When I was 23 years old I was accepted into Columbia University’s School of General Studies. After six years of modeling full-time, I knew the transition would be difficult. My agent knew this was something I was passionate about, and she assured me that we would somehow find a balance between work and school. I feel very lucky that I had her support, as many models I know were encouraged by their agents to leave high school, never mind interrupt a successful career to pursue a university degree. Often, a model’s career is over by her mid-twenties, so agencies want young girls to make the most of their teenaged years, before they are considered too old by the industry. As a result, many do not complete high school. Models under eighteen years old are not protected by the laws that give child actors tutors on set, and many girls I know don’t know what to do for a job when their time as a model inevitably winds down.
“Agencies want young girls to make the most of their teenaged years, before they are considered too old by the industry. As a result, many do not complete high school.”
Luckily, I had finished high school by correspondence, but I felt a desire for more education. My first semester at Columbia was tricky, for I was allowed to miss a maximum of five classes of university writing, which met twice a week from September to December. Initially I thought it would be impossible to meet that guideline, but somehow I managed. I even went to class with a terrible eye infection so that I could save my absences for workdays. I had to turn down many jobs, especially magazine editorials, because they do not pay very much though they are good for one’s career. My agent always said she understood, but I was worried that the agency would stop presenting me to clients, as they wouldn’t know if I’d be available. I still did catalogs and advertisements that paid well, so I wrote essays on overnight flights to Paris, rather than sleep for the job I’d have to do when I landed.
The last-minute nature of modeling jobs makes scheduling anything, even a doctor’s appointment, challenging, so I knew striking a balance between work and school would be hard. The professor wanted at least a week’s notice when we had to miss class, however, I never knew more than three days before whether I’d be working or not. She managed to accept my many apologies that semester.
Modeling schedules are very fluid, things change at the last minute, and everything from the price to the time to the place of a job is always in flux. In university, on the other hand, everything is very rigid: timetables and rules are set. It was hard to tell my agents that I could not miss class to go to a casting, even if it was for a very good client. Other models in school that I know ended up leaving their agencies because the agents would not accept that they had other commitments.
“Other models in school that I know ended up leaving their agencies because the agents would not accept that they had other commitments.”
Throughout the three years I’ve been at Columbia, the scheduling has not become any easier. I still have to turn down jobs that do not pay enough, but would have been good for my career. I did not have a typical university experience, for I would use my study week before exams to fly to Tokyo to work rather than cram for finals. I love modeling but I love school more. Before I went to university, I saw modeling as my career, but now I see modeling as a means to pay for my future.
I would encourage young women to try modeling, as I found it an incredibly rewarding experience. However, I would also encourage them to consider their future, as a model’s career span seems to shrink every season. I feel very lucky that I have had such a great career, but I am happy with my decision to put modeling on the back burner and return to school.