Should You Go To A Modeling
Modeling schools are fun. You meet lots of new people,
make friends, do fun things. They say nice things to you and make you
feel better about yourself. Maybe they teach you to look better, walk
better, eat better. You get some pictures taken that are different from
anything you’ve had before. You see yourself looking “like a
These are all good things.
They may also be expensive things, but for a lot of people
the cost is affordable, and isn’t all that much more than they might put into
dance classes, piano lessons, summer school tutoring in Algebra 2 or any of
lots of other things people spend money on. If it can be paid for out of
the family entertainment budget, why not do it?
“But wait a minute! You didn’t say anything about
learning to be a model. Isn’t that what modeling schools are for?”
Ummm, no. Not for the vast majority of their
students. The school knows that very few of their students will ever be
models in any significant way. The “training” really isn’t about
that. We’ve already told you what it’s really about.
Now let’s admit right up front that there are some medium
sized cities in which the dominant modeling agency, the one that really gets
the modeling jobs in town, is also a franchise of one of the well-known
modeling schools. It happens, and if it has happened in your city you
need to read this article a little differently. But it’s up to you to ask
very probing questions to find out if it’s true of your local “modeling
Since that’s not the usual case, let’s talk about what
modeling schools really do, other than provide entertainment and maybe some
useful life skills.
*** From here on in the
conversation we will concern ourselves only with people who really are trying
to be professional models. If you are considering a school only for the
fun or the personal life skills, read no further. ***
Things you need to know:
1. You don’t need to go
to modeling school to be a model. In fact most real model agencies
would prefer you hadn’t. You will get the experience and training you
need through test shoots, experience on the job, through conversations with
your agent or personal manager, and, if necessary, from brief classes arranged,
usually for free, by your agent.
2. A lot of what
modeling schools teach is wrong! It’s a pretty good bet that the
instructors are models from years gone by, from places you will never model in,
and are types of models you will never be. That’s if you are lucky.
A lot of instructors aren’t models at all, and never were. They are just
graduates of the schools, imperfectly passing on what they learned. Or
worse. They probably don’t really have the skills a professional model
needs, and probably don’t know what skills you need.
3. Pictures from
modeling schools aren’t what you really need. That’s not always true,
of course. Once in a while a school gets lucky, or the manager is really
good, and they get real, professional quality pictures done for their
models. But the vast majority of the time they get junk. The school
counts on the students and their parents not knowing any better, and they are
usually correct. So all the money you spend on pictures is wasted. You
could get selected by a real agency with simple snapshots just as easily.
4. They don’t tell you
what you really need to know. At least, not if it keeps them from
selling you classes, or pictures, or attendance at expensive conventions that
they say you should attend. They are a business. They make their
money by taking it from you, not making it for you. So you can count on
them not to tell you what keeps them from making money. What are some of
a. There isn’t much
modeling work where you live.
b. You can’t be a model in
a big city unless you live in the big city.
c. Unless you are a
skinny, long-legged 5’10” 16 year old girl, you are going to have to pay all
the expenses of relocating to where there really is modeling work. And
with no guarantees of ever actually getting any.
d. Unless you are that
same 5’10” girl, no model agency in any major market city is going to make you
an offer to front expenses to work with them. Even then they still might not.
e. People who hire
models, and model agencies, don’t care that you’ve been to modeling school.
f. You don’t
need to know how to walk on a runway. OK, maybe if you are that tall
skinny 16-year old you do, but the agency will teach you that in an hour.
Nobody else needs to learn the runway walk. That’s not the kind of
modeling they will do.
g. A photographer can’t
take good portfolio pictures of ten people in a day.
Now the above isn’t always true,
but it’s so commonly close to the truth that you’d better assume it is true until
someone proves otherwise in your case.
“So all that means I shouldn’t go to modeling school,
Yeah, probably. If you really want to be a model,
that’s likely not the right way. Go see real agencies, or people who hire
models. Most schools won’t do that for you any better than you can do it
for yourself. Read the articles here, do what they say, and you’ll be
Still, there are some (few) cases where the modeling school
can be a good thing, and some (all too many) where they can keep a good model
from ever reaching her goal. It can be a very good thing, and it can be
an absolutely horrible experience.
“How good can it get?”
Pretty good. Here’s the ideal case:
You’ve already met our hypothetical 16-year old. Let’s
call her Molly. Molly is 5’10”, wears a size 2, has a 35 inch inseam and
a face that people stare at as she walks down the street. She’s bright,
does well in school (and can be home schooled or tutored), has parents that
completely back her and have the resources to provide whatever support she
needs. She has a burning in her belly that demands she be a model.
Nothing else will do.
Molly’s parents take her to the local modeling school.
They get lucky. Maureen, the owner has years of
experience in New York, maintains close contact with the Top Ten agencies, and
recognizes a real fashion model when she sees one. Rather than try to
bleed Molly’s parents’ wallets immediately, she decides to become a Mother
Agent for Molly. She signs her up, spends a month teaching her the things
she will need to know to deal with an agency in New
York, gets her some free test shots from a good fashion photographer
in town, and sets her up with appointments with the right agencies. Molly
goes to New York, is offered a contract by a Big Agency, and goes on to be a working
model. Maureen makes her money by taking a percentage of Molly’s
As an alternative, Maureen contacts one of the major
modeling conventions, tells them she has a winner, and convinces them to give
Molly a free “scholarship” to the convention. They go to New York, Molly
is seen by dozens of fashion agencies from around the world, and is offered contracts
in New York, Los Angeles, Tokyo, Paris and Milan.
When a model seriously has potential it can work that
way. Mostly it doesn’t.
It can be absolutely awful:
Now let’s meet Rachel. Rachel is 5’4” tall, 120
pounds. Her parents and friends all think she is pretty, so they decide
she ought to be a model. Maybe Rachel even thinks so too. There are
some problems: Rachel’s folks don’t have much money, she is in school and
can’t leave town, and there is very, very little modeling work in her city for
anyone, let alone for a girl like Rachel.
Still, Rachel’s parents have heard for so long that “she
ought to be a model” that they come to believe it. They take her to see
Hank, who owns the local modeling school. Hank used to be an aluminum
siding salesman, but he hired a graduate of one of the other modeling schools
(Patty, who is very, very tired of working at Burger King for all those years)
and bought himself a franchise with a well-known name. He’s now in the
modeling school business.
“Sure,” Patty tells Rachel’s mother. “She can be a
model.” As it turns out, all she has to do is take classes for $1,500 to
become qualified. So Rachel’s dad takes the money out of her college
fund, figuring to replace it with her modeling earnings, and she takes the
classes. She goes to the fund again to pay for “professional pictures”
that she and her whole class have done one day by some visiting
photographer. She gets “qualified”. She even gets to work in a
runway show at the local mall, and one weekend gets a job at $10 an hour
passing out promotional materials at Patty’s old Burger King. She’s a
So Hank tells Rachel’s mother that the time has come to take
her to a modeling convention to see agents from all around the world.
Maybe one of them will offer her a contract!
Or maybe not.
So again Rachel’s college fund gets raided, this time for
the $5,000 it takes to go to the convention, and the extra $2,000 for her
mother to go along with her. She goes, has a lot of fun for a week, no
agents want her, and she comes back home a lot poorer.
Sadly, not a lot wiser. Hank tells her she needs
Advanced Modeling classes, which are only another thousand dollars, new
pictures (several hundred more) and in another six months she can go to another
convention. Now the college fund is depleted, and her folks are looking
at another mortgage on the house.
Rachel is never going to be offered a modeling contract in a
major market city, no matter what Hank says. And it only took them
$18,000 to find out. Hank, on the other hand, has pocketed $2,500 in
modeling class fees, a kickback of $800 for the pictures he had her get, and
$4,000 in “commissions” from the modeling convention. He’s a very happy
What if Molly had gone to Hank instead of Maureen?
(There are a lot more Hanks out there than there are Maureens.)
It can be worse:
Molly and her folks walk in to see Hank. Hank probably
doesn’t recognize what a real fashion model looks like, but maybe Patty
does. Now they really see dollar signs lighting up their eyes!
For a while it’s the same as Rachel. Money for classes
and bad pictures. Money for the Big Convention. By now Rachel is a
17-year old aspiring fashion model with less money than she had before.
But this time it’s different. Molly is the Real
Deal. Every fashion agency at the convention is clamoring for
her. She gets 42 callbacks, three clandestine meetings with scouts, and
offers to fly to exotic places to do wonderful things. She’s on her way!
No, she’s not. There’s still Hank.
Hank has convinced her that he is the best person to manage
her career. He has had her parents sign an exclusive contract with him
that lets him choose which agency she goes with, and he keeps 10% of whatever
she makes. Hank is seeing Big Bucks in his future.
He’d really rather she went with an internationally Famous
Top Ten Agency (FTTA) that might be able to turn her into a supermodel.
More bucks for her, more for him. What could be wrong with that? Lots of
FTTA sees Molly’s potential. They should, they have a
superstar in their stable who looks just like her. So they want to keep
her on ice, keep her from competing with their star. But Hank doesn’t
know that. They tell Hank that they want Molly to be developed a little
more, that in a few months they will want to sign her. They might even
sign her right then, but send her back home. They even tell Hank he can have a
10% scout’s commission on all the money she makes. Hank is in
heaven. This is the agency for her!
Only it isn’t. There are other agencies that could do
Molly a lot of good, maybe do as well or better than FTTA. But they won’t
pay Hank the extra 10%. Nope, they are the wrong choice for Molly!
So Molly sits at home, waiting for her chance to be a
model. Time goes by, she gets older, less desirable. And she sure
isn’t working as a model. But Hank has a plan: let’s take her to
the next Big Convention and try again!
Well, what’s a few thousand dollars more, after all
this? Especially when some of it ends up back in Hank’s pocket. So
off they go again, to see the same agencies that wanted her before.
Molly could have walked into any of them a year and a half and
$10,000 ago, been accepted and been working as a model the whole time.
But instead she has Hank, claiming to be looking out for her, and really trying
to cut the best deal for himself. She is getting older, wasting prime
time, becoming less desirable with each passing month. And Hank still has
visions of making that big strike with FTTA, so he tells her not to go with any
other agency. Meantime the latest fad is Malaysian models; blondes are
out, and new models who look like Molly aren’t in great demand. Molly’s
career, so full of promise, is over before it ever begins.
Hank doesn’t get the really big money he had been hoping
for, but he at least got all those bucks for pictures, classes, conventions and
anything else he could make up to take money from Molly. He’s not a
thrilled Hank, but he’s a happy Hank.
Modeling School as Mother Agency:
It’s not all that often that a mother agency (or personal
manager) is a good idea for a new model. But when they are, the good
Mother Agencies develop their models without taking a fee (or a kickback on
pictures), and then make their money taking a percentage of the model’s future
earnings. They have an interest in her success: if she doesn’t make
money, they don’t make money.
The modeling school often tries a perversion of this
concept. First they take hundreds or thousands of dollars from the model
for classes, conventions or photos. Then they want even more money from
the model in the event she actually gets work somewhere. That sounds like
the school is incentivized to find success for the models – but the truth is
the great majority of their money is taken from the model for all those
unnecessary services. Getting a percentage of earnings is only a small
part of their income, and one they can easily afford to pass up. That
leads to lots of opportunities for abuse.
The worst thing that can happen to a real model is for her
school to stand in the way of her success with an agency that won’t pay the
school a commission. And yet it happens all the time, even though the
school often won’t admit that is what they are doing. They find all sorts
of other reasons for keeping a model from signing with that agency.
Fortunately, many schools don’t follow this predatory
practice. They make their money on the classes and services, and then do
what they can to help their models find work or a real agency, without taking a
further fee. When a model finds an agency, they are pleased simply to
congratulate her and pass on the good news to their other students. It
makes them look good, and helps them sell other students on their classes.
So, should you go to a
modeling school? Maybe, but now you know reasons why not.