ICF Certification Levels 1, 2 and 3 Explained

When you enrol on a coach training programme ensure that it is accredited by the ICF. Prior to 2022 programmes that lead to the credentials above were labelled as ACSTH or ACTP. Nowadays these have been replaced by Level 1, Level 2 and Level 3 programmes. This blog post explains all of this so you're not confused by the jargon and can focus on your development.

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ICF Levels 1, 2 and 3: What's different?

[00:00:00] Joseph: Hi, thank you so much for stopping by and watching this video. You might be thinking about becoming an ICF accredited coach, and that’s great, but I can also understand that it can be quite confusing navigating all of the different jargon that the ICF uses, the different levels, the different credentialing status, and that can get a little bit too much.

[00:00:22] Joseph: I hear you and I can empathize with that feeling because I was there myself. And I remember when I was becoming a coach, I found it all a little bit confusing. So the aim of this video is to support you in breaking down some of the main terminologies that we use in ICF language so that you can make a more of an informed choice.

[00:00:44] Joseph: My name is Joseph. I am the founder of Become. I’m a chartered psychologist and also a psychotherapist in training as well. And I use all of this in order to infuse our coaching programmes with clear psychological principles that underpin change in our clients. Now let’s have a look at some of the levels that the ICF mentions.

[00:01:05] Joseph: So there are three levels. There’s Level 1, Level 2, and Level 3. Now typically, if you’re starting in coaching, or if you’ve been coaching for a little while but want to become accredited, you’d be looking at Level 1 and Level 2. To kind of keep it really simple, Level 1 can lead to the ACC credential by the ICF, which is the first level of credentialing.

[00:01:27] Joseph: So by studying a Level 1 certification, that will typically include live classes. You’re mentoring, a performance evaluation, which is what the ICF call your final assessment. That gives you all of the knowledge and skills and practice to be able to get the ACC credential by the ICF. So Level 1 is your study, ACC is the credential level that you get by the ICF.

[00:01:51] Joseph: You can also though apply straight on to a Level 2. The Level 2 will typically include a Level 1 within it, and that’s why it’s a little bit more expensive. The Level 2 certification not only allows you to get the ACC, but also future proof you if you wanted to get the PCC, which is the second level of accreditation.

[00:02:12] Joseph: So thinking a bit from that point of view, the second level, so level 2, is a more extensive, in depth training programme to help you really make the most of the training to become an ICF accredited coach. So level 1 leads to ACC, level 2 can lead to ACC or PCC. If you are already an ACC coach, for example, you can do the top up.

[00:02:39] Joseph: So you don’t have to do level 1 and level 2. You can do just the level 2. But that is only if you’re an ACC coach or you have some previous ICF accredited training program. If you’re not sure if your previous training actually matches the ICF requirements, then get in touch. You can book in a one to one with me or with another one of our friendly team members and we will help you explore that.

[00:03:03] Joseph: Just to confirm, our intention is never to sell you our programme. I really want to make sure that this programme is the right one for you. It actually fits what you’re looking for from a coach training programme. So for example, on our programmes, we tend to have quite flexible learning hours where you would either work on weekends or study on weekends or study on weekdays.

[00:03:25] Joseph: We’ve got a number of different ways how you can complete the programme. We have a lot of one to one mentoring and support, and our team of amazing and brilliant facilitators will help you get there in terms of getting your qualification as well. We also will support you through alumni community and events.

[00:03:42] Joseph: This is something that we do regularly throughout the year. We do some of it online, and we also do some of it face to face in London as well. So if you’re around, you can always join us in one of those. We’ve got a range of CPD programs for you as well. So once you become an ACC coach, we don’t just leave you there.

[00:03:58] Joseph: You can stay with us. Our focus is for you to be part of this community of coaches. I hope that was helpful in order to explore a little bit the levels and the ACC PCC credentials. But the best way how to do this is you can either get in touch and book in a one to one with myself. Or you can attend one of our Coaching Fundamentals programs.

[00:04:19] Joseph: Now, the Coaching Fundamentals is a free workshop. We usually run it about once a month. And you’ll find details of this on this page as well. So you can sign up if you wanted to. I’ll be there. I deliver them live. And we co create the agenda together. So if you’ve got any questions about coaching, you can bring them to the Coaching Fundamentals and we’ll explore them together.

[00:04:41] Joseph: I look forward to seeing you there. And once again, thanks for watching this video.

Our FREE workshop called Coaching Fundamentals is the best place to learn about the ICF Levels and ways to become an accredited Coach.

Join us on the next one by going here.

Plus we co-create the agenda together meaning that you can come ready with any questions or objectives that you have and we’ll weave them into the session.

Become Coaching is here to support you all the way towards your ICF ACC or PCC Credential.

We only take small groups on the live workshop to make it meaningful. Join us on the next one by going here.

ICF: An Introduction & Some Background

The ICF is the main awarding body for coaches worldwide. It has a number of training programmes and credential levels that accredit professional coaches. Navigating their website can be confusing and understanding how you can become an accredit coach can be tricky. We get it, we’ve been there.

To help with this, in 2022 the ICF launched an update to their Certification levels (that lead to accreditation) to streamline the training programmes available and to simplify the process of becoming accredited. 

This article explores the latest ICF Levels to demystify the terminology used and help you understand which coach training programme could be best for you.

Levels and Accreditation: Understanding the Jargon

First things first.

Levels 1, 2 and 3 refer to the depth of your training as a coach in line with the ICF Competencies and standards. ACC, PCC and MCC are the Credential levels that the ICF accredits coaches depending on their training and practice hours.

Tip 1: When you enrol on a coach training programme ensure it’s accredited by the ICF as a Level 1 or 2

Prior to 2022 ICF programmes that lead to the credentials above were labelled as ACSTH or ACTP. These in a way are older version of the ICF training programmes. Nowadays ACSTH and ACTP programmes have been replaced by Level 1, Level 2 and Level 3 programmes.

First things first: Levels 1, 2 and 3 refer to the depth of your training as a coach in line with the ICF Competencies and standards. ACC, PCC and MCC are the Credential levels that the ICF accredits coaches depending on their training and practice hours.

Tip 1: When you enrol on a coach training programme ensure it’s accredited by the ICF as a Level 1 or 2

Prior to 2022 ICF programmes that lead to the credentials above were labelled as ACSTH or ACTP. These in a way are older version of the ICF training programmes. Nowadays ACSTH and ACTP programmes have been replaced by Level 1, Level 2 and Level 3 programmes.

Level 1: An Overview: Diploma in Integrative Coaching

The Level 1 is usually the entry point to completing an ICF course of studies. For example our Level 1 Programme is the Diploma in Integrative Coaching which includes a robust training in coaching practice helping you build your confidence and obtain clear mentoring and support. 

A Level 1 programme as accredited by the ICF must include at least:

  • 60 hours of accredited Coach Training
  • 10 hours of mentoring by an ICF Coach
  • A performance evaluation (final assessment) that confirms you are coaching at ACC Level 
 

Upon completion of a Level 1 programme you can then apply for the ACC Credential once you have logged at least 100 hours of coaching practice. These hours will start from your first day of enrolment on an ICF training programme.

Note that the ICF in their doesn’t differentiate between different styles of coaching (ultimately coaching is coaching!) so these are applicable for executive, career, life or business coaches.

Level 2: Advanced Diploma in Integrative Coaching

You can complete a Level 2 programme once you have completed a Level 1. You can also go straight into a Level 2 programme if you have previous evidence of completing an ICF training programme such as an ACSTH or ACTP programme (so, the older equivalent of ICF training). You can also start with a Level 1 and immediately progress to a Level 2, doing these combined. Become’s Level 2 Programme: Advanced Diploma in Integrative Coaching does this, where it’s a full programme that includes both Levels 1 and 2 together. 

A Level 2 programme is one that includes at least:

  • 125 hours of accredited Coach Training
  • 10 hours of mentoring by an ICF Coach 
  • A performance evaluation that confirms you are coaching at PCC Level 
 

Upon completion of a Level 2 Programme and having accumulated at least 500 hours of coaching practice you can apply for the PCC Credential. Your Level 2 Certification does not expire so some of our trainees do the full Level 2 training and then using the same Certification apply for ACC once they get to 100 hours and PCC once they get to 500 hours. 

Tip 2: Choose whether you want to do Level 1 or Complete both Levels 1 and 2 together

With Become you can either do just the Level 1 (Diploma in Integrative Coaching) or complete the Levels 1 and 2 together saving time and money (Advanced Diploma in Integrative Coaching) whilst becoming more masterful in your coaching sessions with clients.

Overview of the Level 3 Programme

You must hold a PCC Credential to enrol on this programme and it is not a course that coaches can immediately sign up to. A Level 3 programme is one that includes at least:

  • 75 hours of additional accredited MCC Coach Training after being a PCC Coach. 
 

Upon completion of a Level 3 programme you can apply for the MCC Credential. 

Note that the ICF in their doesn’t differentiate between different styles of coaching (ultimately coaching is coaching!) so these are applicable for executive, career, life or business coaches.

Level 3: Only for Master Coaches

You must hold a PCC Credential to enrol on this programme and it is not a course that coaches can immediately sign up to. A Level 3 programme is one that includes at least:

  • 75 hours of additional accredited MCC Coach Training after being a PCC Coach. 
 

Upon completion of a Level 3 programme you can apply for the MCC Credential. 

 
Download your Coach Training Toolkit with Course Prospectus & Learning Videos 
Download includes access to videos covering a range of areas to help you explore coaching  practice and the ICF Credentialling, including:
  • What is Integrative Coaching?
  • How do you become an Accredited ICF Coach?
  • How is the ICF Coaching Diploma delivered?
  • What could be my next steps following qualification?
  • Why choose Become as your Coach Training Provider?
Thank you! We have dropped you an email with the ICF Coach Training Toolkit. If you don't receive this within the next 15 minutes please check your Spam folder just in case.

Accreditation: ACC, PCC and MCC Explained

What are the ICF Credentials?

Credentials are levels of competency, training experience and coaching skills. The ICF has 3 levels of ICF Credentials: Associate Certified Coach (ACC), Professional Certified Coach (PCC), and Master Certified Coach (MCC). The requirements for each are below:

Associate Certified Coach (ACC)

  • at least 60 hours of accredited coach training (like our Diploma in Integrative Coaching)
  • minimum of 10 Mentoring sessions, also included on the Diploma
  • 100 hours of client coaching experience, from the first day of your programme
 

Professional Certified Coach (PCC)

  • at least 125 hours of accredited coach training (like our Advanced Diploma in Integrative Coaching)
  • minimum of 10 Mentoring sessions, also included on the Diploma
  • 500 hours of client coaching experience, from the first day of your programme
 

Master Certified Coach (MCC)

  • at least 200 hours of accredited coach training (like our Advanced Diploma in Integrative Coaching)
  • minimum of 10 Mentoring sessions
  • 2500 hours of client coaching experience, from the first day of your programme

Want to Become an Accredited ICF Coach?

That’s great! But please don’t get confused by all the jargon. We are here to help you with your Certification. 

Our Diploma in Integrative Coaching is delivered online, flexibly over a number of evenings and weekends. It covers the fundamentals of coaching and also frameworks such as Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, Cognitive Behavioural Coaching and Solutions-Focused approaches to coaching. 

We help you develop your own framework of working with clients in line with the ICF Competencies and Ethics. 

Listen to this podcast episode with one of our Alumni who discusses her experience of studying with Become

Woman Supervising Trainee

Questions about the ICF and Coaching Certifications?

The ICF Certification refers to the credentialing process provided by the  International Coach Federation (ICF), a globally recognized organization for professional coaching.

The ICF offers three main levels of certification: Associate Certified Coach (ACC), Professional Certified Coach (PCC), and Master Certified Coach (MCC).

These certifications require specific training hours, coaching experience, mentor coaching, and successful completion of an examination or performance evaluation to demonstrate proficiency in coaching competencies. 

Essentially it refers to the depth of your training in coaching. You can opt to complete a Level 1 or a Level 1 and 2 together giving you more training hours, mentoring and support as a coach.

The Level 1 Certification is the entry point for many coaches who wish to achieve the ACC Credential. The Level 1 Diploma in Integrative Coaching provides a foundation for professional coaching showing you how to structure your sessions and programmes in line with the ICF Competencies. 

The Level 2 Advanced Diploma in Integrative Coaching not only provides this foundation but we also deep-dive into advanced coaching skills and niches such as career, leadership and stress & wellbeing coaching.

The International Coach Federation (ICF) is recognized and respected worldwide as a leading organization for professional coaching. Its certifications are recognized in many countries across the globe. The ICF has chapters and affiliates in numerous countries, and its coaching standards and competencies are widely accepted in the coaching industry internationally.

Yes, the International Coach Federation (ICF) is recognized in the United Kingdom. The ICF has a strong presence in the UK with a dedicated chapter, which provides support, networking opportunities, and professional development resources for coaches in the region.

ICF certification is respected and valued by many coaching professionals, organizations, and clients in the UK. Many coaching training programs in the UK align their curriculum with ICF standards, and coaches often pursue ICF credentials to enhance their credibility and professionalism in the coaching industry.

The usual entry to become an ICF Coach is by completing either a Level 1 or a Level 2 Certification in Coaching. These certifications provide you with the necessary training to be able to apply for the ACC Credential by the ICF. For more information about Become’s Level 1 programme check out our Diploma in Integrative Coaching

This varies depending on the type of programme that you do and the opportunities for coaching practice available to you.

Typically you would need around 6-9 months to complete all the components of a Level 1 Programme that includes taught classes, coaching practice, mentoring and feedback. The Level 1 programme will also include a final assessment to ensure you are coaching at ICF’s ACC Level giving you the confidence that you’re supporting your clients in line with industry standards.

Whether or not the International Coach Federation (ICF) Certification is worth it depends on various factors and individual goals within the coaching profession.

Here are some considerations for you to reflect upon before signing up to an ICF programme:

Credibility and Professionalism: Obtaining an ICF Certification can enhance your credibility as a coach and demonstrate your commitment to professional standards and ethics. It can also differentiate you from non-certified coaches and increase your marketability to potential clients and organizations.


Skill Development: The process of obtaining an ICF Certification involves rigorous training, mentor coaching, and assessment of coaching competencies. This can significantly enhance your coaching skills and effectiveness, leading to better client outcomes.


Networking and Community: Becoming certified with the ICF provides access to a global network of coaching professionals, resources, and opportunities for continued learning and development. Engaging with the ICF community can offer support, collaboration, and ongoing growth in your coaching practice.


Client Preference: Many clients and organizations specifically seek out coaches with ICF credentials as a mark of quality and professionalism. Holding an ICF Certification may increase your attractiveness to these clients and open up more opportunities for coaching engagements.


Personal Satisfaction: For many coaches, achieving an ICF Certification is a significant milestone and a source of personal pride and satisfaction. It represents a commitment to excellence in coaching and validation of their skills and expertise.

All three. The ICF doesn’t put much emphasis on labels/niches used by coaches that at times have more of a marketing appeal. Ultimately a core value that we have is that ‘coaching is coaching’ and being with another human being in a supportive way cuts across the label of a life coach or executive coach.

The best coaching courses cover the philosophy and practice of coaching that you can apply to various niches. Our Alumni have come from across all walks of life and wanting to focus, or develop, their skills in a range of coaching outcomes. So whether you want to focus more on personal, executive, career, business or another niche, don’t worry. We’ve got you covered.

The Level 1 Diploma gives you the foundation to work as a coach. Then if you go for the Level 2 Advanced Diploma there are Certificates that you can follow to cover some aspects that are more tailored to specific clients, e.g. our Certificate in Leadership & Organisational Coaching, Certificate in Stress & Wellbeing Coaching or the Certificate in Career & Performance Coaching. These Certificates can be taken as a standalone after completing a Level 1 or they are part of the Level 2 Advanced Diploma. 

These levels represent increasing levels of experience, training, and proficiency in coaching as recognized by the International Coach Federation.

Here is a summary of the key differences between the Levels.

Associate Certified Coach (ACC):
1. Completion of an ICF Accredited Level 1 Programme (e.g. Become’s Level 1 Diploma in Integrative Coaching)

2. Minimum of 100 hours of coaching experience 

3. Passing a Performance Evaluation (included in Become’s Level 1 and 2 Diplomas in Integrative Coaching)

4. Requires completion of the Coach Knowledge Assessment (CKA) exam, which evaluates the coach’s understanding of the ICF Core Competencies and Code of Ethics.

Professional Certified Coach (PCC):
1. Completion of a Level 2 ICF-approved program (e.g. Become’s Level 2 Advanced Diploma in Integrative Coaching)

2. Minimum of 500 hours of coaching experience

3. Passing a Performance Evaluation (included in Become’s Level 2 Advanced Diploma in Integrative Coaching)

4. Requires completion of the Coach Knowledge Assessment (CKA) exam, which evaluates the coach’s understanding of the ICF Core Competencies and Code of Ethics

Master Certified Coach (MCC):
1. Minimum of 200 hours of coach-specific training from an ICF-approved program.

2. Minimum of 2,500 hours of coaching experience 

3. Submission of a comprehensive application demonstrating coaching mastery, including performance evaluations, letters of recommendation, and a recorded coaching session. This application is reviewed by an ICF assessor panel.

The ICF Certification is highly regarded in the coaching industry and signifies that a coach has met rigorous standards of professionalism and competence.

In summary, the International Coach Federation (ICF), European Mentoring and Coaching Council (EMCC), and Association for Coaching (AC) are prominent organizations in the coaching industry, each offering certifications and standards for coaching professionals.

ICF: Globally recognized, focusing on coaching competencies, and offering three levels of certification (ACC, PCC, MCC) with specific requirements. Largest awarding body for coaches worldwide.


EMCC: Originating in Europe, emphasizing standards and ethics based on the EMCC Global Code of Ethics, and offering accreditation for training programs and individual practitioners.


AC: UK-based membership organization, providing accreditation and support for coaching professionals, with a diverse membership base and a focus on standards, ethics, and professional development.

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