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Everything Yara Shahidi knew about college, she learned from her role on Grown-ish

Well, sort of. The 21-year-old Harvard University senior has been on a nearly-parallel collegiate path as her character Zoey Johnson these past four seasons. But she actually started “attending” Cal U prior to hitting the halls of Harvard.  

Grown-ish was my first touchpoint with college life before I was sent off,” Shahidi revealed. “But I really think art started imitating life even more closely in these [more recent] seasons. As much as I’ve grown up and I’ve been balancing a career with school, college is kind of a fake adulthood, and I’m peering over into what real life looks like with no summer breaks.” 

“I feel like a lot of these storylines about Zoey, trying to figure out what’s next, has been so resonant, especially now that we’re both seniors.”

GROWN-ISH – “It Was Good Until It Wasn’t” – The gang deals with the fallout of the explosive events that took place at the luau. This episode of “grown-ish” airs Thursday, January 27 at 10:00 p.m. ET/PT on Freeform. (Freeform/Tiffany Roohani) YARA SHAHIDI

As a senior, Shahidi is stepping into a relative unknown, much like her character. What lies after graduation, in her roaring 20’s remains to be seen, but the actress and soon-to-be-producer is optimistic about the road before her. 

“I mean, it’s definitely nerve-wracking at times,” she said of stepping off campus and into the real world. “I think what drives both me and Zoey in a way that I’m proud of is that we do have things that we’re passionate about. For Zoey, it’s always been fashion. And so as much as she may be all over the place, that has been such a guiding force in her life that has helped dictate what decisions are important to her.”

“I have faith that she’ll land somewhere she’s supposed to be. And similarly, I hope the same faith applies to me knowing that I love what I’m doing now and love just the television production space. That is my guiding light as I step out of college.”

Zoey’s all-over-the-place energy has made her matriculation at Cal U a pretty chaotic ride, to say the least.  She’s ended up fumbling opportunities, suffering multiple relationship hiccups, landing on academic probation, getting financially cut off by her parents, dropping out of school altogether, and drunkenly getting married at a Mexican chapel. 

GROWN-ISH – Freeform’s “grown-ish” stars Yara Shahidi as Zoey Johnson. (Freeform/Jabari Jacobs)

“Zoey gave me a great roadmap of what not to do,” Shahidi laughed.

Many of Zoey’s big decisions have been heavily driven by her flitting romantic interests. Whether it was Cash, Luca, or Aaron, Zoey’s education and even career has often been hinged on where her affections currently lie.

Shahidi agrees that Zoey’s education, career, and love life have been “a little too intertwined” over the course of the last four seasons. Now, with graduation on the horizon, trailers for the second half of season 4 show us that she has some pretty big decisions ahead of her that bring all three of these aspects of her life together. She can either go to New York and launch her fashion line with her ex-boyfriend Luca (Luka Sabbat) or journey to South Africa for a fresh start and an enriching experience with her on-again, off-again boyfriend Aaron (Trevor Jackson).

Fans are naturally hedging their bets on which direction our protagonist should go. But for Shahidi, her personal pick on #TeamAaron vs. #TeamLuca isn’t quite so clear. 

GROWN-ISH – “You Beat Me to the Punch” – Zoey accepts Luca’s help securing a new internship, making Aaron uncomfortable. The season finale of “grown-ish” airs Thursday, September 2 at 8:00 p.m. ET/PT on Freeform. (Tiffany Roohani/Freeform via Getty Images) TREVOR JACKSON

“I’ve really enjoyed watching Zoey and Aaron in a relationship. Because as much as they’ve had this on again off again, tension, they’ve literally never dated,” she explained. With the two finally having a chance to explore what consistent commitment to one another actually looks and feels like, “I think that’s allowed them to grow in interesting ways and created really fascinating season arcs.” 

On the other hand, there’s Luca. 

“I feel like that bond, is so different. It is about this shared passion of fashion and how exciting it is to have that as a commonality with somebody that you care deeply about. So, it’s really hard to say,” she said. “I’ve just thoroughly enjoyed how this season is kind of teased out both relationships as they’ve evolved.”

See what choice Zoey ultimately makes in the second half of Grown-ish season 4, premiering on Freeform on January 27.

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