[UPDATED NOVEMBER 2023 with the latest ICF changes to ACC, PCC, MCC Credential paths]
You’ve realized the importance of getting an ICF credential. But once you start exploring it, you encounter confusing acronyms, different paths, and various requirements, which can be confusing and overwhelming. This is one of the many reasons the ICF International Coaching Federation made significant changes from 2021-2023 to their accreditation process and credential paths.
Don’t worry; We’re here to help you navigate through the process and make it less complicated. We have assisted countless natural coaches, guides, and leaders worldwide in obtaining an ICF credential. What has remained the same are the 3 Credentials ACC, PCC and MCC – Associate, Professional and Master Certified Coach. The path is still clear, how you get there has changed.
“The ICF credential represents a commitment to excellence in coaching and upholding the highest ethical standards.”
International Coaching Federation.
I’m Colleen-Joy, the creator of InnerLifeSkills, author and Education Director of a previously ACTP Accredited Coach Training Program now Level 2 with the ICF and MCC Master Certified Coach.
Scaling the Credential Mountain: Your Step-by-Step Guide to ICF Certification
Imagine a mountain with three flags.
The top flag at the summit is called MCC which means Master Certified Coach. Halfway up is the PCC flag, representing a Professional Certified Coach. And at the base camp is an ACC flag, which stands for Associate Certified Coach.
We start at the ACC level on your path to mastery and getting an ICF credential. You can skip the first flag but can’t skip the second one. This means you can never apply for MCC without PCC first. But you can skip ACC if you have enough to achieve PCC.
- Many coaches aim for the PCC flag and are satisfied with achieving it.
- The MCC flag is harder to reach and represents the summit.
Depending on your coaching experience, certified training, budget, and the need for an ICF credential, you might choose to wait and aim for PCC instead of going through ACC first and then PCC. Each level—ACC, PCC, and MCC—has increasing requirements that take longer to reach.
“The summit is what drives us, but the climb itself is what matters.”
At each milestone, you need to prove a higher level of coaching competency.
Where does an ICF Credential matter the most?
An ICF credential might not be as important in life coaching or wellness coaching. However, in business, executive, and leadership coaching, there is a much higher demand for coaches with ICF credentials. As the coaching industry continues to grow, even public clients are becoming more discerning. Having an ICF Credential is a credibility and trust builder.
For example, when employers, corporations, and organizations are looking to hire executive coaches and offer them long-term (1-2 year) contracts, they often require an ICF credential as a minimum to be considered. If you’re competing against PCC and MCC coaches for such opportunities and you only have an ACC credential, it will be harder (but not impossible) for you to secure the work.
While experience and personality matter, having a higher credential significantly improves your chances of securing corporate and executive coaching.
“Getting an ICF credential is not just about having a title, but about continuous growth and professional development.”
International Coaching Federation.
As you embark on this journey, remember that each step takes you closer to mastery, expands your coaching abilities, and earns you the recognition you deserve.
When deciding if ICF credentialing is worth it, keep in mind an ICF credential lets potential clients know you’ve gone through the necessary steps to prove your competence, ethical standards, and ability to coach internationally.
It should be said, that in our opinion and on-the-ground experience with our graduates, having an ICF Certification is often not enough to build a successful career as a professional coach. This is why InnerLifeSkills Master Coach Certification trains ICF Competencies as a solid foundation but also goes beyond Global Skills with its Big 4 Toolboxes. We also teach MCC level coaching from the start, so that all coaches are inspired to strive for mastery (even if obtaining an ICF credential is not important to them).
Whether you’re aiming for ACC, PCC, or MCC, there used to be three paths to reach those milestones (Portfolio, ACSTH and ACTP) but this is one of the changes recently made.
The ICF will still recognize and accept ACTP and ACSTH certificates prior to 28 June 2023, but officially these were retired at this date, meaning Accredited Training Providers, such as InnerLifeSkills no longer issues certificates with the ACTP or ACSTH designations.
Since 28 June 2028 the paths to ACC and PCC are now:
- LEVEL 1 for ACC / Level 2 for ACC or PCC—previously ACTP. The cheapest and most direct path.
- Partial Level 1 / Level 2—previously ACSTH. A more expensive and more complex path.
- Portfolio Path—this has remained. The most expensive and most complex path.
The new addition is Level 3 for MCC. Only PCC level coaches can apply for MCC. You have the choice of 2 paths for MCC:
- LEVEL 3—a separate 75 hour program only available for PCC.
- Portfolio Path—where you can use a Level 2 with over 200 hours of coach specific education OR one or more non-accredited programs to apply.
NOTEABLE DIFFERENCES FOR MCC PATH:
For the MCC path, unlike for ACC and PCC, the Level 3 and Portfolio paths are the same cost and duration for review. So if you have enough accredited education hours, there may not be a need to seek out and complete a new Level 3 program.
Also note, that unlike the ACC/PCC paths, your MCC 2 Performance Evaluations are always submitted directly to the ICF, and cannot be completed by your chosen Training Provider.
If I complete a Level 2 and choose to first obtain ACC, can I use my Performance Evaluation, Mentor Hours and Training hours for PCC?
This is a common question we hear. The good news is yes. If you complete a Level 2 that should contain all the ICF requirements like 10 mentor hours, 6 observed coaching sessions with written feedback, 80% Core Competency Training and min 125 hours of training with a Final Performance Evaluation, then you can use these again towards your PCC application. There is no need to do this all over again.
This is a big advantage to completing a Level 2 Accredited Certification right from the start instead of a Level 1.
The Power of ICF Credentials: Why They Matter for Coaches Worldwide
In summary, the Level 2 path (previously ACTP) is the quickest, most affordable, and easiest option to obtain an ICF credential.
It involves completing a training program that covers all the requirements, such as:
- 80% Core Competency training (20% can be Resource Development)
- 60+ hours for ACC and 125+ hours for PCC
- 50% of your training must be synchronous (live with an instructor) and 50% can be asynchronous self-study, coaching practice and online without instructor). All Level 1 and 2 Providers are checked for this, so it is assumed.
- 10 Mentor hours (7 of which can be group, but 3 must be 1-1 individual with a PCC or MCC),
- Observed coaching sessions with written feedback from your PCC or MCC instructor,
- and Performance Evaluations (so that for ACC and PCC you don’t need to send ICF this).
The Portfolio path and Partial Level 1 or Level 2 (previously Approved Coach Training) require more time, money, and effort. The ICF is stricter with these paths because they recognize that you haven’t completed a comprehensive inclusive training program.
Many coaches regret choosing the Portfolio or Partial Approved Coach training paths instead of a full Level 2 path due to the additional challenges and administrative hurdles.
When deciding which path to take for your ICF credential, it’s important to consider your priorities, resources, and the level of support you want.
Changes to Accreditation, from program to company
It may be worth knowing, though not relevant to your path to coaching credentialing, that the ICF also changed its program accreditation focus and process. Before 2022, a “Program” was accredited. But with the change in path titles, from ACTP and ACSTH to Levels 1, 2 and 3, the Training Providers company was now accredited.
Even though InnerLifeSkills had programs accredited as ACTP since 2012, we went through a lengthy process in 2022 to upgrade our accreditation to LEVEL 2 status – which shifted to our company being vetted and accredited.
The quality of policies and processes, the ethics and values at a company level are now an integral part of ICF accreditation, not only the quality of the coach-specific education program.
3 ICF LEVELS
Before you begin your journey, consider the three paths you want to take for your ICF credential. Choosing a Level 2 complete program will likely be more beneficial in the long run. It’s a quicker and more affordable option that involves less administrative hassle.
The ICF offers three paths to credentials:
- and MCC.
Imagine these paths as different routes up a mountain to the MCC summit.
The Portfolio Path
The Portfolio path is like going around the mountain, which is harder, more expensive, and takes longer. It involves much paperwork to prove your coaching skills to the ICF.
The Level 2 (previously ACTP) Path
On the other hand, the Level 2 path is like a direct line up the mountain. It includes assessments, observed coaching sessions, and mentor hours. It’s faster, more affordable, and has less administrative work.
To learn more about the ICF credential paths, visit their website.
Click on the Credentials & Paths section for details about ACC, PCC, and MCC.
NOTE: ACC now also requires 10 hours of Mentor Coaching (with a PCC or MCC who focuses on your core competency development). A Level 1 or Level 2 program should include this. ACC now also required the successful completion (passing score) of the ICF Credentialing Exam for ACC.
For coaching experience, out of the required 100 hours, at least 75 hours must be paid coaching sessions. You should have worked with at least 8 clients, with 25 hours within the 18 months before applying. Coach-specific education should include a course of at least 30 hours, with 24 hours covering the ICF core competencies.
If you have more than 100 hours of experience and more than 60 hours of coaching education, you may qualify to go directly to PCC.
To apply for PCC, you’ll also need 10 hours of mentor coaching, a performance evaluation (which can be done through the ICF or your Level 2 training program), and successful completion (passing score) of the ICF Credentialing Exam for PCC.
Of your 500 coaching hours, at least 450 must be paid for the PCC path. You should have worked with at least 25 clients, with 50 hours occurring within the 18 months before applying.
The PCC credential is highly respected globally, and many companies prefer hiring coaches with at least a PCC.
Keep in mind that to apply for MCC, you need to have a PCC first. It’s something most coaches aim for. MCC requirements include a PCC, 10 hours of mentor coaching, a performance evaluation, and passing the ICF credentialing MCC exam.
There is a Portfolio path to MCC and it costs the same and takes the same duration to review, you may use Level 2 hours that weren’t used for your PCC. Level 3 programs are 75 hours.
Enrolling for a Level 3 DOES NOT include your Performance Evaluations marked by the Training Provider anymore! Only the ICF now evaluates MCC.
“Candidates for the MCC are required to pass a performance evaluation. This evaluation consists of an ICF Assessor’s review of two recorded coaching sessions with transcripts submitted by the applicant.
The coaching session must be with a regular client who has hired you as a coach and not in any other capacity and must last between 20-60 minutes.” ICF Source: https://coachingfederation.org/credentials-and-standards/credentials-paths/mcc-credential
Some programs might not provide the full 20 hours of mentor coaching, but you can easily find a MCC coach to pay for the required 10 hours, with 3 hours individually and 7 hours in a small group.
The top of the credential mountain is MCC, and even if you completed an Level 3 program, have the required education and experience, and hold a PCC, you still need to submit two recorded coaching sessions with transcripts for review by the ICF. MCC is an exceptional credential; these additional requirements ensure a high standard.
Reaching the MCC credential can be challenging, but it’s highly rewarding.
It gives us the confidence that we’re coaching at international standards. As the coaching industry grows, clients become more discerning and look for coaches who have proven their abilities. Consider completing a full ACTP program to have everything you need in the long run.
Make sure to provide accurate information, as the ICF can verify your hours. Consider these details as you pursue your ICF credential.
As of March 2023 the percentage of ACC-PCC-MCC:
- 4% of ICF Credentialed members are MCC, that’s only 2087 coaches.
- 43% are PCC
- 53% are ACC
Download the ICF Credential Fact sheet here. In March 2023, North America held 48% of ICF membership, with Western Europe at 23%.
Which is the easiest most direct path?
The most direct option is to choose a Level 2 (previously ACTP) program. We’d love you to consider our InnerLifeSkills Master Coach Level 1, 2 and 3 program options, and we encourage you to compare our offering to other Level 2 programs to find a good fit for your budget and dreams.
Many coaches skip applying for ACC and directly apply for PCC which is often a good choice.
Be careful of Training Providers pushing what seems like ICF training but actually would only count towards a portfolio path because it lacks the mentor hours, observed coaching sessions and many other requirements.
To check if a provider genuinely has Level 2 Visit the ICF website and view their ESS portal, search for the Training Providers Name. You are welcome to search InnerLifeSkills.
You’ll need to submit your training provider’s certificate when applying for your credential.
A Level 1, Level 2 or Level 3 program includes all the required elements like mentor hours, core competencies, ethics, observed coaching sessions, and performance evaluation for ACC and PCC levels. You’ll also need to complete a Credential theory-based multiple-choice test assessing your knowledge of ethics and competencies.
Our graduates from InnerLifeSkills Master Coach School have successfully obtained their credentials because our Level 2 Program prepares them comprehensively.
Let’s chat if you need assistance on your journey to the ICF credential.
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We highly recommend an ICF accredited course like ours (still the most respected worldwide) but what else is important?