You’ve realized the importance of getting an ICF credential. But once you start exploring it, you encounter acronyms, different paths, and various requirements, which can be confusing and overwhelming.

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.

“The ICF credential represents a commitment to excellence in coaching and upholding the highest ethical standards.”

International Coaching Federation.

I’m Colleen-Joy, the founder of InnerLifeSkills, an ACTP Accredited Coach Training Program Level 2 with the ICF and MCC 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 (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.

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 demands.

“The summit is what drives us, but the climb itself is what matters.”

Conrad Anker.

At each milestone, you need to prove a higher level of coaching competency.

ICF Core Competencies paths

Where does an ICF Credential matter the most?

An ICF credential might not be as important in life or wellness coaching. However, in business, executive, and leadership coaching, there is a much higher demand for coaches with credentials.

For example, when employers, corporations, and organizations are looking to hire executive coaches and offer them long-term contracts, they often require an ICF credential as a minimum. If you’re competing against PCC and MCC coaches for such opportunities and you only have an ACC credential, it will be harder for you to secure the work.

While your experience and personality matter, having a higher credential will significantly improve your chances.

“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.

The ICF credential lets potential clients know you’ve gone through the necessary steps to prove your competence, ethical standards, and ability to coach internationally.

Whether you’re aiming for ACC, PCC, or MCC, there are three paths you can take to reach those milestones.

These paths are known as the

  • Portfolio path,
  • Approved Coach training,
  • and the Accredited Coach Training Program (ACTP) path.
ICF core competency based coaching

The Power of ICF Credentials: Why They Matter for Coaches Worldwide

The ACTP path 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:

  • mentor hours,
  • observed coaching sessions,
  • and performance evaluations.

On the other hand, the Portfolio path and 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 training program.

Many coaches regret choosing the Portfolio or Approved Coach training paths instead of the ACTP 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.

ICF Coaching Guide ACC PCC MCC

Before you begin your journey, consider the three paths you want to take for your ICF credential. Choosing an ACTP 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:

  • ACC,
  • PCC,
  • 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 ACTP Path

On the other hand, the ACTP 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.


The first milestone, ACC, requires 60 hours of coaching education and over 100 hours of coaching experience.

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 for 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 ACTP training program), and an online theory-based exam.

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 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. If you want to be efficient, consider joining a program that includes over 200 coaching hours, so you won’t need extra training when you reach the required 2500 coaching hours. MCC requirements include a PCC, 10 hours of mentor coaching, a performance evaluation, and passing the ICF credentialing exam.

There is a Portfolio path to MCC, but it involves more paperwork and proving your coaching skills at a master level. The ACTP path is the most desired route. It’s a Level 3 program with over 200 hours, including the necessary education and mentoring.

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 ACTP 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.

ICF ACTP Certification

Which is the easiest path?

The easiest option is to choose an ACTP program like the InnerLifeSkills Master Coach School ACTP program. It allows you to take modules at your own pace, fitting your budget and schedule.

Many coaches skip applying for ACC and directly apply for PCC if they have 125+ hours of coaching education and over 500 hours of coaching experience. You’ll also need 10 hours of mentor coaching, pass a performance evaluation, and complete the ICF online theory-based exam.

There are three paths up the mountain.

The Portfolio path leading to the PCC flag is more expensive, time-consuming, and requires more information.

The ACTP path is easier and more direct but takes longer and requires a performance evaluation with the ICF.

If you’ve completed an ACTP training program at Level 2, the ICF recognizes your mentor coaching and performance evaluation from the training provider. You still need to complete the ICF online credentialing exam.

You’ll need to submit your training provider’s certificate when applying for your credential.

The ACTP 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 an online theory-based multiple-choice test assessing your knowledge of ethics and competencies.

Your Coaching Certification InnerLifeSkills

Our graduates from InnerLifeSkills Master Coach School have successfully obtained their credentials because our ACTP program prepares them comprehensively.

Let’s chat if you need assistance on your journey to the ICF credential.



 We highly recommend an ICF accredited course like ours (still the most respected worldwide) but what else is important?

Book a call with our coaching career advisor Eryn Dawn.