Modelling & Uni: Can You do it All?
Hello all! I’m very delighted to be someone that other models feel that they can ask for advice. Hence the blog!
I got a little email the other day asking me how I balanced getting my degree and modelling. I can’t say that I balanced the two that well, but combined with hindsight, I feel like I can give pretty good advice in this area.
My Own Story
I applied to Uni aged 17 when I was heavily into Marxism and The Clash and desperate to leave my family nest. My plan was to abandon modelling, settle myself somewhere new, cut off my hair myself into a messy bob, get a lip piercing and get really drunk all the time (pre-planned rebellion is oxymoronic, people). So applied to universities far away from Lower Morden, settling on Bristol because, my Mum and I decided, we saw the most fit men there.
I then had two gap years between my A Levels and degree, modelling full time. The only trouble with this, though, was that by the time I went to Uni I was really getting somewhere with my career, commanding hefty sums for big high street brands like New Look and Oasis. It looked like I was on the path to a great commercial, money-spinning future.
But I was a person who didn’t like to combine activities. I always like to give things 100%, and I worry that doing two different things can dilute my focus and ability in each. It’s something I’m always battling – life is a juggling act and if you don’t go for lots of experiences all at once, you’ll miss out!
Plus I’d been saving all my money from those jobs for Uni and I felt like I was on a determined path, plus I wanted to make my parents proud by getting a degree. So off to Bristol I went, basically stopping modelling and telling my agency I was unavailable during term times.
By the time I had graduated, I had gained about a stone, lost the momentum of my modelling and Select were bored of me. They dropped me like a hot potato.
It’s hard to say that I’d do anything different if I had another chance to do it again. Case in hand: without studying at Bristol, I wouldn’t have been a bridesmaid at my Uni housemate’s wedding last year. I wouldn’t have met the great friends, Gabe and Gwil, that I was to share a house with in London. I wouldn’t have been travelling on the Bakerloo line on my way to Gwil’s gig and met my boyfriend, Theo. So I’m happy that my choices led to where I am now.
But I can’t deny that my choices hurt my modelling career, so to other models about to head to Uni or struggling with the balancing act now, here’s some information to chew over…
1) Think about a London-based Uni
There were so many times I could have popped off to a casting between lectures or on reading days – my sociology course had 2 contact hours a week by 3rd year, people! However, I was unable to because I was so far away. There are amazing Universities in London that are worth exploring.
At the same time, make sure your agency know that you take lectures, seminars and essay-writing very seriously and you can’t drop it for any old general casting at Pineapple Dance Studios.
2) Decide whether you really want a Degree
I’m just saying this cos, you know, some people go to Uni without really having much of a life plan or need for a degree. Want to become a Doctor? Do it. Always dreamed of getting a Degree? Go for it. But if you’re going along with the idea of Uni cos schools encourage it and all your friends are going too, then think about it. Modelling can be a great springboard into certain careers, such as advertising, photography and PR, for which you don’t really need £30 000 of debt.
It’s not what I’d recommend, because a) you can’t guaruntee you’ll succeed at modelling and b) I will always encourage learning as knowledge is power, but I’m just putting that forward as something to consider.
3) Be selective
It’s hard to turn down any work when you’ve got the thought of those student fees weighing your shoulders down. But only doing the best castings and jobs will mean that, when you are available, you’ll have garnered an air of exclusivity and a brilliant portfolio.
4) Don’t feel guilty.
If you’ve decided on Uni, then don’t let the agency guilt-trip you. They knew you were studying when they took you on, and they’re used to representing models who are at school, college and Uni as that’s the common age range of models. Many bookers will just try it on, to see how much you’re willing to do.
Having a booker who respects your studies is so important. Marcie, at Bookings Models, is studying politics in London whilst getting more and more of a name for herself as a model to watch.
She’s also finding it a bit of a struggle to balance her degree and modelling. She gives her booker, the lovely Billy Mehmet, the days she’s available but it’s increasingly hard as the jobs get better and a busy Third Year approaches. However, she has struck gold in the booker stakes:
“I think I’m very lucky that Billy is my agent because she is quite understanding when it comes to [having to say no to work], I think in other agencies it wouldn’t be as possible.”
4) You’ve committed to Uni, so dedicate yourself to your studies.
There’s no point in being half-hearted and half-committed. If you’re going to do a degree, you might as well GO FOR IT! Graduating can really help your future – people never tired of reminding us that modelling won’t last forever…”so what will you do after?”.
I asked my friend, model Leanne Maskell, how she balanced modelling with studying for a Law Degree (see, models do have brains!)…
“The first year I was at a different agency, where modelling was full on and I was sent on castings and jobs all the time. I was also pretty bad as I thought I’d just be able to cram before exams, but with a Law Degree you need to work hard throughout the year!
So the next year, I committed to Uni and put modelling to the side. It helped give me a head start.
My final year, though, was the year I got the balance right. I moved to a lovely agency, Profile, who respected my studies and allowed me to choose which castings and jobs I went on. I always focused on my studies, then fitted modelling around them.”
5) Be logistical
I’d say that this is a situation where you don’t want to just go with the flow, hoping for the best. If you want to fit in a certain number of jobs and castings to support your studies, make timetables for work, lectures and modelling time. Give your agency days and even times where you’re available, and try and stick to it.
6) Social life comes last after 1) studying and 2) modelling
Don’t go too heavy on the social life. If you’re serious about succeeding at modelling and obtaining a degree, you might have to miss out on the odd night of £1 shots and vomit. If something has to be sacrificed, let it be the vomiting…
7) Learn how to cook before you go
I said I had no regrets, but I DO! I wish I had gone to Uni with a few basic, nutritional dishes up my sleeve and more knowledge about exercise. So many people let themselves go at Uni, and I definitely put on a lot of weight – not from pigging out – but from not being able to cook anything other than pasta, roasted veg or salad with shop-bought thousand island dressing (yum! But I don’t recommend half a bottle, everyday).
It’s written by Sienna, who’s a model and loves her healthy food – and being a student, she knows the constraints of eating well with a budget in student accommodation kitchens!
Is balancing modelling and a degree difficult? Yes. Would it be better to just do one and then the other? Well…Yes. However, life’s rarely neat like that. We study at a young age to give ourselves a brighter future, and if you’re lucky enough to get into Uni then you should grasp that opportunity with both hands.
Modelling is incredible, and can make you a lot of money – but it also has no long-term future.
Look at Lily Cole, who’s got a double First from Cambridge, or
Hermione Emma Watson with her degree, UN Ambassador-ing, acting and modelling. It can be done.
Life is rarely easy or smooth-sailing, and learning to balance the two is a great training ground for adulthood – I’m sure that one day, for lots of us. squeezing in a casting or two around lectures will be nothing compared to balancing a career and a family!
Though it’s tough, the best way to approach it is to think how lucky you are to be balancing two such incredible, life-enriching experiences.