Becoming a self-employed life coach is a huge undertaking. It’s a decision that can be both emotionally fulfilling and financially rewarding. Not only are you the master of your own fate, but working for yourself brings with it scheduling flexibility and personal freedom that many people long for, especially when compared to the rigors and rigid workload that a traditional 9-5 job requires.
Due to the unique nature of this career path, the question inevitably comes up: what are the requirements for becoming a life coach? The answer to this question largely depends on the education route you plan to take, and whether or not you plan to become credentialed.
Personality traits and emotions play a role in the process as well, since each person is unique and brings their own individual perspective and approach to client sessions. Lastly, there is a financial component to becoming a coach as well, since you will need to invest in materials, educational tools, and still find a way to keep the bills paid while you complete your education and build your client base from the ground up.
Let’s start with perhaps the most important: the education requirements to becoming a life coach.
The end goal of almost every coach training program — whether in-person or online — is to prepare you to take a credentialing or certification exam.
While certification is not required in order to begin coaching clients, it is highly recommend if you want to be taken seriously as a professional life coach. Recent research suggests that 83% of coaching clients believe that holding a coaching certification was important to their decision.
Becoming a certified coach means that an accredited third-party organization tested your knowledge and can verify that you know what you are doing and are prepared to coach clients in a well-rounded, ethical, psychologically sound way. This is a challenging and sometimes expensive process, but becoming a certified coach means that you have the respect of your peers and potential clients in a way that you cannot achieve if you choose to operate without those credentials.
If you do choose to become certified, there are three different types of ICF credentials to be aware of, each with their own set of requirements:
ACC: Associate Certified Coach
In order to become an ACC, you must complete an entire ICF Accredited Coach Training Program (ACTP) or Approved Coaching Specific Training Hours (ACSTH). You must have accumulated at least 100 hours of coaching (at least 75 of those hours must be paid session hours with at least 8 separate clients), and at least 25 of those coaching hours must have been accumulated within the 24 months leading up to submitting your ACC credentialing application. You must also complete the Coach Knowledge Assessment (CKA).
The cost for this certification is $100 for ICF members and $300 for non-members. On average, certification applications take up to 4 weeks to process.
PCC: Professional Certified Coach
In order to become a PCC, you must complete an ACTP or ACSTH. You must have accumulated at least 500 hours of coaching (at least 440 of those hours must be paid session hours with at least 25 separate clients), and at least 50 of those coaching hours must have been accumulated within the 24 months leading up to submitting your PCC credentialing application. You must also complete the Coach Knowledge Assessment (CKA).
The cost for this certification is $300 for ICF members and $500 for non-members. On average, certification applications take up to 4 weeks to process.
MCC: Master Certified Coach
In order to become a MCC, you must have accumulated at least 2,500 hours of coaching (at least 2,200 of those hours must be paid session hours with at least 35 separate clients). You must have 200 hours of coach-specific training under your belt, and have received at least 10 hours of Mentor Coaching spread out over a minimum of three months (your Mentor Coach must be a MCC).
You must submit to a performance evaluation, comprised of at least two audio recordings as well as written transcripts of coaching sessions, and you must currently hold (or have previously held) a Professional Certified Coach (PCC) Credential. You must also complete the Coach Knowledge Assessment (CKA) unless you previously passed the assessment when applying for ACC or PCC.
The cost for this certification is $575 for ICF Members and $775 for non-members. On average, certification applications take up to 18 weeks to process.
While both in-person and online training programs are readily available worldwide, it is important to take into consideration the duration of each program, as well as the cost involved before you decide what learning path is right for you. Some of the most popular programs include:
Online Training Programs
Coach Training Alliance
Coach Training Alliance offers self-paced, 100% online courses that are limited in size to 12 people. This allows learning to be engaging and creative, while still providing a peer-based classroom environment. More than 10,000 people have gone through CTA’s programs, covering life coach, professional coach, and personal development coach training. Typically, students are able to complete all necessary training in less than 6 months.
CTA is the training program we most often recommend to new coaches.
The iNLP Center utilizes Neuro-Linguistic Programming to help students accentuate their coaching and mentoring skill sets. Learning takes place through the Center’s popular Practice Partner groups and Coaching Buddies sessions, as well as though a robust online learning resource collection. All programs are available on demand, so you can move through the material at your own pace. With that said, thousands of people have worked their way through the Center’s programs, and most students are able to complete the life coach training in 6 months or less.
CoachU offers several learning options and flexible course scheduling, all available in a self-paced digital format. Students use their online course dashboard to sign up for classes and workshops that fit their existing schedules. How fast or slow you are able to work through the material will vary depending on how many courses you take each month. Students are given up to 15 months to go through the basic program, with most people completing everything in less than 9 months. Students are given up to 36 months to complete the advanced program, although it typically only takes students 1 year to finish.
Traditional In-Person Training Programs
Co-Active Training Institute
The Co-Active Training Institute has both entry-level coaching programs and high-level coaching programs available, all of which offer live classroom sessions and online, virtual learning opportunities as well. Most students take approximately 4 months to work through the entry-level program, and approximately 6 months to work through the advanced program.
The Doerr Institute for New Leaders, which is a part of Rice University, provides a 4-year degree program to coaches looking to gain certification, and all training happens inside of a traditional classroom setting at the University. This means that students are required to take a variety of classes, not just those pertaining to life coaching. Those looking for an advanced degree should expect to take up to 2 years to complete the program.
University of Texas at Dallas
Students that enroll in the University’s coaching degree program must complete many prerequisite courses and supporting classes in addition to the life coach-specific areas of study. It is a traditional 4-year (or more) degree, and all classes are offered on a rolling semester-by-semester basis. The time it takes to complete the coursework depends on how many classes students sign up for each semester.
The life coach program at Columbia University is paired with marketing and business courses to give students a varied, comprehensive education that is part of a full 4-year degree program at the University. Students are able to take a light course load if desired, although this will stretch out the program completion time substantially.
Fielding Graduate University
This 1-year comprehensive training program takes place in a traditional classroom setting at the University. Enrollment in the program must be a part of a full 4-year degree, or, if a degree is already held, the program’s hours may be counted toward graduate degree requirements.
While anyone can become a life coach with the proper training, there are definitely certain personality types that lend themselves more readily to such a relational, empathetic career path. Coaches must be able to come alongside their clients and offer compassion, understanding, and comfort, all while remaining firm and holding their clients accountable to the high standard of living they desire.
The ability to be both firm and loving, both direct and patient, both authoritative and understanding, is a skill that some people have naturally, while others will need to practice those skills over and over before they feel comfortable utilizing them in client sessions.
With that said, some of the most important personality requirements for life coaches include:
- Patience – You need to be comfortable waiting quietly and calmly while people work through the coaching process. Some will respond to things you discuss in your sessions quickly, while others may take a long time to work through their struggles or “stuck states.”
- Compassion – You need to have the ability to care deeply for those you work with, and to empathize with their feelings and situations even if you’d never experienced them for yourself in quite the same way. The ability to put yourself in someone else’s shoes is a huge part of becoming a successful coach.
- Intuition – You need to be able to read between the lines during client sessions so that you can discern what struggles lie under the surface where even your clients may not realize they are lurking. Discernment is both an innate skill and a learned one that improves over time and benefits greatly from focused, active listening skills.
- Resourcefulness – You need to be able to adapt quickly, finding new ways to reach your clients and help them make key realizations and life adjustments. No two clients will be the same, so the ability to implement creative strategies and techniques depending on the needs of each client is imperative to your success as a coach.
- Curiosity – You need to have a lifelong love for learning, since the techniques and tools used by coaches are always evolving. More about how the brain and body works is discovered each and every day, so staying on top of new methods, strategies, coaching trends, and psychological research is vital to your coaching practice’s success.
- Perseverance – You need to be able to push through discouragement and difficulty, since owning your own coaching practice will not be easy or filled with smooth sailing at all times. Working for yourself is hard but rewarding work that has many lifelong benefits.
In most cases, becoming a coach essentially means also becoming a small business owner. You will be managing clients and operating your coaching practice independent of outside scheduling and support, which means that you need to develop discipline, financial literacy, and a self-propelled work ethic in order to succeed long-term.
There will also be upfront costs associated with starting a coaching business, including program costs, licensing and certification fees, and, in some cases, office rental space and related overhead costs. Depending on where you live, these overhead costs will vary, but it is important to take all potential financial requirements into account when budgeting and planning.
There are also other side costs associated with starting a coaching practice, most of them falling into the professional services category. This includes CPA and accountant services, legal services if you choose to set up an LLC or something similar, and more. You also need to plan for other business expenses, including paper, ink, technology costs, meals, utilities, and even gas and vehicle maintenance costs.
When you choose to become a life coach, the requirements may seem daunting at first, but jumping through all the necessary hoops in order to build a thriving coaching practice will feel worth it in the end. The ability to set your own schedule and enjoy the flexibility and freedom that come from working for yourself are just the beginning when it comes to the joy of running your own coaching business.
Whether it takes you months or years to complete the process, at the end of the tunnel you’ll find that coaching is a career path that is filled with joy, meaning, and fulfillment at every turn.