Certified Life Coach: What It Means and How to Become One

Written by Coursera • Updated on

Learn what it means to become a certified life coach, some industry-recognized certifying bodies, and how you can start your certification process.

[Featured image] Certified life coach sits on a comfortable chair in her light-filled office smiling and ready for her next client.

There are inevitable ebbs and flows in life. Sometimes, a person will find it easy to continue on the path in front of them, and other times, they may find it harder to figure out the right next steps. A certified life coach is a person trained to help other people navigate those more difficult periods.

If you enjoy tapping into skills like empathy, active listening, and problem-solving to help people improve their lives, you may be interested in exploring a career as a life coach. In this article, we will detail what a life coach does and how you can start your career as a certified life coach.

What is a certified life coach?

A life coach partners with clients as they work toward a more ideal version of their life, often focusing on areas such as the client’s daily well-being, work-life balance, or relationships.

What is a life coach? Learn more about what a life coach does, how they may help their clients, and different types of specializations they may have.

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Coaching, as an industry, is unregulated, so there are no formal requirements for a person to become a life coach. However, there are a number of coach training programs that a person may opt to take to deepen their education and learn more about the best ways to work with individuals. A person who has gone through such training programs is considered a certified life coach.

Life coach certifications

In an unregulated industry, certification can be a vague concept. Any time a person declares themselves a certified life coach, it’s important to consider where they received their certification from.

Two widely recognized coaching credentialing bodies are the International Coaching Federation (ICF) and the National Board for Health & Wellness Coaching (NBHWC). However, there are also many independent certification programs available. Here’s a quick breakdown of the similarities and differences:

International Coaching Federation (ICF)National Board for Health & Wellness Coaching (NBHWC)Other coaching certifications
Coach’s titleICF credentialed coachBoard-certified health and wellness coachProgram-specific title
Types of coachesMay focus on a variety of areas, including leadership, executive, career, and relationshipsFocus on health and wellnessFocus on the specific methodologies developed by the program, or prepares students for ICF or NBHWC exams
Initial requirementsMust complete an approved training program, a certain number of coaching hours, receive mentorship coaching, and pass an examMust complete an approved training program, a certain number of coaching hours, and pass an examVaries depending on program; often includes a training course and may include an exam
Certification maintenanceContinued education requiredContinued education requiredMay or may not require continued education

Life coach education and qualifications

There are no formal education requirements for anyone interested in becoming a life coach. However, certification programs may set their own education requirements for applicants, such as requiring an associate degree in order to apply.

If you are pursuing a degree and want to explore areas of study that might be similar to life coaching, you may want to focus on social sciences or counseling. Some degree options to consider include psychology or social work, as many popular coaching approaches implement methodologies and practices developed within those fields.

Build your coaching mindset with a personal growth course, such as The Science of Well-Being from Yale, Mindshift, or Finding Purpose and Meaning in Life from the University of Michigan.

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Life coach salary and job outlook

According to an ICF survey from 2020, coaches in North America earned an average of $62,500 annually [1]. Additionally, the job outlook seems positive. The total global revenue from coaching increased by 21 percent from 2015 to 2019, which may indicate growth in the number of practicing coaches as well as in client interest.

As a certified life coach, you will have a few options regarding how you would like to work. Some people work full time on their own coaching business, others see coaching as a side hustle, and still others will seek employment as a coach within a larger organization, such as a company or school.

If you choose to run your own coaching business, either full or part-time, you’ll have flexibility in deciding how much to charge. In general, coaches charge anywhere from zero to hundreds of dollars per session.

How to become a certified life coach

Your path toward becoming a certified life coach will depend on the type of certification you choose. In many cases, the first step toward certification entails completing the educational component, followed by any required coaching hours, and culminating with an exam.

Once you select your certifying body of choice—whether that’s ICF, NBHWC, or any other program—you’ll be able to research specific requirements for that credential.

Choosing a coaching certification program

Because coaching is an unregulated industry, you have a lot of flexibility in deciding what type of certification is right for you. A simple internet search can guide you toward many options.

While it’s not necessary to obtain a credential to start a career as a life coach, if you are going to participate in a certification program, it may be helpful to choose one that is approved by an industry-recognized certifying body, either ICF or NBHWC, in case you decide to pursue the formal credential in the future.

Tip: To get a better sense of what ICF and NBHWC offer, browse their websites. In general, ICF coaches tend to focus on careers, while NBHWC coaches tend to focus on wellness.

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Once you decide which organization most aligns with your goals, you can find lists of approved programs on their respective websites. Ultimately, each program should teach a similar set of skills and information but may vary in length, cost, and whether they’re offered virtually or in person.

Schedule exploratory calls with the admissions team or directors at the programs that best align with your needs to learn more about their guiding methodologies and practices.

Cost of becoming a certified life coach

Your total cost in becoming a certified life coach will depend upon the specific certification you pursue.

Certification programs may cost anywhere from a few hundred dollars to over ten thousand dollars. For instance, many programs approved by ICF and NBHWC cost a few thousand dollars.

In addition to the cost of the certification course, ICF’s exam and application fees can cost between $175 and $900, depending on the certification level, and NBHWC’s exam and application fees total $450.

Next steps

While you’re working toward your certification, prepare to launch your life coaching practice with the Entrepreneurship Specialization from Wharton. Over five courses, you’ll learn how to develop your idea, launch your business and set yourself up for growth. You can also learn to share the news about your new business with potential clients using proven social media marketing techniques with a Professional Certificate from Meta.

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Article sources

1. International Coaching Federation. “2020 ICF Global Coaching Study Executive Summary, https://coachingfederation.org/app/uploads/2020/09/FINAL_ICF_GCS2020_ExecutiveSummary.pdf.” Accessed February 22, 2022.

Written by Coursera • Updated on

This content has been made available for informational purposes only. Learners are advised to conduct additional research to ensure that courses and other credentials pursued meet their personal, professional, and financial goals.

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