4 Keys To Your ICF Certification – Explained and Demystified

by Alex Kudinov

ICF became a de facto gold standard of coach training, credentials, and certification. Coaching industry has been growing by leaps and bounds lately. Health coaching, life coaching, business coaching, leadership coaching, spiritual coaching, and other coaching practices proliferated lately as mushrooms after a good rain. The coaching field is full of professional certified coaches who practice coaching well, and those who don’t do so. If you are an aspiring coach who wants to work with individuals, teams, and organizations, or want to start your own coaching business, you should be seriously considering getting your ICF coaching certification as a way to stand out in this overcrowded field.
Before we dig in, I would like to acknowledge the fact that ICF is not the only certifying body. European Mentoring and Coaching Council seems to be a more popular choice for coaching certification in Europe. Center for Credentialing and Education with its Board Certified Coach (BCC) credentials cater more to coaching professionals who come from the therapy side of things.
No matter which path you choose, whether you decide to focus on coaching individuals, or teams, or whole organizations and systems, you are making the right choice and the right investment in yourself and your future becoming a certified coach.
According to the 2016 ICF Global Coaching Study, coaches spend an average of just 13.9 hours per week working as coach practitioners and report average annual revenues of $47,900 USD from coaching. (Source: becomea.coach)

What Are ICF Certification Requirements?

ICF has a variety of requirements for aspiring coaches to increase their professional potential and become certified coaches with the International Coach Federation. These requirements present quite significant barriers to aspiring coaches, especially compared to those of the “sit-through-and-get-certified” courses. However, these barriers are erected for a reason. When a prospective client is looking to hire a coach, they will be served well by hiring one that is ICF certified, as it takes away a lot of research about the coach they would need to do otherwise.

First, and most obvious requirement, is a completion of ICF approved training. This stringent education requirement is, arguably, the tallest barrier of all. There are a variety of approved coach certification programs you can take; however, in the nutshell, your coaching education should contain at least 60 documented hours of training for the Associate level ICF credentials (ACC Associate Certified Coach) and more than twice that – coach specific training hours for the Professional level ICF credentials (PCC Professional Certified Coach). Of those hours, only 20 percent can be asynchronous. What that means is that even if you take one of the online coaching programs, for ACC, for example, you cannot have more than 12 hours of self-study, or other activities that do not involve a live interaction with your instructor. Those hours spent with your instructor should be focused on ICF Core Competencies, including, but not limited to, coaching process, coaching ethics, professional practice, and others.

Second, and also quite an obvious requirement, is that you need to coach at the level of ICF credentials you aspire to. That is hard. While the coach certification program provides you with training, only practice can build your core competencies and give you confidence that you can coach at a level ICF is looking for from its certified coaches.

Third requirement is that any applicant should work with a mentor coach for at least 10 hours, of which at least 3 hours should be spent in one-on-ones with your mentor. The approach to mentoring might differ from program to program; however, it is reasonable to assume that you and your mentor will focus on improving your coaching competencies and prepare your recordings for a submission to ICF if needed.

Fourth requirement is a specific number of client coaching hours an applicant should have under their belt before they apply. Client coaching hours are an important component of any ICF credential and an integral part of your professional development. They show applicants’ experience, as we build core competencies through practice, not through attending classes and reading books. Also, it is important to mention that at least 80% of these practice coaching hours should be paid. Yes, you should have real clients who pay you real money for your service.

The number of hours required varies greatly from level to level. For the ACC-Credentialed Coach certification, you need at least 100 coaching experience hours with at least 80 of those paid hours. For the Professional Certified Coach PCC level, the bar is even higher: it is 500 hours. Master Coach requirements are in a league of their own. One needs 2,500 (yes, it’s two thousand and five hundred) coaching hours.

And last, the requirement number five is the passing of ICF’s own written exam designed to test your understanding of and ability to apply the ICF definition of coaching, ICF Core Competencies and ICF Code of Ethics. The assessment is not hard to pass by itself, and you have plenty of time to complete it. It seems to be very matter of fact and grounded in your training.

Now let’s talk about different paths you can take to become an ICF-credentialed coach.

What Are The Different ICF Paths

Note that on August 1, 2022, ICF completely overhauled its credentialing programs and instead of now retired ACTP, ACSTH, and Portfolio paths they offer only two paths towards the ICF credentials – through level-based training offerings and through a portfolio path. According to the International Coaching Federation, these updated paths provide a clearer, easier-to-navigate application experience for Credential candidates. And we at Tandem generally agree – a level-based system that is generally aligned with the ICF Credentials level is easier to understand and explain.

Both coaching certification paths are a multistep process and have their pros and cons and require of the coaching professionals different levels of effort, time, and financial commitment.

As you are building your coaching proficiency towards the Associate Certified Coach ACC or a Professional Certified Coach PCC coach, all three paths are available to you. Only the portfolio path leads to the Master Certified Coach MCC coaching credentials.

Each of the paths that we consider here include rigorous education and training requirements, which should be met through attending an ICF accredited program. Practice requirements and experience requirements include your work with real world paying clients. You will have to pass a Coach Knowledge Assessment, administered by ICF, and pay an application fee.

Level 1 Path

Level 1 in new ICF parlance generally corresponds to the first level of the ICF Certification – Associate Certified Coach (ACC). These programs usually teach the foundations of coaching. Programs accredited and delivered at level 1 roughly correspond to those formerly known as ACSTH programs (but not always).

Both level 1 and level 2 programs are designed to take care of a lot of administrative stuff, which used to be a responsibility of a student when applying for the ICF certification, thus greatly simplifying and streamlining the credentialing process. Both these programs are all-inclusive, except for the knowledge test that is still administered separately by ICF.

Any Level 1 program at minimum provides its students with 60 coach training hours of which no less than 80% (or 48 hours) should be contact hours.

Second important point about any ICF program (Level 1 or Level 2) is that since August 2022 they need to include a mandatory mentor coaching program. Mentor coaching helps students build their coaching competencies to the corresponding level of the ICF certification proficiency – ACC or PCC for Level 1 and Level 2 programs. Students work with their mentor on their coaching competencies, learning and improving knowledge about the process of coaching, coaching methods, ways to start, sustain, and end coaching engagements, and other valuable skills to help the new coaches to be a part of the coaching profession. An integral part of the mentor coaching program is an oral final exam. At Tandem, we ask our students to record their coaching session with a client, and submit the session recording and its transcript. After your mentor coach grades the recording against ICF core coaching markers we will get together to discuss the results, point out strong points and create a plan to work and eliminate the weaker ones. Your recording must be at the ACC level for the Level 1 program. Any mentor coaching program should last no less than 3 months and have no less than 10 hours, of which at least 3 hours of mentoring should be spent in 1-on-1 mentoring.

Thirdly, because of the second point, you do not need to submit your recordings and coaching sessions transcripts to ICF for grading as your performance evaluation was done by the school itself. This is a big change in the ICF policies since August 2022. This change makes it more comfortable for the student to work with their school mentor to record a session at the ACC level. This does not mean that the schools take a more lax approach to your grading, absolutely not. We still work on your performance evaluations in accordance with the ICF-provided markers, ensuring that your coaching effectiveness and skills meet those professional standards. However, it means you will have more flexibility in working with your mentor to achieve the desired outcomes. And it shortens the waiting time for your certification as ICF does not spend any time grading your recording any longer.

You will still need to have enough paid hours of coaching to apply for a specific level of certification, and you need to account for those hours of coaching in your coaching log. ICF reserves the right to inspect your coaching log at any time to ensure your compliance with this requirement. You will require at least 100 coaching hours for your ACC application and no less than 500 hours for your PCC certification. Notice that at least 80% of these hours should be paid. ICF takes a broad view at what is considered a paid client. Of course, you can have your own clients that pay you for your time. You can barter your time. One of the best places to do this is with your school students or through the ICF Reciprocal Peer Coaching rounds. With any Tandem program you will receive a membership to ReciproCoach, for a total of 24 hours of coaching. This is almost a quarter of the required paid hours for your ACC certification. You will need to reach out to ReciproCoach and the ICF Reciprocal Peer Coaching Coordinator will help you set up your next round.

It goes without saying that whichever path you choose to achieve your ICF certification and coaching mastery, you need to adhere to high ethical standards working with your current and potential clients and follow the ICF Code of Ethics.

Tandem ICF-Accredited training programs meet and exceed all rigorous ICF standards, help streamline your ICF credentials application, and are your surest way to ICF Certification you desire. Every ICF-Accredited training program went through the ICF rigorous review process, to ensure students’ high level of competency and satisfaction upon graduation. You can verify our credentials and standing with ICF in their directory of coaching education offerings – Education Search Services (ESS) here.

Level 2 Path

The main difference of the Level 2 path is that it prepares you for the PCC level certification. It includes more training hours (Tandem’s Level 2 program contains 173 training hours). You will still receive the same great training, practice, mentor coaching, and more.

Portfolio Path

This path requires you to engage with the International Coaching Federation most. Everything you do will be scrutinized by ICF for compliance with their rigorous standards. Due to the rigor of the process, this is the most lengthy path–ICF takes 18 weeks to complete the processing of your application.

You will follow the portfolio path if you count Continuing Coach Education (CCE) units and/or non-approved coaching training programs toward your training requirements. You will need to have required coach-specific training hours with robust documentation. What it means: you need to prove that you have completed a comprehensive training program that includes the ICF definition of coaching, Code of Ethics and core competencies. The program should also be organized in a scope and sequence that encourages your growth as a coach.

If you are taking a CCE or a non-approved coaching training program and thinking of applying its training towards an International Coach Federation certification, you should have a conversation with the program organization to figure out if the hours provided by the program are applicable for your certification.

All other requirements that are applicable to the Level 1 or Level 2 path apply here as well.

Which Coach Training Program Is Right For You?

ICF provides a very useful Education Search Services (ESS) to make it easier to find a program that is accredited and guaranteed to satisfy the high professional standards ICF requires.

The type of program matters. Look at the path it offers. Decide how much time you can devote to studying and what you can afford from the financial point of view.

You might have a very clear idea of what coaching niche you might occupy while building your coaching career, be it executive coaching, life coaching, career coaching, or something else. Or you might not. Life coaching has exploded in popularity lately, and life coaching education and life coach certifications are abundant. You will have fewer choices if you want to focus on a specific niche or area, such as career coaching, or leadership and executive coaching.

Many people research how to become a Life Coach or Business Coach because they’ve been told that such coaches ‘give great advice.’ While current coaching practices, coaching styles, coaching situations, and coaching objectives might vary, generally, coaches aren’t in the business of giving advice. Moreover, coaching is not about solving or even focusing on the problems that your clients bring to the coaching sessions, but on the very person who brings those problems to their entire world. ICF defines coaching as partnering with clients in a thought-provoking and creative process that inspires them to maximize their professional and personal potential. ICF coaching education makes sure that ICF-accredited training programs are in line with this vision and definition of coaching.

If you are looking to start your own coaching business and provide coaching services on your own, look for a coach training provider that might incorporate more information and useful material on the topic into their offerings. Majority of the programs will cover the basics of starting your own business and selecting a niche that best suits you.

No matter which track you choose, an ICF-accredited coach certification program will ensure that you will build a solid foundation of your coaching skills based on the ICF core competencies.

How Much Does the ICF Certification Cost?

The cost of the ICF certification varies greatly based on a variety of factors. As you consider all the resources available to you to choose the best option, the following considerations which greatly affect the total costs of your path should be taken into account.

Which coach training program you enroll in plays a major role in the actual cost of your certification. Some life coaching programs can start below a thousand dollars, while some more prominent coaching schools charge tens of thousands for their programs. 60-hour programs are the bare minimum various schools offer.

The mode of program delivery can also affect the price. The total costs of the face-to-face programs are much higher than those of the virtual programs after factoring in all travel and lodging expenses. However, in-person programs might offer better collaboration with the instructors and fellow students.

Additional options made available by coaching schools to their students bring value beyond the dollar costs of the coaching certification programs. A vibrant coaching community, peer-to-peer coaching opportunities, opportunities to rack up coaching experience hours quickly, additional membership in ReciproCoach make coaching certification programs like those offered by Tandem even more valuable.

Prospective students should also be on the lookout for additional hidden costs some programs hide in the small print. Some programs offer only coaching training, whereas the certification program costs as much as the training itself. Nonrefundable application fees, other expensive options such as membership cost, exams fees, coaching community participation fees, separately paid for mentoring sessions – all these costs add up and make the cost of ICF coaching certification much higher than some schools would like you to believe with their headline number.

Some schools make financing options available to their students. At Tandem, we offer several tuition options that depend on your level of certification, as well as loan options through our partner Acclaim with very competitive rates. For our international students, we offer a convenient installment plan that helps them manage their cash flows better.

Why Getting Your ICF Coaching Certification With Tandem Coaching Academy?

Tandem Coaching Academy is the only ICF fully accredited coach training school that is founded and headed by a Master Certified Coaches (ICF) and a Certified Enterprise Coach (Scrum Alliance) Cherie Silas and Alex Kudinov.

ICF Coaching Certification - TCA-CAC Certified Life Coach

We offer a full suite of ICF accredited programs that will meet your educational practice needs and will go easy on your wallet and help you earn your ICF certification. In our ICF-accredited groundbreaking programs, we give you coaching instructions and teach you coaching techniques you can use in a variety of coaching relationships and situations.

ICF Coaching Certification - TCA-CPC Certified Coach

We also have always been on the lookout for the ways to make ICF accredited programs more affordable and available – cost is a big issue in the world where a lot of our students cover the cost of the program out of their own pocket.

We talked to a variety of individuals as our prospective students and realized that some of them lack means to go through the whole program. That is where the availability of the payment plans help. However, we also offer an entry level program Discover Coaching© that introduces the students to the core concepts and competencies and lasts only 10 weeks. These are 10 intensive weeks though. After the graduation our students are able to hold a coaching conversation, built on a solid foundation of the coaching arc.
Some stop here and are happy with the results, and some continue with the full Level 1 or Level 2 program on their journey towards an ICF credential. Through our partnership with Reciprocoach we help you to get real paying coaching clients and start working towards filling that coaching log of yours with necessary hours of coaching.

What Is It Like To Learn Online?

You might wonder what online training looks like. Our classes meet weekly on a set day. Each class is 2-hours long. After a quick check-in, we spend an hour learning new material. We tie every part of our learning program to specific ICF core competencies. The learning is interactive, and we encourage our students to share their thoughts, opinions, and experiences. We also give you an option to learn at your own pace as we make our class recording available exclusively to our students. We understand that you have limited time available to devote to your learning and we want to make sure that you are working on improving your coaching skills and honing your coaching techniques whenever you can.

We spent the second hour of our class in coaching practice. The Coaching lab is a mini-workshop that, in addition to your professional coach training, gives you practical ways to experience different levels of coaching. We do a lot of exercises that help you build your coaching competencies. We also practice coaching with real-life scenarios and topics. Our instructor gives guidance and feedback on every coaching conversation, helping you improve your coaching skills right there.

Peer coaching opportunities are also available to our students through our collaboration with Reciprocoach where you can engage with real clients and improve your coaching ability working with student coaches like you from all around the world.

Between the training sessions, self-paced learning, our students work on the assignments, listening to prerecorded sessions from our extensive library of real coaching conversation recordings.

What Makes Tandem Coaching Different?

Tandem Coaching Academy is the only Agile training academy with several training options for professional coaching programs delivered by Scrum Alliance Certified Enterprise Coaches and ICF Master Certified Coaches and focused specifically on incorporating professional coaching into agile careers. While we welcome students of every walk of life, we make sure we tie our teaching and practices to the circumstances Agile Coaches, Scrum Masters, and other agile practitioners encounter in their daily work and practice and to the resources they have available for them.

Cherie Silas, MCC, CEC, is a top-level professional coach in both Agile & Professional Coaching arenas and she holds the Guide Level competency designations and achieved the highest coaching standards in both fields. She is also leading the way to professionalizing the field of Agile Coaching and setting the bar high for what it means to be a competent agile coach.


All our trainers, instructors, and mentors are holding International coaching Federation designation at the Professional Certified Coach (PCC) level and above. Unlike some other coaching certification schools, all our programs are already fully and unconditionally accredited by the International Coach Federation and guarantee the quality and rigor of education and practice one can expect of an ICF-accredited program.


Continue exploring your ICF certification options via path to coaching with Tandem Coaching Academy.