a TON of experience: 2500 hours! The coaching experience must be with 35 or more clients, and 2250 of these are paid hours. In other words, this coach is making bank. When going for this credential, you can’t just walk in off the street. You need to already hold a PCC credential. Then you need to get a bit more education (200 hours total, but that includes the 125 you already did to be a PCC, so just 75 hours additional). Again, this doesn’t all have to be in the same place. In fact, as we’ll see later, Level 3 accredited institutions specifically fit the bill to offer these extra 75 hours. For the performance exam, you’ll need to submit two recorded coaching sessions with transcripts, and then take the credentialing exam.

A comparison of the 3 paths to becoming an ICF-certified coach

Ok now put away those distinctions so we don’t get bogged down in the weeds (there are a lot of distinctions when dealing with ICF credentialing and it can get super overwhelming). The main point is that the only real difference between the levels is the hours you have spent coaching real paying clients, so you will probably want to get the ACC level certification to start.

The ICF Legacy Programs : How the ACSTH, ACTP, and CCE used to work

While the ICF does not offer initial training and education to be a coach, their role is to accredit the education organizations and programs to make sure they meet their standards. Once the program has been accredited, these programs can be used by a coach to obtain an ICF certification.

If you have been in the coaching industry for a while, you might have grown familiar with the former legacy programs accredited by the ICF. These were the Approved Coach Specific Training Hours (ACSTH), Accredited Coach Training Program (ACTP), and Continuing Coach Education (CCE). 

The former programs have been sunsetted, as of January 10, 2022. However, if you started your education prior to this date, you would have taken your qualifying education in one of these programs. And until all the providers transition to the new requirements, you might also still see them about. So let’s go into what the former programs were.

Accredited Coach Training Program (ACTP): Legacy program

Life coach training bodies can apply for various types of accreditation from the International Coach Federation (ICF), allowing them to provide training to help life coaches aspiring toward earning an ICF certification.

One of the programs a life coach training body could offer was called the Accredited Coach Training Program (ACTP). An ACTP Program had to meet certain specifications and requirements in order to be recognized by the ICF. This was important because when a coach was trying to certify as a coach, they had to complete an ACTP program from a coach training institute as part of the application process, unless they choose to use the portfolio method instead (which we will cover below).

The Accredited Coach Training Program (ACTP) requirements were that it must provide the following learning environment to its life coaching students:

  • At least 125 hours of coach specific training had to be completed in the program.
  • The training had to include all ICF Core competencies and classes on the ICF Code of Ethics, and be taught by an ICF certified coach. 80% of the training had to cover Core Competencies, with the remaining 20% for Resource Development.
  • 10 hours of mentor coaching over 3 months from an ICF certified coach at the PCC or MCC level had to be provided
  • 6 observed coaching sessions with written feedback for 4 of the sessions had to be provided
  • Applicants had to observe at least six experienced coaching sessions.
  • A final performance test was administered to determine the coaching abilities of the applicant.

In the ACTP application method, a life coach wanting certification had to complete the entire ACTP program, provide proof of coaching experience, and then take the ICF credentialing exam.

The benefit of the ACTP program was that it was a one stop shop to accreditation, for all intents and purposes, apart from coaching experience and the exam. In fact, some programs weaved in peer coaching, allowing the student to complete at least their pro bono coaching hours. It was an easier path, but tended to be more expensive.

If a coach was interested in the ACC or PCC certification, this program ticked off most of the boxes:

  1. Coach-specific training hours : Included in ACTP program
  2. Mentor coaching : Included in ACTP program
  3. Performance evaluation: Included in ACTP program
  4. Coaching experience : Some portion of unpaid coaching possibly included as peer coaching
  5. ICF Credentialing exam : Administered by the ICF

Participants in a training

ACSTH COACHING: Approved Coach Specific Training Hours and the Portfolio method (legacy program)

Another type of accreditation that life coach training bodies could apply for from the ICF was that of Approved Coach Specific Training hours (ACSTH). This accreditation allowed coaching education bodies to provide training that could be used by a coach when applying for certification.

The Approved Coach Specific Training hours (ACSTH) requirements were that it must provide the following learning environment to its life coaching students:

  • At least 30 hours of coach-specific training
  • The training had to include all ICF Core competencies and classes on the ICF Code of Ethics, and be taught by an ICF-certified coach. 80% of the training had to cover Core Competencies, with the remaining 20% for Resource Development.
  • 5 observed coaching sessions with written feedback for 3 of the sessions had to be provided.

In other words, institutions that offered an ACSTH program were providing a coach with those coach-specific training hours we talked about earlier. These could be used towards the first piece of the certification puzzle: the education requirement. 

The coach would then use the so-called portfolio method to apply for their coaching certification with the ICF. In a nutshell, instead of getting everything included, as with the ACTH program, the aspiring coach would submit their completed ACSTH program hours, along with the other components necessary for certification: the mentor coaching hours and proof of coaching experience.

An ACSTH coaching provider only needed to provide 30 hours of coaching to be accredited, so a coach wanting certification might need to attend more than one program, depending on the hours provided.

So in summary, here is how it would shake out:

  1. Coach-specific training hours:  Taken from one or more ACSTH-accredited programs
  2. Mentor coaching: Not included
  3. Performance evaluation: Not included          
  4. Coaching experience: Not included
  5. ICF Credentialing exam: Administered by the ICF

In the portfolio method, a life coach wanting certification would take 60 hours of an ACTSH program for an Associate Coach Certification or 125 hours of ACSTH training for a Professional Coach Certification, as part of their application which also included proof of coaching experience, ten hours of work with a mentor coach, and an exam administered by the ICF. 

What has changed in the land of ICF Accreditation and Certification?

Now, let’s continue with our earlier discussion of the updates in the ICF’s coaching education and certification. To improve coaching education and adapt to the changing needs of clients, the ICF has changed its standards among coaches and education providers.

Here are the three main changes that affect how you get certified now.

1. Organizations are accredited instead of programs

As we discussed before, the ICF does not conduct training itself, but instead awards life coaches with certifications based on the training they have taken at external coach training organizations. In the past, they accredited certain programs at these institutions (ACSTH, ACTP). Now, instead of accrediting specific life coach training programs or curricula, the ICF certifies the entire organization. 

Level 1 ICF Accreditation

A Level 1 Accreditation is awarded to coach training organizations with at least 3 months of program operations. They also need to have a graduating class with at least 5 candidates who completed the learning program. Their training material needs to be between 60 to 124 hours. Providers also have to follow ICF’s requirements on activities and teaching modes.

Level 2 ICF Accreditation

A Level 2 Accreditation is granted to coach education providers whose program operations extend for at least 6 months. Similar to Level 1 providers, at Level 2 the providers will need a graduating class with at least 5 candidates. Their training material needs to be between 125 to 175 hours, following the activities and teaching modes set by the ICF.

Level 3 ICF Accreditation

A Level 3 Accreditation is awarded to coach training organizations offering their programs for at least 3 months. As with Level 1 and Level 2, Level 3 providers also need a graduating class with at least 5 candidates. The required training material lasts 75 hours. In order to train at a Level 3 accredited school, coaches need to be active PCC-holders in good standing. This is because whereas Level 1 and 2 providers train beginner and intermediate level coaches aiming for the Associate and Professional Coach Certifications, Level 3 providers are aimed at providing PCC credentialed coaches with a pathway to obtaining the highest certification level, the Master Certified Coach. That’s why they only have 75 hours of educational material (the missing 75 we discussed before in the difference between a PCC with 125 hours and an MCC with 200 hours).

2. There is basically no more ACSTH program

The ACSTH program was a way to get your credential, generally at a lower price point, in a more piecemeal fashion than the more comprehensive ACTP. An ACSTH accredited program didn’t include mentor coaching or the performance exam, and it could include as few as 30 hours of coach training. 

With the new accreditation process, these standards have changed. Level 1 organizations need to provide 60 hours at a minimum, as we saw above. That means that if you go to a Level 1 or 2 organization, you will get all your coaching hours in one fell swoop.

More significantly, both of the new accreditation types need to provide you with your mentor coaching hours, and your performance evaluation. You don’t have to cobble these together later.

So to get back to our list of the five pieces to the ICF certification jigsaw puzzle

  1. Coach-specific training hours : 60+ hours Level 1 organization, 125+ hours Level 2 organization
  2. Mentor coaching : Included 
  3. Performance evaluation: Included
  4. Coaching experience : You’re on your own on this one, although some may include peer coaching that can go towards your pro bono hours
  5. ICF Credentialing exam : Administered by the ICF

We can see that it’s easier to get your certification after attending an ICF accredited school now, without worrying about names of programs or the like. More of it is wrapped up neatly in a bow and handed to you.

On the downside, the cost is going to be higher. Whereas in the past, you used to be able to go a cheaper route and get training at one or more ACSTH organizations, then go the portfolio method, now you have to go to a training organization that is required to deliver more in terms of mentor coaching and a performance evaluation. The price tag is going to be higher.

3.   Level 2 is a new name for ACTP, and Level 1 is like mini-ACTP (the only difference is the contact learning hours)

The ACTP program was an all-inclusive program that allowed you to skip over the onerous portfolio process. Now both Level 1 and Level 2 accredited organizations will allow you to go straight to the ICF exam (once you get your paid coaching hours).

Level 2 organizations will offer 125+ hours, just like the old ACTP so that’s basically a straight swap. Level 1 organizations are like mini-ACTP programs, offering fewer training hours, but at least 60. That means they offer at LEAST as many required for the minimum certification (ACC), which is where most people will start anyhow.

Instructor and participants: coach-specific training

How to get ICF certification now

Ok so how do you get your ICF certification now that all is said and done? Well it turns out it’s probably easier than it was, although possibly more costly.

Let’s review our five pieces of the certification jigsaw:

  1. Coach-specific training hours
  2. Mentor coaching
  3. Performance evaluation
  4. Coaching experience
  5. ICF Credentialing exam

Your coach-specific training hours can come from any coaching organization accredited by the ICF. They will be giving you at least 60 hours of instruction now (as opposed to before when it may only have been 30). This is enough for your ACC. The only exception is CCE, which we’ll discuss below.

You won’t need to get your own mentor coach. That’s now included in all accredited coach training. 

You won’t need to get your own performance evaluation either. That is also included in the training at any accredited organization.

Your coaching hours are still up to you. However, you may be able to get those pro bono hours from your coaching organization.

You will have to pass the ICF Credentialing exam separately as well.

How many ICF coaching hours should I choose? Level 1 or level 2?

You don’t have to limit yourself to getting everything in one place, so even if you have plans of becoming a PCC, consider a shorter duration level 1 program if it particularly appeals to you and the niche you want to enter. 

The nice thing about the change is that you don’t have to load up on more education than you need just to bypass the portfolio method of getting your certification. Old ACTP programs had to offer at least 125 hours. Now level 1 (mini-ACTP as I call it) can have as few as 60 hours of instruction and you will have enough for an ACC certification, AND the smoothest path to get there.

Is the ICF ACSTH coaching Pathway still an option?

If you went to an institution that has not transitioned its program from ACSTH to Level 1, or if you took only the education portion of an ACTP program, or a program at a Level 1 or Level 2 organization, you can still get certified. This just means you have to tack on the mentor coaching and get a performance evaluation. You can search for mentor coaches in directories. For the performance evaluation, you have to prepare a recorded coaching session (audio and transcript), which you’ll also submit together with your program certificate, experience, and all other credential application requirements. To know more about the process in submitting your ACSTH application, check this out: ACC ACSTH Sample Application.

What about the ICF Portfolio Method?

If you didn’t go to a Level 1 or Level 2 institution, or what you have are non-ICF accredited programs or Continuing Coach Education (CCE) units, you can still use the Portfolio method to meet the 60 hours required education. The vital thing is you need more robust documentation that your education meets the ICF standards when applying for the credential.

Also, just like the ACSTH pathway you need to reinforce your application with mentor coaching and a performance evaluation (via a recording of your coaching session). Here are the steps to take:

  1. Submit robust documentation to show the hours of training you took were coaching specific according to ICF standards
  2. Demonstrate separately verified mentor coaching, and submit your recorded coaching session
  3. Submit your program certificate, coaching experience hours, and all other credential application requirements
  4. Your application will be under review for about 14 weeks (depending on the number of applications the ICF receive)
  5. After the review, you can take the ICF credentialing exam

ICF CCE (Continuing Coach Education) is still around

As with most professions that have a certification process, life coaches must be recertified by meeting ongoing requirements of further coach training study. Continuing education credits are a part of the recertification process for life coaches. Once you become certified, you'll need to complete at least forty hours of continuing coaching education (CCE) every three years in order to qualify for recertification with the ICF.  

The CCE requirements are as follows:

  • Instruction needs to provide skills that are directly related to the ICF Core Competencies and develop the coach’s skills for professional development.
  • Coach training has to be a minimum of 60 minutes with an instructor (which doesn't include independent study time.) Sixty minutes of instruction are equivalent to 1 CCEU (Continuing Coaching Education Unit).
  • Instruction needs to encompass the following categories:
  1. ICF Core Competencies: Courses about coaching skills and ethics that help develop the coach, which include helping clients set goals and find their path, communication, and ethics training .
  2. Resource Development: Courses that help the coach’s professional development which include personal development, coaching tools or assessments, business development, and other training beyond the ICF core competencies.
  •  As a coach, you'll need to acquire 40 hours of CCEUs over the course of three years to recertify with the ICF.  At least 24 CCEUs need to be be in the ICF Core Competencies category, and out of the 24, 3 CCEUs have to be about coaching ethics. The remaining 16 hours can be from the resource development category.

Choose your path to be an ICF-certified coach

For Coach training institutions and programs Wanting to Get ICF Accredited

This article has mostly been for coaches who want to get an ICF certification. But what if you are a coaching organization that wants to be accredited? In other words, you want to get ICF to stamp your hand so you can start offering training that will count for coaches going toward their certification.

In 2021, there were a total of 2,666 accredited coach education providers by the ICF (2021 ICF Annual Report). The authorized providers continue to increase globally for each of their legacy programs. The study shows a 12% increase among the 677 ACSTH providers. Another 12% increase for the 407 ACTP providers. And a whopping 38% increase among the 1,582 CCE providers.

Now that the ICF has transitioned to new accreditation procedures, don’t expect these numbers to go down. Coaching organizations continue to show an interest in the process.

So how do you get started? Or if you are already accredited, how do you transition to the new structure?

For ICF Accredited Organizations (under the legacy program), you need to undergo a transition

As a currently-accredited provider of the ACSTH or ACTP legacy programs, you have to undergo a transition to Level 1 or Level 2 to maintain your accreditation. If you hold an ACSTH accreditation, prepare your documents and submit a Level 1 application. But if you’re an ACTP provider, you have to apply for a Level 2 application. The ICF will be open to accepting applicants until March 31, 2023. 

Learn more about how you can make a transition as an accredited organization here.

For other Training organizations wanting to get ICF accreditation

What if you’re a new coaching institution or if it’s your first time applying for accreditation?

Remember our earlier discussion of the changes to accreditation? Now, organizations are being accredited instead of programs. To qualify, you should have been educating coaches with your training programs for at least 3 months.

So here are your options as a coaching provider to be ICF-accredited:

  1. ICF Level 1 Accreditation

The vital aspect to earning a Level 1 accreditation is for your organization to provide 60 to 124 contact learning hours of training for coaches. The coaches who take your program will have enough training under their belt to apply to be an ACC. Because the PCC accreditation requires 125 hours, someone who wants to get ALL their PCC education in one place won’t be able to at a Level 1 institution, but most coaches wanting to start out will be going for their ACC credential anyways. And coaches can always go to more than one school

Half of your program needs to use synchronous activities–i.e real-time learning. This means having an instructor present, or else enabling observed or peer coaching. This is opposed to the other half which can be self paced study. 

You also need to provide 10 hours of mentor coaching and a performance evaluation.

Your organization will have to upload its training materials on the ICF “Sign in” portal. These include course outlines and Powerpoint slides or handouts to be used, as well as an audio recording of an observed coaching session and its written feedback.

Check out the essential list of requirements below for Level 1 accreditation.

  • 60 to 124 contact learning hours
  • 10 hours of mentor coaching
  • Performance evaluation
  • 5 observed coaching sessions per participant (with 3 written feedback)
  • List of classes, programs offered, and number of hours
  • Training materials (course outlines, Powerpoint slides, and handouts)
  • Observed coaching session - Attach 1 audio recording and written feedback.
  • Performance evaluation - Attach 2 audio recordings with verbatim transcripts and written assessments. Make sure to only use the evaluations of participants who passed the Level 1/ACC.
  • Director of Education - The Director is your organization's overall head of curriculum, method of instruction, and education of instructors. They will need to hold an active PCC or MCC credential. To be eligible, they also need to have 5 years of client coaching experience and past experience with training and facilitation.
  • Instructors - All instructors responsible for the ICF foundational learning such as the ICF definition of coaching, Core Competencies, and Code of Ethics need to be an ACC, PCC, or MCC-credential holder.
  • Observers and Mentors - All observers for your organization's coaching sessions and mentors need to have an ACC, PCC, or MCC credential.
  • Performance evaluation reviewers - All performance exam reviewers need at least a PCC credential to be eligible. They also need to pass the PCC Marker Assessor Training or get trained by a coach who completed the said training.

Learn more about applying for an ICF accreditation here.

ICF Level 1 Accreditation requirements

  1. ICF Level 2 Accreditation

To get a Level 2 accreditation, institutions have to provide 125 to 175 hours of instruction, half of it using synchronous or real-time learning. This allows coaches who complete your program to apply to be a Professional Certified Coach. Of course, they will also need 500 hours of coaching experience, which means they will not be newbies.

Similar to a Level 1 accreditation, your organization also needs to provide 10 hours of mentor coaching and a performance evaluation, and upload your training materials. These include course outlines, handouts, and an audio recording of an observed coaching session and its written feedback.

Use the Level 2 accreditation list below in gathering your requirements. 

  • 124 to 175 contact learning hours
  • 10 hours of mentor coaching
  • Performance evaluation
  • 6 observed coaching sessions per participant (with 4 written feedback)
  • List of classes, programs offered, and number of hours
  • Training materials (course outlines, Powerpoint slides, and handouts)
  • Observed coaching session - Attach 1 audio recording and written feedback.
  • Performance evaluation - Attach 2 audio recordings with verbatim transcripts and written assessments. Make sure to only use the evaluations of participants who passed Level 2/PCC.
  • Director of Education - Similar to a Level 1 organization, your Director needs to hold an active PCC or MCC credential and have 5 years of client coaching experience, and past experience with training and facilitation.
  • Instructors - Similar to the Level 1 organization, instructors responsible for the ICF foundational learning such as the ICF definition of coaching, Core Competencies, and Code of Ethics need to be certified at the ACC, PCC, or MCC leevl.
  • Observers - All observers on the coaching sessions and those who give feedback need to hold a PCC or MCC credential.
  • Mentors - All mentors need to have a PCC or MCC credential.
  • Performance evaluation reviewers - All performance exam reviewers need at least a PCC credential to be eligible. They also need to pass the PCC Marker Assessor Training or get trained by a coach who completed this training.

ICF Level 2 Accreditation requirements

  1. ICF Level 3 Accreditation

Level 3 accreditation is ICF’s new type of accreditation. It is designed for PCCs who want to earn an extra 75 hours–giving them the additional training needed if they want to pursue their Master Certified Coach (MCC). That’s because an MCC needs 200 hours of schooling, and they will already have at least 125 hours from being a PCC. 200-125 = 75, which is the amount of hours needed to be provided by a Level 3 Accredited school.

Again, you need to provide 10 hours of mentor coaching and half of the program has to use real-time activities. As an institution, you also have to include training materials such as course outlines and handouts which you will use. The ICF also requires an audio recording of an observed coaching session and its written feedback. 

Here’s a list of requirements to get your Level 3 accreditation as an institution.

  • 75 contact hours
  • 10 hours of mentor coaching
  • 5 observed coaching sessions per participant (with 3 written feedback)
  • List of classes, programs offered, and number of hours
  • Training materials (course outlines, Powerpoint slides, and handouts)
  • Observed coaching session - Attach 1 audio recording and written feedback.
  • Director of Education - Your Director needs to have an active MCC credential, 5 years coaching experience, and past experience with training and facilitation.
  • Instructors - All instructors responsible for the ICF foundational learning such as the ICF definition of coaching, Core Competencies, and Code of Ethics need to have an MCC credential.
  • Observers and Mentors - All observers on the coaching sessions and mentors need to have an MCC credential.

ICF Level 3 Accreditation requirements

Here’s a quick view of the 3 types of ICF organizational accreditation and their requirements.

The 3 types of ICF organizational accreditation and their requirements 

  1. ICF Continuing Coach Education (CCE)

If you’re an institution that provides post-education or supplemental learning to coaches, consider getting a Continuing Coach Education (CCE) accreditation. Unlike Levels 1, 2, and 3, CCE focuses on professionally developing coaches. Either coaches want to learn more, or they are wanting to renew their ICF credentials. What matters is their continuous pursuit of learning and growth to get that coaching mindset.

This kind of training isn’t foundational, since it is more about providing extra skills to coaches; however, you still need to involve the ICF Core Competencies in your training. In other words, you have to strengthen both the coaches’ knowledge of the ICF core competencies and resource development. 

In order for your organization to offer training that meets the CCE requirements, you must first apply and get the course approved through the ICF. This coach training may come in the form of seminars, teleconferences, or structured classes. 

To get accredited, you have to submit your courses’ learning and promotional materials, and a detailed class schedule. Also, each of your continuing education programs must not exceed 40 hours. But if you have training courses that are considered step-by-step learning, or part of continuing education, you can hook up these programs into several 40-hour segments.

Keep in mind, if what you offer is foundational coaching or initial coach-specific type of learning, your program won’t be qualified for Continuing Coach Education, since CCE is designed as supplemental and continuing education. This program is not meant for coaches who want to gain the basics of coaching. You will be better off applying for a Level 1 or Level 2 accreditation.

  1. ICF Team Coaching

Then finally, you can also apply for accreditation for team coaching. Team coaching has been introduced to answer the need for a more powerful approach to managing businesses. This type of coaching is meant for organizations that want to educate coaches who aim to practice as team coaches and earn their ICF Advanced Certification in Team Coaching (ACTC). 

If you’re an institution that sees the power in teams, might want to consider getting an Advanced Accreditation in Team Coaching (AATC). To qualify, you need to provide 60 hours of education, and half of your program needs to use real-time learning. Also, 80% of it has to focus on ICF Team Coaching Competencies. 

Similar to the other types of accreditation, you need to submit a course list detailing your program. Your organization will also have to perform 2 team coaching observations and make sure that your participants receive 5 hours of coaching supervision.

Discover the requirements of Advanced Accreditation on Team Coaching (AATC) below.

  • 60 contact hours of team coaching education
  • Course list with the number of hours, ICF core competencies taught, and the main mode of teaching (synchronous or asynchronous)
  • 2 observed team coaching sessions per participant (with 1 written feedback)
  • 5 hours of coaching supervision from an ICF mentor coach or eligible coaching supervisor

Get to know more information about team coaching accreditation here.

There is no end to education. It is not that you read a book, pass an examination, and finish with education. The whole of life, from the moment you are born to the moment you die, is a process of learning. Jiddu Krishnamurti Coaching Quote

More About Types of ICF Credentials: ICF Accreditation levels

We already went over these briefly, but just to provide a bit more detail, here is an overview of the three types of credentials the ICF grants, and what you need to obtain them.

#1 ICF ACC Certification: Associate Certified Coach (ACC)

Many who are starting their journey as life coaches kick off their profession by earning their credential as an Associate Certified Coach (ACC). 

Here’s a rundown of the requirements to earn your ACC credential.

  1. 60 hours of coaching education
  2. 100 hours of coaching experience (with 8 clients, 75 hours paid)
  3. 10 hours of mentor coaching 
  4. Complete and pass the performance evaluation
  5. Complete and pass the ICF credentialing exam

When you complete a certification at a Level 1 accredited organization (which includes 60+  hours of instruction, 10 hours of mentor coaching, and passing the performance exam), it sets your path to earn the ACC credential. (Of course you could also get more coach training hours for a Level 2 accredited organization, but you don't need to). To get your ACC certification, you also need at least 100 hours of coaching experience, 75 hours of it paid, with a minimum of 8 clients. At least 25 of these hours need to be within 18 months from your date of application submission.

Once you submit your application, all your requirements will be reviewed. This includes your program certificate from the coaching education provider, the audio recording and transcript of one of your coaching sessions (between 20 to 60 minutes) which will serve as your performance evaluation, and other relevant documents. 

You also have to pay an application fee that ranges from $175 to $675 based on the application method you choose. You have three options to earn your ACC: 1. through a completed Level 1, Level 2 or former ACTP path, 2. former ACSTH path, or 3. portfolio path.  Also, if your education provider is an ICF member, you can get the application fee for almost 50% less compared to a non-ICF member. 

The review process can take 4 up to 14 weeks. The portfolio path is the most expensive and takes the longest to review. The ICF will check the completeness and validity of the documents you have submitted. Only when you’ve passed the review stage, you’ll be able to take the ICF credentialing exam.    

Know the 5 requirements to get your ACC credential

#2 ICF PCC Coaching Certification: Professional Certified Coach (PCC)

If you’ve been a life coach for a while now, you might consider getting a Professional Certified Coach (PCC) credential from the ICF. You need to have attended at least 125 hours of instruction and have 500 hours of coaching experience.

Of the 500 hours of experience, 450 hours need to be paid. Your experience also needs to be with at least 25 different clients. 50 of your hours need to be within 18 months from your date of application submission. 

Like the ACC credential, you also need 10 hours of mentor coaching and a performance evaluation. As we discussed, these are included with a Level 2 coach training provider. 

Check out the list of requirements to get your PCC credential below.

  1. 125 hours of coaching education
  2. 500 hours of coaching experience (with 25 clients, 450 hours paid)
  3. 10 hours of mentor coaching
  4. Complete and pass the performance evaluation
  5. Complete and pass the ICF credentialing exam

Same with the ACC, all your PCC requirements will be reviewed, including your program certificate from your coaching education provider, and the recorded coaching session. This audio recording (which needs to be between 20 to 60 minutes) and transcript will serve as your performance evaluation. 

You will also have to pay an application fee that ranges from $375 to $900 based on the application method you choose. As with the ACC, you also have three options to earn your PCC: 1. via a completed Level 2 or former ACTP path, 2. via a completed Level 1 or former ACSTH path or part of ACTP, or 3. the portfolio path. Also, if your education provider is an ICF member, your application fee will cost much less ($150 less) compared to a non-ICF member.  

The review process takes about 4 to 18 weeks (or sometimes even longer when there are many applicants). It depends on the path you choose, as well as the completeness and validity of the documents you have submitted. Only when you’ve passed the review stage, you’ll be able to take the ICF credentialing exam.

The 5 requirements to be a PCC-certified coach

#3 ICF MCC: Master Certified Coach (MCC)

If you have a ton of experience, you might want to consider tacking MCC on to the end of your name. You need…. wait for it….  at least 2,500 hours of coaching experience though, so you might want to bide your time if you are just starting out. Of these hours, 2,250 need to be paid, and you need to have coached 35 or more clients. 

Coaches who want to earn their MCC credential also need a bit more education: 200 hours (measly really in the face of the experience). You also need to already be certified as a PCC. So in reality, you will already have 125 hours under your belt and just need to top off the last 75 hours.

Like for the ACC and PCC, you still need 10 hours of mentor coaching and to pass the performance evaluation. 

In summary:

  1. 200 hours of coaching education
  2. 2,500 hours of coaching experience (with 35 clients, 2250 paid)
  3. A PCC credential-holder
  4. 10 hours of mentor coaching
  5. Complete and pass the performance evaluation
  6. Complete and pass the ICF credentialing exam

Like the ACC and PCC credentials, your MCC requirements will be reviewed including your program certificate from your coaching education provider(s). You also need to submit two recorded coaching sessions of between 20 and 60 minutes (both audio and a transcript) for your performance evaluation.

The application fee ranges from $675 to $825 and may take 18 weeks to review. Once you’ve passed the review stage, you will then have the ICF credentialing exam.

Know the 6 requirements to earn your MCC credential

Check out the 3 types of ICF certifications and requirements below.

Know the different requirements for the 3 ICF Certifications: ACC, PCC, MCC


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  • ~ sR
    November 05, 2014

    Thank you Janilyn! I am really pleased to have this clarified so well. I am a client who needed a life coach due to my decision to make a big career change. I knew i want to help people SOMEhow & so many ways. I thought about coaching people but honestly didn't realize there was this field. I sought an astrologer because i am passionate about astrology & just wanted some thoughts about how to combine my love of astrology with helping others find the peace in life i enjoy everyday. She recommended a life coach she knows & now as a client of that coach i realized it is the path i am destined to take. Thank you again for helping my initial research stay clear & forward directional. ~ sarah

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