While the debate rages on about whether modeling is actually a difficult profession, and not merely a privilege for those gorgeous enough to escape a dreary 9-5 existence, one thing is certain: modeling doesn’t require too much in the way of deep thought. Work your angles, ‘smize’, pose, vogue. It’s not rocket science. Perhaps that’s why there’s been a stigma associated with women who model – often considered to be the “dumb blondes” of the working world.
Many models are indeed scouted young and often don’t get a chance to finish college – or sometimes even high school – but there’s plenty of evidence out there to prove that models are not just pretty faces. While they usually end up opting for a lucrative career, cavorting around the world with abdominally gifted men and major designer brands and glamour magazines, a few of these smart, lucky ladies have found a way to earn an education on the side. Whether it’s a plan B for when the wrinkles set in, or just because they can, the models on this list not only earned their book smarts, they’ve excelled in academics that most of us regular folk barely even aspire to. So, let’s put aside our collective self-esteem issues and applaud these beauties who’ve got the brains to back up their catwalk struts.
10. Joan Smalls
We imagine Joan Smalls’ ability to withstand the trials and tribulations of an ego-driven modeling industry is in part due to her university education. Joan told reporters, before hitting the Victoria Secret catwalk in 2013, that if she wasn’t modeling lingerie she’d definitely be a psychologist. And she could, actually. She has a degree in the field, from the InterAmerican University of Puerto Rico. She eventually shelved her notepad and office name plate to battle the New York scene, trying out for a career in modeling. She made the right choice: Smalls currently ranks at #8 on Forbes list of the World’s Highest Paid Models.
9. Cindy Crawford
Cindy Crawford didn’t set out to be a Supermodel – she had intended to be a Chemical Engineer . Can you imagine her poor male colleagues trying to concentrate on their lab experiments? The world is probably a safer place with Cindy the Supermodel not Cindy the Scientist. Needless to say, she was the valedictorian at her high school graduation and received a full scholarship to study at Northwestern University. She was there for a semester before dropping out after winning Elle Model Management’s Look of the Year award that she’d been encouraged to audition for. Her decision to pursue modeling was a – ahem – smart one. In 1995 she was the highest paid model on the planet according to Forbes magazine. She has had a long and successful career as a model and a business person and is now a mother of two who maintains an intelligent and articulate view on the world, best evidenced in her interview for Oprah’s “Master Class.”
8. Christy Turlington
While Christy Turlington has been flying under the radar these days, back in the 90s she was one of the biggest names in the business, with lucrative contracts and enviable looks. Well, let’s be honest – that hasn’t changed. She’s still a knockout. While she admits her modeling career “fell in her lap,” she originally earned a B.A. in Comparative Religion and Eastern Philosophy from NYU. When she turned to modeling, she assumed she’d fall back on her education after a few years – try a few decades. Turlington certainly didn’t need to cash in on her back-up plan, but despite this and being a mother of two now, she’s currently back to hitting the books and studying for a Master’s Degree in Public Health at Columbia.
7. Cameron Russell
This Victoria Secret beauty has a beauty secret of her own: looks aren’t everything. The American girl next door was set for a career in politics at an early age, even meeting Bill Clinton during a campaign election. His words of encouragement stuck with her and Russell went on to major in Economics and Mathematics at Columbia University before getting her wings. She began modeling in 2005, but she has given an inspiring presentation to TedXMidAtlantic titled “Looks Aren’t Everything.” She left an indelible mark on her audience with her unique perspective. The Huffington Post called it “refreshingly frank.”
6. Gemma Ward
This Australian-born model turned actress was first discovered when she was only 14 years old, and made her Australian Fashion Week debut a year later. She went on to become the youngest model to appear on the cover of the American edition of Vogue magazine. She has since been in a string of Hollywood movies including “Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides.” While she is retired from modeling now, she took some time out of the spotlight a few years back to attend Yale. While reports of her studies were never substantiated, Gemma certainly comes by booksmarts naturally: Back in Australia, she’d attended the Presbyterian Ladies’ College and Shenton College, in Perth.
5. Tyra Banks
It’s no surprise that one of the most successful models and business tycoons of them all has a varsity affiliation. Tyra Banks, 80s model phenom and the woman behind the ANTM franchise, has not gotten where she is on looks alone. She’s a role model with her TZONE program for girls, as well as a vocal supporter of education, hard work and, of course, smizing. She has been ranked by Time magazine as one of the world’s most influential people. In 2011, while masterminding her enormously successful Top Model show, Banks enrolled in Harvard’s Owner/President Management Program with the Ivy League institution and in 2012 she graduated with a certificate from the Executive Education Training Program. She received a considerable amount of backlash for implying that she was a Harvard “graduate,” something many thought was misleading, but why split hairs? Who else has a smoking hot modeling career, long-running mega hit TV show, and a business certificate from Harvard? Anyone?
4. Laura Shields
A model, a pageant winner, and a… Chemical Engineer. Laura, 29, actually stopped her career for her education, earning a master’s degree from Leeds University. While she certainly hasn’t been afraid of obtaining an education at the sacrifice of modeling, Laura has been in the game for a while. Born and raised in Manchester, ENG, she was signed to Elite Model Management at only 15-years-old, and went on to become Miss UK International . And believe it or not, this stunner is actually a member of genius-club Mensa.
The always elegant Mrs. David Bowie and long-time supermodel Iman is a Somali-born beauty who spent her days in Nairobi studying five languages and political science at the city’s namesake university. To help pay for tuition costs she took up a job as a translator. One day, a fashion photographer was walking the streets of her home city when he spotted the signature neck, high forehead and effortless grace. While she is clearly a strong, intelligent woman in her own right, as a model Iman set a new standard for black women in the industry at the height of her career in the 70s and 80s. She helped open the door for many minority women in the field .
2. Karlie Kloss
Another lingerie model shows she’s not just another sexy set of curves, and is currently in the process of trading her wings for some Harvard textbooks. The 21-year-old recently enrolled in the Business of Entertainment, Media and Sports course. She also posted an instagram pic of her posing casually beside a statue of John Harvard. Kloss has been in the business since she was 14, and is known for her signature runway walk. She is lesser known for her entrepreneurial skills. In a collaboration with Momofuku Milk Bar, Kloss created a recipe for Karlie’s Kookies, and Kardashian-style kookiness aside, sold the treats at Fashion’s Night Out in NYC. The proceeds went to FEED, benefiting hungry children around the world.
1. Lily Cole
Lily Cole is an English supermodel who is almost as well-known for her outstanding smarts as she is for her cherub face. While she secured an exclusive spot at the prestigious Cambridge university in the UK, within the Social and Political Science department, she had to defer twice. Understandable, when you’re an in-demand young model amidst the contemporary fashion world elite. Eventually switching to Art History, she undertook her studies in 2008. Three years and a lot of hard work and multi-tasking later, she was awarded a Double First. In North American terms that’s like saying she graduated “cum laude,” and refers to the first-class honours she obtained in her field .