ICF Coaching Federation

In this article, we will have a quick look into the ICF certification framework – plus some bonus information on how to become an ICF-accredited coach.

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What is the International Coaching Federation (ICF)?

The International Coaching Federation (ICF) is a global organization dedicated to advancing the coaching profession and promoting excellence in coaching practices. One of their primary goals is to ensure that all coaches are held to a high standard of excellence. For this purpose, they have developed a certification framework that sets forth rigorous standards for coach training and practice.

Founded in 1995, ICF has since then rapidly grown into a worldwide recognized entity – with more than 40,000 members in 120 countries nowadays.

ICF coaching logo

Mission and goals

The mission of ICF is to “promote excellence in coaching, enabling individuals and organizations to achieve their fullest potential.” As part of this mission, the organization has established a certification framework for coaches that includes three distinct levels:

  • Associate Certified Coach (ACC)
  • Professional Certified Coach (PCC) and
  • Master Certified Coach (MCC).

The criteria set forth by ICF are designed to ensure that all certified coaches have reached the highest standards in terms of both knowledge and practice.

In addition, ICF also offers continuing education programs that enable members to stay informed on the latest trends and developments within the profession. These programs are aimed at helping coaches gain new skills and enhance existing ones so they can continue providing top-quality services.

Overview of the ICF certificate framework (old)

Previously, the ICF certification framework consists of three different levels:

ICF coaching certificate framework (old)

Training hours60+125+200+
Experience (hours)100+500+2500+

Associate Certified Coach (ACC)

This is the first level of certification – at which coaches are expected to demonstrate a basic knowledge of coaching concepts and principles, as well as an understanding of ethics and professional standards related to the profession.

ACC is made up of 3 levels:

  • ACC Portfolio.

Requirements: a minimum of 60 hours of coach-specific training, plus 100 hours of coaching experience, and passing the ICF exam.

Professional Certified Coach (PCC)

The second level of certification requires coaches to have extensive experience in providing services, such as 2 years or more, in addition to a strong understanding of how coaching can be used for personal development.

Similar to ACC, PCC also comes with 3 separate levels:

  • PCC Portfolio.

Requirements: a minimum of 125 hours of coach-specific training, 500 hours of coaching experience, plus passing the ICF exam.

Master Certified Coach (MCC)

The highest accreditation offered by the ICF, this certificate requires candidates to demonstrate mastery-level knowledge and proficiency in various areas related to the profession. As part of the certification process, candidates must also demonstrate their ability to effectively assess and manage challenging client situations.

Requirements: a minimum of 200 hours of coach-specific training, 2500 hours of coaching experience, plus passing the ICF exam.

Recent updates to the ICF certificate framework

In 2020 – following recent changes in the industry and the overall business environment – ICF decided to make some major updates to its certificate framework. Specifically, ACTP and ACTSH were replaced with 3 new levels:

  • Level 1 Accreditation (similar to ACTSH).
  • Level 2 Accreditation (similar to ACTP).
  • Level 3 Accreditation.

These new levels are designed to provide a more comprehensive approach to assessing coaches and their abilities, as well as recognizing the different types of coaching services available.

More details can be found here.

Why is it important for coaches to be certified by the ICF?

The ICF framework has long been regarded as the “golden standard” of the coaching industry. By obtaining ICF certification, coaches demonstrate they have met the highest standards of knowledge and practice, making them more credible and respected in the industry.

Moreover, certified coaches often gain preference over non-certified ones when it comes to gaining new clients or receiving invitations to speak at conferences.

ICF coaching

How do I become an ICF-accredited coach?

Becoming an ICF-accredited coach is a multi-step process that involves completing a series of rigorous assessments and exams. The exact requirements vary depending on the level you wish to obtain, but in general, you will need to complete some form of coaching-training program before being eligible for accreditation.

Additionally, you must also pass multiple written tests that assess your knowledge about various topics related to the profession. The actual assessment process is quite rigorous and includes a combination of written exams and practical assessments that cover topics such as professional ethics, best practices in coaching, and how to apply creative problem-solving techniques. Those who pass will receive their certification which is valid for three years.

Once certified, coaches can choose to renew the accreditation every three years or complete additional training and assessments to upgrade their certification. This is an especially important step for those who are looking to move up the ladder of ICF recognition and gain access to better job opportunities within the industry. Renewing your certification also helps keep you up-to-date on the latest industry developments and trends, which is important for any successful coaching practice.

Steps to becoming an ICF-accredited coach

  • First, you are expected to complete the required training associated with each level of certification. Depending on which level you are aiming for, this may range from 60 up to 200 hours.
  • Once the training is completed, you will then have to pass the ICF exam. This exam consists of multiple-choice questions that assess your knowledge of coaching concepts and ethics.
  • After passing the exam, you will be required to submit a portfolio of your work experiences and references from past clients.
  • Finally, you will need to submit your application for accreditation with all relevant documents and fees.

Once submitted, it usually takes between four to six weeks for the ICF to review and approve or deny your application.

By meeting these requirements and becoming an ICF-accredited coach, you can become part of a distinguished network of professionals dedicated to helping others reach their full potential through professional coaching services. You will also enjoy the benefits of having a respected and credible certification that can help you gain more clients, build your reputation, and advance in the coaching field.

ICF global

How to prepare for the certification process

The ICF offers several resources to help you prepare for the certification process. These include study guides and practice exams that can help you become more familiar with the topics covered in the exam.

You may also want to take advantage of professional coaching courses – such as ITD World’s Certified Coaching & Mentoring Professional (CCMP) program – or mentoring opportunities, which can provide an even more comprehensive approach for assessing coaches and their abilities, as well as recognizing the different types of coaching services available.

Finally, it is important to stay informed about any changes to the ICF’s accreditation requirements, so that you make sure your application meets all necessary criteria.


Obtaining ICF certification is a great way to demonstrate your commitment and dedication to the profession of coaching while also giving you access to exclusive resources and opportunities within the industry. Whether you are looking to start a career as a coach or upgrade your existing accreditation, the steps discussed above will help you gain the necessary certification to advance in the coaching field.

Other resources you might be interested in:

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