Life coaching is a growing profession with a lot of potential for people who want to help others make the most of their lives and careers.
If you’re looking to make a difference in the lives of others in a flexible profession that’s part of a growing industry, becoming a life coach might be for you. A life coach helps others realize their potential to create positive change in their lives, whether that means breaking into a new career, improving work-life balance, adopting a new lifestyle, or making a similar life change.
Life coaching is a relatively new profession, and it’s thriving, according to the International Coaching Federation, created 25 years ago to boost the profession with ethical and educational standards. According to a study by the group, there are about 71,000 coach practitioners worldwide—an increase of 33% over 2015.
“Coaching is at a pivotal point in its history,” says Luke Davis, vice president of ICF coach training programs. “Coaching is a real profession and is now globally recognized as such.”
While there are no educational requirements to become a life coach, pursuing a certificate through a training program is strongly recommended as a way to attract clients or get hired by a business or organization.
“Coaching is an amazing process, and there are many theories and research studies that support what coaches do,” says psychologist and leadership coach Carol Kauffman, PhD, ABPP, PCC, founder of the Institute of Coaching at McLean Hospital in Boston.
It’s worth noting that while life coaches and therapists may share similar traits and skills, their roles are distinctly different. Life coaches focus their work on the future, while therapists focus on the past.
What Is a Life Coach?
According to Davis, the ICF defines the coaching process as “partnering with clients in a thought-provoking and creative process that inspires them to maximize their personal and professional potential.”
While the process may be similar for all life coaches, each coach’s practice is unique. Here’s how four life coaches describe their work:
Who Becomes a Life Coach?
For many, life coaching is a second career. According to Davis, coaching often appeals to those who have already achieved success in other endeavors and careers. Many of these career changers have degrees and professional credentials. Now they’re seeking a role with more flexibility, and one in which they believe they’ll make a difference.
According to a study by the International Coaching Federation, there are about 71,000 coach practitioners worldwide—an increase of 33% over 2015.
For others, such as a stay-at-home spouse, coaching is an excellent second-income opportunity for people who want to work part time.
Working with Clients
While life coaches may have different philosophies, their steps to success are similar:
Many life coaches start their own businesses for the freedom and flexibility that come with being their own boss and being able to choose clients they can best serve. Your clients could be:
Other life coaches are employed by corporations, insurance companies, recruiting firms, social service and government agencies, and medical facilities. In these settings, your clients may be:
Life coaches may be a natural at certain types of coaching and choose to specialize in areas such as:
Education Needed to Be a Life Coach
The coaching industry is unregulated, and there are no education or state licensing requirements to be a life coach. But within the industry itself, there’s a strong consensus that professional training and education are necessary for success.
Many people take a life coach training program to earn a certificate and gain the skills and knowledge that can set them up for success. Earning a coaching credential also can help coaches stand out from the competition and attract clients looking for professional, polished services.
According to an ICF survey, 95% of coaches have completed 60 or more hours of training, and 43% have 200 hours or more.
There’s a broad range of coaching programs—some take six weeks to complete while others can take a year.
The ICF is recognized as the leading professional group in the coaching industry. It has worked with other coaching interest groups around the world to establish standards and ethics for coaching. It also accredits coaching programs and offers professional credentials for coaches with varying levels of expertise and experience.
What to Look for in a School
There are many coaching schools and programs, and they offer a wide range of training options. As coaching has gained popularity, some universities and colleges have added coaching classes to undergraduate and graduate degree programs, and many offer post-graduate certificates in coaching.
According to the International Coaching Federation, 95% of coaches have completed 60 or more hours of training, and 43% have 200 hours or more.
When choosing an educational path, look for an ICF-accredited program or school for two reasons:
Davis suggests looking for these features when checking out coaching programs:
There is a lot of flexibility in coach training. Companies and schools that offer training generally have classes online, in person, or in a hybrid format. Coaching schools are very flexible and have several options available.
The ICF has a searchable directory of accredited programs and course providers.
Certification and Licensing
There are no license requirements for life coaches. The ICF, however, offers three optional coaching credentials based on hours of training and experience:
These credentials are highly respected within the coaching industry and let potential clients know that you’ve been trained according to ICF standards.
Federal financial aid won’t be available for most coach training programs and courses because these are certificate programs rather than programs that offer bachelor’s or master’s degrees.
Aid may be available for a few university and college programs that incorporate coach training into undergraduate and graduate degree programs. Check with a program’s advisor for information regarding financial aid.
Salary and Job Outlook
Educational, Guidance, and Career Counselors and Advisors
Avg Annual Salary
Projected job growth: 8.4%
Average salary information is calculated by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics and is based on the 2019 payroll records of business establishments. Actual salaries vary greatly depending on your location, level of education, years of experience, work environment, and many other factors. Please note that salaries may differ even more for those who are self-employed or work part time.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), job growth for life coaches is projected to be 8% through 2029, double the growth for jobs in general.
The BLS doesn’t have a life coach category for reporting wages and instead includes them with educational, guidance and career counselors and advisors.
These professionals earn a median salary of $57,040 per year. Professionals in the top 10% earn $96,090 annually.
Written and Reported by:
With professional insight from:
Carol Kauffman, PhD, ABPP, PCC
Founder of the Institute of Coaching
Vice President of ICF coach training programs
Founder of Unbounded Potential
Founder of The Mobius Company
Owner of Mama Needs A Refill