Should You Go To A Modeling School?

 

Why not?

 

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 model”. 

 

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 school.”

 

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 those things?

 

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, right?”

 

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 better off.

 

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[1] 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 earnings.

 

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 real model.

 

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 Hank.

 

Remember Molly?

 

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 things.

 

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.

 

 

 

 

 



[1] In case there is a modeling school owner out there somewhere named Maureen or Hank, this isn’t about you.  All names are made up.

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