Photo by Brocken Inaglory.

Education and Training: On the job
M:F Ratio: 32:68
Hours worked per week: 20-80; Irregular hours
Median Salary: $32,920
Lowest/Highest 10% Salary: $15,960/$43,840
Growth: Average

What do models do?

Fitness Model. Photo by Glenn Francis.

Models pose for artists and photographers, often to promote products like clothing, jewelry, makeup lines and home appliances.

Some models may also appear in music videos, commercials, movies, and tv shows.

There are many different types of models, including, but not limited, to:

  • Alternative models, who model punk and gothic fashions.
  • Artist's models, who pose for artists, sculptors, and art classes.
  • Catalog models, who model for clothing catalogs.
  • Fitness models, like the one at right, who appear in fitness-related ads and stock photos.
  • Glamour models, who appear in risque pictures. Think Maxim magazine, swimsuit photos, Page Three girls. You must be over 18 to do glamour modeling of any kind.
  • Hand models, whose hands appear in commercials and advertisements. Think jewelry ads, commercials for restaurants, book covers (e.g. Twilight), and nail polish ads.
  • High fashion models, who pose for fashion editorials and print advertisements.
  • Trade show models, who show up to trade shows to bring attention to certain products.

The U.S.A. has several large model markets, where aspiring models can find a lot of work and get started in the business. The biggest markets are:

  • New York City - the largest model market in the world
  • Los Angeles - second largest model market in the USA
  • Miami Beach, Florida - lots of work from October to April

Some of the smaller and medium-sized model markets include:

  • Atlanta, Georgia - lots of catalog work, not too competitive
  • Chicago, Illinois - busiest September-November
  • Dallas, Texas - home of major retail clients like Neiman Marcus
  • Houston, Texas - lots of catalog work
  • San Francisco, California - very competitive, home of several large retailers like Sephora
  • Tampa, Florida - lots of print work, less competitive than Miami

Models are usually self-employed, and get paid by their clients. Models are usually represented by a modeling agency, who takes a part of their pay (usually 20%) in return for finding them work.

Fitness model photo by Glenn Francis.

How do I become a model?

Model in a green dress. Photo by Sherry Zang.

Photo by Sherry Zang.

It depends on what type of modeling you want to do. Aspiring artist's models can sign up for the job at their local college's art department. Most models, however, must start by finding a modeling agency to represent them.

To apply to a modeling agency, you'll need to submit a profile of yourself. This profile should include some simple, professional photos of yourself, your height, weight and measurements, location, and age. You can find more info about submitting a profile here.

If an agency signs you up, they will book jobs for you and take a percentage of your pay. This is usually 20% of what your client pays you, though this fee varies from agency to agency.

Your agency will also probably take money for expenses. This means you end up paying for test photoshoots, flights, cab rides, etc. You probably won't be able to negotiate these expenses.

According to Jennifer Sauers, a former model:

[N]ot much protects [a model] as an independent contractor in a largely unregulated labor market...the typical modeling contract pre-authorizes the agency to make whatever deductions it feels necessary without seeking any model's consent.

Different types of modeling require different looks. Lingerie models, for example, must have small hips and large breasts, while runway models need to be tall and skinny.

If you want to become a high fashion model, you must be 21 or younger. Prime entry years for high fashion models are ages 14 to 18. Many fashion modeling agencies have a policy of not taking in new models who are 21 or older.

Ageism? Perhaps. Paul Fisher, a one-time fashion modeling agent, explains this policy:

The "peak" for a model is usually between the ages of 18 and 23, although there are many, many exceptions...And if it takes a few years to get the proper pictures, the proper jobs that can elevate your career, give you more exposure etc., then one should start to learn their craft before 18.

Commercial models can be almost any age, from toddlers to septuagenarians. Women in their late 20s and early 30s, and men in their 30s and 40s, are the most in-demand demographics for catalog models.

What skills and abilities do I need?

Photo by Gabriel Saldana.

There are no formal training or education requirements for models.

Most models need healthy, clear skin, a youthful appearance, and natural good looks. Having these three things will greatly improve your prospects and your earning potential.

In order to be a successful model, you also need:

  • Stamina. You'll have to stay upbeat through long hours at a photoshoot, at runway rehearsals, at auto shows, etc. It's important that you stay present.
  • A good work ethic. Don't flake on jobs or put in a lackluster effort. Show up for casting lines and follow your agency's advice.
  • A thick skin. Rejection is just part of life as a model. Get used to it, or find a different job.
  • Self-confidence. A good self-image helps you deal with rejections and attract clients.
  • Physical health. Photoshop is powerful, but clients still want models with clear and glowing skin, teeth, hair, and an overall healthy appearance.
  • Attention to detail. Make sure your agency is not withholding payments from you, or charging fraudulent expenses.
  • Personality. Part of your job is to project the image your client wants you to project. It's not enough to be a pretty face.

What's the job market like?

Model. Photo by Roger Scorta.

Job growth for models is expected to be about as fast as average for all occupations over the next decade.

Modeling is a very small occupation, so not that many modeling jobs will be added. The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that only about 200 new modeling jobs will be added from 2010 to 2020!

Many people want to be models, which creates an extremely competitive job market.

An unregulated labor market, fierce competition, and sometimes predatory practices by agencies, makes modeling a poor career prospect for all but a few lucky people.

Model photo by Roger Scorta.

What's the pay like?

As a model, your salary depends on what type of modeling you do, how much you work, and what you look like.

High fashion models in New York City make more money than any other type of model. Top commercial and glamour models can also make six or even seven figures a year. Most models make much, much less than this.

Models in the USA have a median salary of $32,920 a year, or $15.83 an hour. The top 10% of models make $43,840 a year or more; the bottom 10% make $15,960 a year or less.

See our salary information page to learn more.

Where can I get more information?

Agyness Deyn photo by Ed Kavishe

Photo by Ed Kavishe.

These books cover this topic in far more depth than I can:

  • The Professional's Guide to Modeling by Roger Talley. This book is a good introduction to everything about modeling, from creating composite cards to staying safe. Some articles in this book also appear on
  • So, You Want to Be a Fashion Model? by Marcia Rothschild Moellers. This is a detailed guide for aspiring fashion models, male and female. Even if you're interested in another type of modeling, I would recommend reading this book for the perspective it will give you on the modeling industry.

You can also read these related pages on College Optional Careers:

Model Salary Information - Find out more about how much models actually get paid.

More Beauty and Fashion Careers

Makeup Artist

Tattoo Artist

Image Consultant

Fashion Designer

Fashion Photographer

Image Consultant


"Age, Sex and Race in Modeling." Accessed on the internet at on 10 December 2012.

Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2012-13 Edition. "Models." Accessed on the Internet at on 10 December 2012.

Fisher, Paul. "What is the proper age?" Accessed on the internet at on 10 December 2012.

"How to Apply to a Modeling Agency." Accessed on the internet at on 10 December 2012.

Luret, Kim. "Enjoy the Power and Beauty of You." Inner Modeling. Accessed on the internet at on 23 January 2013.

"Modeling 101." Accessed on the internet at on 10 December 2012.

"Model Salary." Accessed on the internet at on 10 December 2012.

Rothschild Moellers, Marcia. Model Markets of the World. Peter Glenn Publications, Delray Beach, 2005.

Rothschild Moellers, Marcia. So, You Want to Be a Fashion Model? Interscout LLC, Ossian, 2005.

Sauers, Jennifer. "Models Sue Agency for $3.75 Million." Jezebel, 26 November 2010. Accessed on the internet at on 11 December 2012.

Talley, Roger. The Professional's Guide to Modeling. The Newmodel's Agency, Houston, 2005.

"The Truth About Modeling Expenses." Fashion Spot. Accessed on the internet at on 11 December 2012.

"Types of Modeling." Accessed on the internet at on 30 November 2012.

How to cite this article


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