Becoming A Coach

ACC vs PCC vs MCC - What’s the Difference Between ICF Coach Credentials?

What are the pathways to becoming an ICF coach... and why might you need this credential? Let's break it down in plain English!

If you’ve been thinking about becoming a coach, chances are you may be drowning in industry alphabet soup right about now. 

Bobbing around in there are terms that everybody seems to be using: ICF, credentialing, ACC vs PCC, accreditation, and more. And at the bottom of that cup o’ noodles, there’s usually a single question simmering:

What does it all mean, and which bits are most relevant to you? 

As an aspiring coach, you want to know what's most important for your professional success. We hear you, and it's time for some plain-spoken answers!

In this blog, we'll walk you through:

  • What International Coaching Federation (ICF) coaching credentials are
  • How to earn them
  • Whether pursuing a credential is right for you

Let’s start with the basics

What is the International Coaching Federation? 

The ICF is a professional, non-profit organization dedicated to the field of coaching. It sets global standards to ensure that all the coaching programs they accredit meet a high level of quality. 

What credentials can you earn through the ICF?

The ICF offers three coach credentials to reflect your current level of training, experience, and mastery of the ICF Core Competencies. They are:

Associate Certified Coach (ACC)

  • 60 hours of qualifying education
  • 100 hours of client coaching experience

‍Professional Certified Coach (PCC) 

  • 125 hours of qualifying education
  • 500 hours of client coaching experience

‍Master Certified Coach (MCC) 

  • 200 hours of qualifying education
  • Hold or have held a PCC Credential
  • 2,500 hours of client coaching experience

How to earn an ACC, PCC, or MCC credential

Regardless of which path you choose, ICF certification requirements ask candidates to demonstrate an applied understanding of the ICF Core Competencies.  As an ICF coach, your level of expertise is measured by the following criteria:

  1. Hours of coach specific education
  2. Documented coaching experience
  3. Mentor coaching from a qualified practitioner
  4. A performance evaluation of your client coaching skills (some training programs offer this as part of the education)
  5. Passing score on the ICF credentialing exam

Now that you've got the basics down, let’s take a closer look at the application requirements for each credentialing level.

Associate Certified Coach 

  • 60 hours of coach specific education as defined by the ICF
  • 100 hours of client coaching experience with 8+ clients. 75 of these hours must be compensated (Yes, barter/exchange of services counts as a paid session!)
  • Completion of an ICF Level 1, Level 2 or full ACTP program, including final assessment
  • 10 hours of mentor coaching with a qualified Mentor Coach who holds a valid ACC, PCC or MCC Credential
  • Performance review of 1 recorded coaching session 
  • Passing score on ICF credentialing exam

‍Professional Certified Coach (PCC) 

  • 125 hours of coach specific education as defined by the ICF
  • 500 hours of client coaching experience with at least 25 clients (450 of these hours must be paid)
  • 10 hours of mentor coaching with a qualified Mentor Coach who holds a valid PCC or MCC Credential
  • Performance review of 2 recorded coaching sessions 
  • Passing score on ICF credentialing exam

‍Master Certified Coach (MCC) 

  • Hold or have held a PCC Credential
  • 200 hours of coach specific education as defined by the ICF 
  • 2,500 hours of client coaching experience (2,250 paid) with at least 35 clients
  • 10 hours of mentor coaching with a Mentor Coach who holds a valid MCC Credential
  • Performance review of 2 recorded coaching sessions 

Note about client hours: The ICF only counts client hours that were obtained after the start of your qualified coach-specific education or training. Any coaching that you may have logged prior to beginning your ICF approved coach training does not count toward your total hours. 

Frequently Asked Questions

What does it mean to be an ICF certified coach?

The goal of the ICF is to establish a consistent definition of what coaching is, and to train exceptional coaches across all coaching specialties and disciplines. You can find out what those standards look like by reviewing the ICF Core Competencies and ICF Code of Ethics for coaches.

Earning your ACC or PCC credential from the ICF signals to current and prospective clients that you have invested in professional training, can meet a clearly established standard of effectiveness as a coach, and take the craft of coaching seriously. An ICF credential also qualifies you for a wider range of employment opportunities as a coach (more on that below).

Do I need a credential to be a coach?

Short answer: no. Coaching is an unregulated industry.

While anyone technically CAN call themselves a coach, we don’t advise it! Coaching certification and credentials provide you with the skills and tools necessary to help others achieve real, lasting results.

Becoming a successful coach requires hard work, study, and a business mindset. The theoretical roots of coaching stem from sports psychology, goal setting theory, human development models, positive psychology, mindfulness, and neuroscience. 

Understanding the science behind why coaching works alongside the application of those techniques is a fascinating and worthwhile endeavor. Life coaching certification programs will teach you coaching theory, frameworks and ethics to help you facilitate effective client sessions. 

At Lumia Coaching, we offer an ICF accredited Level 2 life coach training program that prepares students to pursue either their ACC or PCC credential.

Why are ICF coaching credentials valuable?

At this time, International Coaching Federation coach certification represents the industry gold standard. We don’t see that changing anytime soon. In fact, we believe the ICF seal of approval for life coach training programs will only continue to rise in prominence over the years to come.

Here’s what we’ve been observing in the coaching industry over the last several years:

1. Many long established coach certification programs are applying for ICF accreditation. Why? Because they recognize that more and more coaching clients are looking to hire ICF credentialed coaches.

2. Human resource departments are vetting coach qualifications. Businesses are a leading employer of professional coaches. They are also among the highest paying clients. Whether you want to land a corporate job as an internal coach, or are hoping to book more business coaching contracts… ICF credentials can give you a competitive edge.

Is ICF coaching certification worth it?

ICF credentialing isn’t necessarily right for everyone. It requires more work, time and investment. We encourage aspiring coaches to consider your goals, and where you see your coaching practice headed over the next few years. 

  • Will credentials be seen as valuable to the clients you are planning to serve? 
  • Would a credential make you more competitive for corporate, facilitation, or teaching gigs if that’s your aspiration?

While ICF credentials may not be necessary for your path as a coach right now, it’s something you may decide to pursue down the road.

At Lumia, we offer this level of training through our Signature program because we’ve seen how the ICF curriculum and credentialing opens doors, provides deeper insights, and boosts the confidence of our life coaching students. 

In our experience, there are four major reasons people choose to pursue ICF Coach Certification. They include:

  • To better serve your clients through advanced mastery of the coaching craft
  • To access a wider array of employment opportunities, particularly in corporate and business settings.
  • For personal and professional development
  • To work with a specific client who requires ICF credentialing

ACC or PCC credentialing: which is right for you?

The primary distinction between the two is your level of coaching experience. You can earn your ACC after completing 100 client coaching hours, while the PCC requires at least 500 coaching hours to qualify.

The expectation is that at the PCC level, you’re coaching with more nuance so the behavioral markers the ICF is assessing your skills based on will be different.

According to Master Certified Coach Carly Anderson, you can think about those differences in the following way:

  • ACC level is coaching the "What" of the client. Coaching at this level focuses primarily on the problem, issue, or goal the client is presenting, with minimal discovery questions.
  • PCC level is coaching the "What" with some focus on the "Who" of the client. There’s greater emphasis now on client self-discovery over problem solving.
  • MCC level is fully focused on coaching the “whole human” or “Who” of the client, and letting the "What" follow.

What are the best ICF accredited coach training programs?

This one is subjective, and depends both on what you’d like to do with your coaching certification as well as the experience you want to have along the way. 

There are many excellent programs out there to choose from, so look for one that meets both your personality as well as your professional aspirations. Community is a huge part of your journey to become a coach, so look for programs that reflect your values, vibe, and the kind of people you’d like to hang out with and learn from.


1) Research coach training programs

Resource: 7 Things to Look for In A Life Coach Training Program

2) Decide if ICF credentials are important to you

Resource: Why Become an ICF Certified Life Coach?

3) Run the numbers

Resource: How Much Does It Cost To Become A Life Coach? 

4) Assess program fit


  • “Personality” of the program
  • Curriculum
  • Length of program
  • Tuition costs
  • Opportunities to practice and receive feedback 

Resource: Why Choose Lumia Life Coach Training?

5) Interview

If there isn’t a clear frontrunner in your mind, narrow it down to your top 2-3. From there, schedule calls to talk with someone in each of your top programs.

  • Develop your questions - what’s most important to you?
  • Ask to talk with program staff and alumni 


Choose and commit!

Whether you are considering a change in career, relationship, or a move, the weight of a dream deferred will only be lifted when we take action.

The truth is, there is never a definitive “right time” for anything! Time is linear and will pass. So if you’ve been thinking about becoming a coach and have done your homework, trust yourself. You’re ready for the next step.

Want to Get Your ICF Credential?

Coaching is a rapidly growing field that is continuously evolving. Even for seasoned coaches, there’s always more to discover. If you're looking to step up your game, come check out Lumia Life Coach Training - a program that's every bit as unique as you are. Grounded in science, our ICF accredited coach training features authentic instructors, a robust curriculum, business instruction to prepare you for liftoff, and fellow students dedicated to becoming a collective force for good.

Lumia Coaching: Vibrant community. Evidence-based life coach training. Lifetime support.

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Lumia is accredited by the ICF as a Level 2 Pathway Program. Want to learn more about the ICF credential requirements? Click here for further details.