Modeling Schools

"Modeling schools are notorious for preying on the dreams of young women and others who want so badly to be the virtually impossible ideal on magazine covers." -- Liz Brown ("Learn to be a Model... or just waste your money," Willamette Week, March 15, 2000)

"Modeling schools" are another option, but they are also misnamed; they should be called finishing schools. They can't guarantee you will become a model and they won't turn anyone down because you pay a fee. For example, they will accept a girl who is 5' 1" who will probably only be able to do petites. If you want to learn poise, how to apply makeup, or walk on a runway, then modeling schools are a good option. But just know what you are getting." -- Cindy Crawford, Supermodel

"It is never necessary to take a modeling course to become a model. Reputable agencies will train you themselves for free. However, if you have extra money to spend and want to learn about makeup and walking, etc. then go ahead and sign up for modeling classes. Otherwise, makeup counters like Lancome, MAC and Esteé Lauder will often give free makeup lessons." -- Professional Model

"Barbizon is a 'Charm School.' If you want to be charming go there. If you want to be a model see an agent."-- Usenet

"You cannot train to be a model. You either are or aren't." -- Joel Wilkenfeld, President, Next Model Management

"As model and talent managers our role is to develop and groom our clients to be ready for agents. We don't believe in modeling schools because they are a complete scam. We do the development ourselves and do not charge anything for it. Developing a model is part of being a model manager." -- Anthony Caprio, President of PTG Models and Talent

"If you have what it takes any reputable agency will take you on without one class from anywhere. A good agency will teach its models what they need to learn and never charge them money -- (I'm talking runway here). Schools may give a shy person some confidence, but it will do nothing for helping that model get anywhere. A certificate from a modeling school will NOT impress a large market agency whatsoever. It's not about your skills when you walk in the door -- it's your look -- they will teach you those skills." -- GO International Modeling Agency

"Since it may be difficult to determine modeling agency scams only from their advertising claims, watch out for agencies that: Charge you money to take their classes, before you are eligible for modeling work. A legitimate modeling agency may provide instruction on applying makeup or walking, but most do not charge you for classes." -- BBB

"There are lots of photographers and so-called "modeling schools" that try to take advantage of the thousands and thousands of girls who want to become models. DO NOT pay a photographer a lot of money to make a portfolio for you, and do not pay a modeling school to "help" you -- any modeling skills can be learned on the job." -- CosmoGirl

"So many models come to us having 'been burned' by what is known in the industry as scam agencies charging outlandish ('in-house'-shot) portfolio fee charges, sign-up charges, [and] expensive useless classes." -- GO International Modeling Agency

"When I was sixteen, with dreams of being on the cover of Seventeen Magazine, I enrolled in a modeling school. But instead of finding myself with a great job in high fashion, I found myself out thousands of dollars. My bad experience made me wonder if all modeling schools are a big scam." -- Nzinga Moore, Youth Radio

"I think they can just take a roll of snap-shots with a disposable camera, nothing fancy… just send it to the agency attention New Faces, with their phone number… and their cost is just a roll of film and a stamp… Do you need to go to school to become a model? Absolutely not." -- Corey Singer, Model Scout, Next Model Management

"We discourage models from taking 'modeling classes' – they are not required and often are counter-productive." -- R&L Model and Talent Management, Inc.

"Professional scouts who recruit models claim that modeling schools make money by telling girls what they want to hear, but don’t help them land a job or launch a career." -- Shirley Rooker, Federal Trade Commission

"I've seen parents who can't afford the money for tuition bullied, coaxed, forced to max out their credit cards, whatever, in one sitting because [someone at John Robert Powers] said their child could be a star. I can't tell you what it's like to see a child leave the store and then see the salespeople laughing at that child, at his crooked teeth, at his appearance, whatever." -- Ronnie Bogle, Fashion Designer

"Talent searches are often fronts for bogus modeling schools." -- Laurel Pallock, Investigator, District Attorney's office, San Francisco

"I had a good friend of mine pay a lot of money to a modeling school, who assured her of a modeling job after her training. She was told (after her money was in their hands) that she was not marketable... so sorry." -- Usenet

"A modeling agency is also not a school. Specialists may be brought in to conduct occasional workshops but no in-house courses should be required. Modeling agencies which provide courses must be registered with the Ontario Ministry of Universities and Colleges. Models receive their training during on-the-job shoots." -- BBB Canada Consumer Tips

"Consumers who completed the defendants' training program seldom receive any paid employment, and as a result, the defendants get their income from fees paid by consumers for their management "services" including modeling and acting classes, not commissions as they claimed." -- Federal Trade Commission, FTC v. Model 1

"The case in Virginia dealt with this training issue. People thought they were being recruited by modeling agency, but in fact only offered training classes. Then they were supposedly referred to an agency who might be able to get them work. But they thought they were being recruited to be a model, but in fact they were recruited to pay a lot of money for training." -- Federal Trade Commission Attorney Robin Spector

Top modeling agencies do not ask for aspiring models who have attended modeling schools. If you visit the websites of these agencies, they do not ask potential models who want to be considered for representation to send their high school diploma or anything to prove they have a college degree.

There are no modeling degrees offered in colleges and universities across America. The modeling industry itself does not offer formal education to prepare models for work. There is no central education organization in the modeling industry which sets the curriculum, sets and monitors the standards, and licenses teachers. There are no modeling education standards and there is no standard modeling education.

In describing one modeling school, the BBB said:

The company refers to itself as a "tuition based performing arts center." This means the company offers classes for which an upfront fee is charged. These classes are not accredited by any recognized or regulatory agency. The company is not licensed as a talent agency and consequently it cannot offer, promise, procure or attempt to provide nor guarantee employment in the entertainment, modeling or talent industry.

The modeling industry is an industry where a formal education is not required. Models who have had successful modeling careers never went to a modeling school. Supermodels who have earned millions never went to or graduated from a modeling school.

When top agencies like Ford or Elite hold annual model search competitions, and have guaranteed six-figure modeling contracts for the winners, they do not limit this only to contestants who have a modeling school certificate.

The top agencies do not limit open calls only to those who have attended modeling schools. When potential models are discovered by top agencies at open calls, they are not sent off to modeling schools and told to return when they have been educated or when they are "agency ready."

Agency Ready

There are people at modeling schools who tell aspiring models who is and who is not agency ready. How do modeling school staff know who is "agency ready"? A modeling school is not an agency. If they are not an agency, they don't book models. If they don't book models, they don't know if the clients considered a model ready or not. And if they don't know if the clients considered a model ready or not, they are in no position to say who is and who is not "agency ready."

Conflict of Interest

It gets worse. Besides not being qualified to say who is and who is not agency ready, a conflict of interest is at the heart of modeling schools. It is in their vested financial interests to convince aspiring models they are not agency ready. Indeed, the modeling school sales pitch is based on convincing hopeful models they are unqualified to be models.

If modeling school employees and representatives cannot convince prospective models they are unprepared to approach agencies and get modeling jobs through agencies, they will have no students. Therefore it is to be expected that modeling schools are going to exploit the conflict of interest and lie, deceive, and trick aspiring models into believing they are unfit to model.

Modeling schools are accountable to noone. There is nothing to prevent them from exploiting the conflict of interest once, frequently, or all the time. There are no laws governing education at modeling schools. The industry, as already noted, has no standards. Modeling schools have no standards. Modeling school teachers have no standards.

Basic Assumption

The basic assumption made by aspiring models and their parents is modeling is like everything else. Like other professions, to get work as a model you must first be trained, and similar to training for other professions, you must pay.

Without any knowledge of the modeling industry, it takes little or no convincing by modeling schools to recruit students.

"Not a modeling school"

Liz Brown, a former model who worked in Milan and Tokyo, said: "Modeling schools are notorious for preying on the dreams of young women and others who want so badly to be the virtually impossible ideal on magazine covers."

("Learn to be a Model... or just waste your money," Willamette Week, March 15, 2000)

Modeling schools are considered by many to be modeling scams, and Christiev Carothers, the former owner of one herself acknowledged the "scam stigma attached to them."

(The Modeling Handbook, Eve Matheson, p. 17)

A clue to the reputation of modeling schools in general is the number of modeling agencies and modeling companies which specifically and emphatically say they are not a modeling school.

There are few claims agencies make to define themselves by saying what they do not do and what they are not, but the most popular ones are stating they do not charge upfront fees and they are not modeling schools. (Modeling school fees, of course, are upfront fees.)

Minx Models Modeling Agency: "VMH Models and Minx Models are not modeling schools and we do not require that you register in modeling classes or pay fees to be represented. We earn a commission on work that you perform through our agency."

Prestige Modeling and Talent: "We are not a modeling school and we do not offer any paid modeling classes at our agency."

Actors North West: "We do not charge a fee to talent for representation or for larger-market agency placement. We are NOT a modeling school, nor a photography studio."

VIP Management Model and Talent Agency: "We are not a modeling school, and do not try to sell training."

Dream International Models: "We are not a modeling school, but an International placement agency."

TAC Model: "Since 1993 TAC Model has represented female models for runway, print, promotional and entertainment assignments. TAC is not a modeling school."

AD Modeling Inc.: "We are not a modeling school and we do not require you to register in any modeling classes or pay fees to have your portfolio posted on our site."

GrooveLuv Model Management: GrooveLuv Model Management is not a modeling school and does not require models to enroll in modeling classes or pay up-front fees.

Agency Scout International: "We are not a modeling school. There are no qualification levels leading to expensive seminars or workshops."

Cue Models International: "Cue Models International is not a modeling school and we do not require that you register in modeling classes or pay fees to be represented. We earn a commission on work that you perform through our agency."

Ascension Models: "We are NOT a modeling school. Most modeling school graduates NEVER become paid working models."

Success stories, a website for teens, advised against modeling schools:

If an agency you visit is affiliated with a modelling school or tries to sell you courses, then run! Reputable agencies will train you for free. If they charge you anything at all, it's a sure thing it's a scam. Don't listen to promises of "you just need to take one course, then we guarantee you work." It's a lie. Want proof? Not one single person from any of the major modeling schools has EVER become a top model. So don't waste your money on this rip-off!

Christiev Carothers, a former model and the former owner of a modeling school, addressed the basic issue of the vocational relevance of modeling schools for students, saying, "very few will go on to be models."

(The Modeling Handbook, Eve Matheson, p. 17)

A school is not an agency

Aspiring models have been confused in the past, assuming a school was an agency. Even though the school may not call itself an agency, those who are unfamiliar with the modeling industry have made the mistake of assuming some modeling schools were modeling agencies.

This has happened, for example, with John Casablancas modeling schools. John Casablancas used to be the leader of an agency (Elite), and thus aspiring models associated his past with the present situation. John Casablancas Career Centers, however, are not modeling agencies, and Mr. Casablancas is no longer at Elite. He reportedly left the Elite agency in 2000.

Just as some potential models have made a mistake without coercion, others have been led to believe a school was an agency, because the school acted as if it was an agency, behaving similarly to agencies by using "model scouts," open calls, and telling the young people they had been "selected."

Company names can add to the confusion for potential models trying to differentiate between a school and an agency.

A franchise of Barbizon in Wilmington, Delaware, was listed by the BBB as "Barbizon Modeling School & Agency," making it look like a school and an agency, but the BBB business classification was "Schools-Modeling."

BBB classifications are not entirely consistent and not always accurate, but in states like Texas and Florida, it is easy enough to find out if a company is an agency or simply a school by checking to see if they have a talent agency license.

BBB Classifications

The BBB file for Barbizon of Orlando described the "type of entity" as "model school"; the TOB classification: "Schools-Modeling"; but the "nature of business": "This company offers a model & talent agency"; and yet the state talent agency database had no listing of any Barbizon in Florida with a talent agency license, and the only license it has listed was with "Department of Agriculture & Consumer Services."

School to Agency and Agency to School

To further confuse the situation, the nature of a company's business can change, so it clearly becomes more important to find out the current situation with the company, and not rely on the past.

For example, an agency can become a school, as was the case with John Robert Powers; and a school can become an agency, as was the case with Avante Models.

Avante described themselves as "a full-service modeling and talent agency," but they used to be a modeling school.

In 1999, their site said, the company was bought and got a new owner. "In 2001, "Avante Modeling School/Agency" became "AVANTE' Models and Talent" ... The modeling school was discontinued and has become a "training center."

And, as earlier noted, John Casablancas, who used to work with an agency (Elite), no longer does, and instead works with schools (John Casablancas Career Centers).

Agency regulations

Modeling schools in general have a bad reputation, and modeling agencies tend to distance themselves or make sure they are not seen to be associated with them in order to establish themselves as reputable.

But the modeling school issue may be understood much more clearly through noting talent agency regulations in at least two states where there is a lot of modeling.

In Florida, a talent agency cannot require attendance at a school as a condition of registration or work:

No talent agency shall, as a condition to registering or obtaining employment for any applicant or artist, require the applicant or artist to subscribe to, purchase, or attend any publication, postcard service, advertisement, resume service, photography service, school, acting school, workshop, acting workshop, or video or audiotapes (Florida Statutes, Title XXXII, Chapter 468.412).

In Texas, it is similar, making the requirement to use certain services prohibited:

A talent agency may not require an applicant or artist to subscribe to or use a specific publication, video or audio tape, postcard service, advertisement service, resume service, photographer, or acting or modeling school or workshop (Texas Talent Agencies Occupation Code, Title 13, Sec. 2105.202).

Why would there be laws prohibiting the requirement of attending modeling schools as a condition of representation? Don't new models need to be "agency ready"?

Clearly the legislators recognized the abuses of the past and the potential for fraud in the future. By allowing agencies to charge upfront fees for schooling, the agencies would be able to make a significant amount of money and even most of their income through the schools and not from commissions.

This arrangement would allow the agencies to pretend they were going to help models get work, but then not bother, because they had already been paid hundreds or thousands of dollars for classes.

Then the models would never recoup their education expenses. The agencies would make a lot of money but the models nothing.

Therefore the law puts a logical check on the obvious conflict of interest.

Open calls

Why do aspiring models go to modeling schools if they are not necessary? Why do they pay hundreds or thousands of dollars in the hopes of getting signed by and work though a modeling agency after attending a modeling school?

The New York City Department of Consumer Affairs asserts it is simply because the prospective models do not know they can directly access the agencies on their own without payment.

Few people enrolled at modeling schools, or signed up by scam agencies, know about “open calls” at modeling agencies. At least once a week, model managers and agents have an open call — a period of time when they look over people off the street who want to know if they have a chance. Open calls are great places to start, because you will get free evaluations by experienced agents. Prospective models are required to bring a few snapshots with them to open calls.

Modeling schools are finishing schools

Cindy Crawford, one of the world's most famous models, has addressed the topic of modeling schools, saying they are misnamed:

"Modeling schools" are another option, but they are also misnamed; they should be called finishing schools. They can't guarantee you will become a model and they won't turn anyone down because you pay a fee. For example, they will accept a girl who is 5' 1" who will probably only be able to do petites. If you want to learn poise, how to apply makeup, or walk on a runway, then modeling schools are a good option. But just know what you are getting.

Is it true? Are modeling schools really finishing schools? Are they misnamed on purpose to deceive aspiring models and lead them to sign up and pay for something they don't need?

In his book, Thing of Beauty, author Stephen Fried mentions the origin of the two biggest modeling schools in America, which are both named after their founders, John Casablancas and John Robert Powers.

He wrote about Jane Kirby Harris, a former model who taught modeling courses after JRP started and before JS began:

A tall, handsome woman in her late thirties, Harris was a former New York runway model and a fixture in Philadelphia. She was fashion director for the Philadelphia area Bonwit Teller stores and coordinated all their fashion shows. She maintained her reputation and continually expanded her public by teaching beauty and modeling courses.
In the store, she ran a beauty workshop for the daughters of Bonwit's patrons, taught with manuals made available to retailers by Seventeen magazine and personalized by each instructor. Harris called her version "Project You."
The Seventeen course was devised to give young girls the basics of posture, exercise, diet, hair care, skin care, makeup, grooming, fashion and manners.
By providing the service the store hoped the girls would come to Bonwit's for the many products they had just learned to need -- including makeup every day "at least twice, even three times if you can."
One of the longest chapters in the manual -- and the only one that did not contain practical information pertinent to all young girls -- was the one about fashion modeling.
It began with a lengthy excerpt from a Seventeen article by Eileen Ford, of the Ford Model Agency, about "what is takes to join the ranks of today's top models."
Besides the basics of the model's life, the excerpt pointed out that, at most, one in one thousand of the girls who applied to Ford became successful models.
The manual then asked girls if they felt they met all the requirements to be a professional model.
"NO! Perhaps you should do non-professional modeling through your local store's teen board. However, if the answer is YES, and you do want to go full-steam ahead to a modeling career..."
. . .
Harris' course was meant to turn out models -- Or at least good "nonprofessional models." And she did differentiate between girls who "had something" and those who had nothing but enough money to pay the fee.
That distinction separated her from the local franchise of the national John Robert Powers schools, which had been spun off from New York's first-ever model agency.
Begun in the thirties and, for years, so synonymous with the profession that it spawned the 1942 film comedy The Powers Girl with George Murphy Dennis Day, the Powers agency itself had been toppled by Ford in the fifties.
But its schools lived on, surviving by adopting a new creed: If you didn't have the looks to be a model, you could at least learn to be a "model girl."
A "model girl" knew the basics of Good Grooming: her face shape, her body type, the hues that best suited her, professional makeup techniques and how to achieve that "well-put-together look."
She understood the building blocks of Visual Poise: proper placement of hands and feet, how to enter and exit a room (both the informal three-touch method and the formal four-touch method, each including a hesitation for effect).
And she minded her many Manners, like the rules of Cigarette Etiquette: "Avoid looking masculine, never dangle the cigarette in your mouth, never flick ashes man-style, always use a feminine cigarette case and lighter."
Powers was sort of a charm school for girls who would have to get real jobs eventually.

(Barbizon, another franchised charm school, has a similar creed as the John Robert Powers creed which Fried mentioned: "Train to BE A MODEL ... or Just Look Like One.")

An article by Marie Carisa U. Ordinario sheds more light on the original purpose and current focus of John Robert Powers.

Established in 1923 by John Robert Powers, a small-time actor in 1920’s silent movies, John Robert Powers, Inc. was the first modeling agency in the world.
Initially Powers wanted to pursue an acting career. However, after several producers told him that he was either “wasting his time” or bluntly, “you’re wasting our time,” he decided he needed to change his strategy for moving up.
That was why when he saw an ad in the newspaper by a photographer who was looking for eight models to pose for him, Powers grabbed the chance and made a catalogue of models for the photographer. This was the chance Powers was looking for.
Soon enough, scores of advertising companies started pounding on Powers’ doors asking for models. Initially, Powers had 15 phones ringing simultaneously but the high demand for his models pushed him to have 25 more phones, which never seemed to stop ringing.
At the same time, piles and piles of applicants line up on Powers’ doors, wanting to be part of the successful group of models Powers builds up. The applicants poured in hundreds, thousands, to a million, from which only 400 would emerge Powers’ models.
Amazingly, Powers was able to create a modeling empire with a simple eight-model catalogue. Powers’ models were everywhere in the United States. They were in Vogue, Harper’s Bazaar, and even became Hollywood personalities. Among his better known models were James Dean, Lauren Bacall, Lucille Ball, and Henry Fonda, to name a few.
According to current JRP International President Richard Upton, JRP is really a confidence-training school specially made for individuals who want to improve their image and their personalities in general.
“These people came to Powers because they wanted to achieve bigger things in their lives,” he added.
The modeling agency taught training courses in self-management, image projection, fitness basics, poise and carriage, communication, social graces, modeling, and acting. This gave the models and other individuals who want to avail of the training, more options in crafting a unique program for their needs.
In the late 1940s, Powers began franchising his schools and even sold parts of his company. He eventually sold the name John Robert Powers to multimillionaire Richard Robie in 1974. This paved the way for establishing JRP modeling schools to different parts of the globe....
“It (JRP classes) is important not only for executives like me, even mothers — housewives — because the program includes courses in setting up the table, entertaining guests, and social graces,” said Plazo.

("Power and Poise," The Manila Times, December 5, 2002)

"Modeling schools" may be more accurately called "charm schools," or "confidence schools," or, as Cindy Crawford said, "finishing schools."

There are more reports of those who attended them gaining confidence and learning manners than there are girls who went on to become successful models because of the school.

Barbizon bills itself as: "The largest and most respected national modeling school chain."

The well-known franchised modeling schools are John Casablancas, John Robert Powers, and Barbizon, which have all been around for years, but there are others, and occasionally new independent modeling schools are started by former models.

Sharon Louwersheimer, a former New York model, started Total Etiquette, a finishing and modeling school, in Clermont, Florida.

("Girl 'dummies' fill window," The Daily Commercial, November 18, 2002)

After 15 years as a professional model and a talent scout for a major New York modeling agency, Megan Graybeal started training aspiring models through her program, MG Modeling.

MG Modeling's program is designed to prepare aspiring models and actors to present their best image -- and modeling is all about image. Her models must know about nutrition and working with their hair and makeup. They also learn how to walk, pose and dress.

("Model seeks to share secrets of her success with young aspirants," Baltimore Sun, December 10, 2002)

Ann L School Of Modeling, a sole proprietorship based in Harrisonburg, VA, was started in 1982.

Besides schools, there are workshops which have a similar focus. The Patricia Stevens Model and Talent Agency offers: "MODEL SUMMER CAMP. A teenage girl's dream camp; a week that will be remembered as a turning point in her life, training that can be utilized every day. We provide positive guidance and character building skills in a fun and relaxed atmosphere. Visual poise, skin care, modeling techniques and new friends. She will develop an understanding of the disciplines needed to be successful in any career path, not just the fashion and glamour."


Modeling schools in the past have added expenses through getting students to pay for expensive comp cards or portfolios. In this way two scams are merged, modeling schools and modeling photos, and they can double their income without doubling the students' chances of getting work.

Outside of a modeling school, many people have questioned the value of getting comp cards and portfolios prior to getting representation by a reputable modeling agency, but there is not nearly as much second guessing in the context of a modeling school. However, there is essentially no difference.

Comp cards and professional portfolios are not needed or even recommended to get signed by an agency. Since the school is not an agency, and an agency does not need the comp cards to sign a new model, and indeed the agency needs to approve comp cards after a new model is signed, getting pictures taken and comp cards made as a student at a modeling school can be an additional waste of time and money beyond the expensive classes themselves.

The BBB warns about expensive modeling photography and expensive modeling classes:

Some companies make their money on photography fees alone. Look out for those who pressure you into having a portfolio done through their designated photographer. In these situations, you may be required to leave a deposit for the photos which will often cost hundreds of dollars.
Other companies make their money using high pressure tactics and often misleading promises to induce you into signing up for expensive classes. Most of these companies target children 16 or younger.
Be cautious when a company tells you your child has great potential but must have costly training before he or she can be referred to a talent agency to obtain work.

Charm schools or finishing schools are valuable. They do serve a purpose. In modern society there are a lot of rude people with bad manners. It is useful and worthwhile for teen girls to learn etiquette, etc. But the point is a decision to attend a so-called "modeling school" should be made on its value as a charm school, not as a modeling school, or a reliable method of starting a modeling career. Go to any of the schools because you want to learn poise, how to set a table, apply makeup, pluck your eyebrows, etc., not because you want to become a model.

One girl told a relative she wanted to attend a modeling school, but she was not interested in modeling. She only wanted to learn about hair and makeup. If that is you, go.

However, if your interest is becoming a model, don't look for or pay a modeling school, find a modeling agency. Make sure it is a successful and reputable agency.