The teen actress, who plays Zoey Johnson on the ABC series, has her sights set on a prestigious four-year university (one of her top picks is Harvard), but is “planning on deferring at least a year,” she tells PEOPLE.
“I know when Malia Obama announced [she was deferring], she got a lot of slack, but I feel like what’s interesting is I know so many people that are deferring. It’s more than to just roam around or just sit down and stare at a wall, but it will also give me an opportunity to work,” Shahidi says. “I’ve been working more than half of my life and that’s always been balanced with school and all of the other responsibilities, so to have a year to focus on work and to focus on specified interests will be nice before I pick a career and choose what I want to study and my life path.”
Shahidi also tells PEOPLE that she recently took the ACT exam and is “getting ready to go to college,” which includes “reaching out for recommendation letters [and] all of that jazz.”
“I definitely want to go further my education and I think the reason is because I want to study something specific. I want to study sociology. I don’t know what in sociology yet, but I want to study sociology and I feel like college would be the perfect opportunity to really dive into all of these random subjects that I’m curious about and really learn more things,” Shahidi states.
Although Shahidi films Black-ish in Los Angeles, she is open to attending a university on either coast: “I’m applying to a variety of colleges on the east coast — I’ll be applying to Harvard … and I’ll be applying to West Coast schools as well.”
Despite being one of the major characters on the ABC show, Shahidi is not allowing her commitment to Black-ish to hold her back from eventually being on a university campus. In fact, she counts creator Kenya Barris as one of her top supporters.
“I think no matter what, I know that I want to go to college. I know that I’m going to defer a year and I’m willing to have a more unorthodox college experience, but at a certain point I want to be on a campus,” she continued. “I don’t know what that means for me at this moment, but I know that the creator of the show supports me and everybody on the show again supports how adamant I am about my education.”
As for what the ABC starlet aspires to be, she lists both Solange Knowles and her TV mom Tracee Ellis Ross as two life role models — for differing reasons.
“There’s so many different people for different reasons. I think when it comes to fashion and just her aura, I like Solange. And then also Tracee is such a great example. She went to Brown, she got her honorary doctorate from Brown, what what,” Shahidi says. “There are so many people, who have found ways to balance school, life, career — all of it. And what I realized is that even with college, my wonder and desire to study sociology stems from the same desire I have to be an actor just in the understanding of humans and I realize that’s what I’m fascinated in — understanding humans.”
And while most teenagers her age may be interested in the dating scene, Yashidi says she doesn’t have time for that at the moment.
“For me, honestly, I know I’m 16 and yes, half the people I know are dating somebody else, but I need time for myself. I’m just now finding the work-life balance, so no intention of dating right now. I need to finish senior year, I need to finish the season, I need to take a bath and a nap,” she says. “What’s cool is that being on a show and kind of welcomed into this ABC Disney family, which is nice just because I now have homies. And I have homies that I can count on and trust and text because they know exactly what I’m going through no matter what it is.”
Black-ish airs Wednesdays at 9:30 p.m. ET on ABC.