Is It Worth It to Get ICF-Certified? Here’s What Coaches Say

ICF is known as the gold standard of coaching. There are tens of thousands of coaches worldwide who hold their credentials, but these designations come with a price.

So, is investing in ICF certification worth it?

In this review, we’ll spill the tea about how ICF credentials are acquired and what coaches with decades of experience say about the organization.

What is the ICF Certification?

ICF certification is a credential awarded to coaches who meet the specific accreditation requirements of the International Coaching Federation (ICF). It’s one of the most widely recognized coaching credentials in the world that a professional can get their hands on.

Beyond just a title, an ICF certification serves as a hallmark of your proficiency and commitment as a coach. It shows that you adhere to ethical coaching practices and gives you a competitive edge, especially in corporate coaching.

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Some clients and HR representatives seeking coaching services often prefer ICF-certified coaches because of the quality assurance associated with the organization’s strict evaluation criteria. ICF certification not only validates a coach’s skills but also signifies their dedication to continuous learning and improvement in the field of coaching.

How Much Does It Cost to Get ICF Coaching Certification?

The primary cost associated with getting ICF certification is the training fees. These depend on which ICF-accredited coaching certification you choose, and range from at least $5,000 to $12,000. 

ICF differentiates three levels of certifications that impact the cost of your training. These levels are:

  1. ACC (Associate Certified Coach)
  2. PCC (Professional Certified Coach)
  3. MCC (Master Certified Coach)

In addition to your training fees, you’ll also need to pay application fees before your exams to receive your ICF credentials. These fees range from $175 all the way to $900, depending on which level and accreditation path you choose. Different accreditation paths require different evaluation materials to be submitted for your exams.

Additional fees you might have to pay during your certification process are associated with:

  • Mentor coaching: If your training doesn’t include mentor coaching, you might need to work with a supervising coach for a set number of hours to complete your certification requirements.
  • ICF membership fees: ICF members have lower application fees, and they can access various educational materials provided by the organization at a lower rate.
  • Continuing education: ICF organizes various workshops and conferences for its global network to help coaches stay up-to-date with industry standards and make new connections.

How Do I Get an ICF-Accredited Coaching Certification?

1. Choose an Accredited Training Provider

To acquire ICF credentials, first, you need to get trained. Choose a certification provider based on your coaching specialization and the curriculum that fits your priorities.

For example, some certification centers focus on helping you get new clients, while others omit this entirely — even though it’s the hardest part of running a coaching business. Coaches who manage to earn six-figure salaries are just as good in marketing as in coaching itself.

Some curriculums may also revolve around a particular coaching specialty (like somatic coaching or executive coaching), while others focus on competencies required for life coaching in general.

2. Complete Your Training

Depending on the level of certification you choose, your training may take anywhere from a few months to 18 months. Some programs are held on weekends and can be organized around a full-time work schedule, while others have a more intensive schedule that can be completed sooner.

As a part of your curriculum, you’ll be…

  • Learning about core competencies defined by the ICF,
  • Practicing your new coaching skills in real coaching scenarios,
  • And receiving ongoing feedback and evaluation based on ICF standards.

3. Apply for Your Credentials

Once your training is complete, you need to apply for your credentials issued by the ICF. This may involve:

  • Logging your coaching hours
  • Recording 1-2 coaching sessions (if ICF-accredited evaluation isn’t a part of your program)
  • Gathering the required documents (e.g. program certificates or mentor coaching information)
  • Paying your application fees
  • Submitting your application online
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Note that in order to keep your ICF credentials, you need to pay renewal fees and submit certain documentation every few years to the organization.

How Do I Become a Member of ICF?

To join ICF as a member, you need to fulfill one of the following requirements:

  • Holding an ICF credential of any level
  • Completing at least 60 hours of coach-specific training that meets ICF standards
  • Being enrolled in such a program

If you meet this criteria, you can submit your member application online for either the global membership or a local chapter on the ICF website.

Real Reviews From ICF-Accredited Coaches

Getting certified by an ICF-accredited organization has its pros and cons. To help you decide what’s best for you personally, we’ve compiled a round-up of reviews from experienced coaches about ICF credentials.

Note: We’ve not taken any of the ICF-accredited programs ourselves. If you’re looking for more detailed information about the individual certification programs, we encourage you to reach out to past trainees to inquire about their experience.

Are Credentials Really Necessary?

Coaching is an unregulated industry, which means that you don’t have to be a licensed professional in order to practice.

Other professional bodies like Licensed Mental Health Counselors (LMHC), Board Certified Doctors, and Attorneys have to operate within strict legal requirements. Lawyers and doctors have to pass a bar to be permitted to work in their profession. If they step over the line, they can lose their license or even face criminal charges.

However, the same thing isn’t true for coaches. The ICF has no legal parameters to adhere to and even in the extremely unlikely event of revoking your membership, they can’t stop you from coaching.

Tim Brownson has been in the field for almost two decades. He’s a certified coach but not by an ICF-accredited organization. Here’s his point of view on the credentials in general.

“I have been coaching full-time for almost 18 years and do you know how many times I have been asked if I had ICF accreditation? Once. And that person hired me even though I said I didn’t.

That doesn’t mean formal training isn’t important, I spent north of $25k on a lot of training both in the UK and the US. Training will build your confidence and (presuming it’s good training) ensure you’re a competent coach equipped to help your clients.”

On the other hand, he also points out the difference between working in the corporate world versus other coaching specialties. Human resource departments that hire coaches for organizations do their due diligence, and those three letters on your resume can, at times, set you apart from other candidates.

As Tim explains:

“I worked with HR departments for a number of years and they will want to see the certificates and proof of competency. The Human Resource department is there to mitigate risk and any potential liability. As such, they have a tendency to play things safe.

They don’t want to roll the dice on somebody who sounds credible but has nothing to back it up with. Especially when they have somebody sporting the MCC (Master Certified Coach) moniker applying for the same position/opportunity. If that is your target market then do your due diligence and take a look at the ICF.”

So if you want to work as an executive coach or business coach, the credibility ICF provides matters. However, if you’re in a different niche or simply don’t work in the corporate sector, you may find lower-cost training alternatives that don’t have ICF stamped on them.

When you weigh your options, consider whether credentials matter in your career as much as the quality of your training.

Certification Standards You Can Trust

ICF is called the gold standard of coaching for a reason. Accredited organizations go through an evaluation just as strict as the trainees of their programs.

Dr. Paras is an ICF-certified life and leadership coach with over 17 years of experience, who also runs an ICF-accredited training center. Here’s how he explains the advantage of the rigorous certification requirements ICF reinforces.

“ICF governs the standards of coaching and has been doing it for over 25 years. As there is no formal license being offered in coaching, it is pertinent to make informed choices while hiring a coach for corporate or individual training.

The ICF certification is offered only after the required coach-specific training hours and call logs are submitted and the evaluation test is cleared.”

Acquiring ICF credentials doesn’t just testify to your qualifications but your commitment to your coaching career as well. After all, if you’ve invested thousands of dollars and years of your career to get through this process, you’ll likely stick to it.

Lifetime Renewal Costs

Michele signed up for a Level 1 certification program to receive her ICF accreditation. However, after she realized how much her renewal exams would cost her over the lifetime of her career, she was reluctant to go through them.

To renew her ACC certification, she would need to go through another 10 hours of mentor coaching every three years, even if she’s been actively coaching clients.

As she explains:

So many coaches say they struggle to get clients. However, if people getting or renewing an ACC must get 20 hours of mentor coaching (10 to obtain, 10 to renew), that creates a built-in market for coaches to coach other coaches.

And, in fact, in searching I found tons of websites with PCCs or MCCs offering “mentor coaching packages” that were all $1000+. I would love to know how many of those coaches are coaching non-coach clients, or if the bulk of their business is coaching other coaches?”

She went on to question whether the high costs of these credentials are bloated because of a pyramid scheme that the need for mentor coaching creates.

Note that she didn’t question the quality of the training she received, and she still decided to complete her initial certification process. She simply critiqued the renewal process and the costs incurred by it.

Continuous Education Throughout Your Career

Many aspiring coaches think they need to get certified at the very beginning of their career to start coaching but this isn’t necessarily true. Many trainees join ICF-accredited programs after years of professional experience — and they still learn valuable new perspectives and skills.

Jim Livingstone, ICF-certified executive coach writes about how his certification has given him a new start in his career.

“One of the hardest parts about this journey has been accepting all the things I do wrong, or could do better. In other words, recognizing all the bad habits I have and the need to change. (…) I have been coaching the problem and not the person. With this in mind, I believe that my journey is just starting, and I am determined to develop my coaching abilities even further.”

In a field where most professionals are self-employed and run their businesses alone, a network of fellow coaches can prove invaluable too. Whether it’s the credential, the hands-on training, or the support system you most appreciate, it’s worth looking at your certification as an investment in your long-term career growth.

Conclusion

ICF is known as the gold standard of coaching that stands out in the field of certifications. There’s little doubt about the training quality you can receive at accredited organizations, and the ICF credentials can help earn the trust of potential clients, especially in the corporate sector.

Whether you need to invest thousands of dollars and years to put those three shiny letters on your resume depends on your individual audience and how you market yourself. We hope that this review has helped you decide on which path you should take.

If you want to build a fulfilling career in coaching, you also need to make sure that your business processes run smoothly in the background. Paperbell handles all your client management workflow, from contracts and scheduling to payments, in one simple system. Claim your free Paperbell account now.

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By Annamaria Nagy
Annamaria Nagy is a Brand Identity Coach and Copywriter. She's been writing for over 10 years about topics like personal development, coaching, and business. She was previously the Head of SEO at the leading transformational education company, Mindvalley.
January 17, 2024

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