By Monica Rizzo
December 03, 2012 12:00 PM

She’s been acting since she was 3, but sometimes Miranda Cosgrove still forgets that the real world isn’t quite like show business. Take, for example, her first semester this fall at the University of Southern California. “I thought it would be more like Reese Witherspoon in Legally Blonde,” the star of Nickelodeon’s blockbuster show iCarly admits with a giggle. “I imagined people in high heels walking around campus, but everybody dresses comfortably. I don’t wear any makeup, and I just try to make it to classes on time just like everyone else.”

She wouldn’t have it any other way. While fellow members of Disney and Nickelodeon royalty like Amanda Bynes and Demi Lovato have publicly struggled with teen stardom, Cosgrove-who ends her six-season run on iCarly with the show’s final episode Nov. 23-is reveling in the small pleasures of life as a college freshman. “A big part of why I wanted to go to college is to meet people and make friends,” says the 19-year-old, admitting that stepping away from her hit show wasn’t easy. “I don’t know if I was ready for the show to end. But ever since I was little, my parents told me school was important. My dad always says, ‘You can still act later.'”

After all, she already has 16 years of work under her belt. Cosgrove was discovered at an L.A. restaurant and acted in a string of commercials before her big break in the 2003 Jack Black film School of Rock. In 2006 she landed her signature role: iCarly‘s teen Internet sensation Carly Shay. The show drew more than 12 million viewers at its peak. “It changed my life,” she says.

Yet despite international fame and an estimated $180,000-per-episode paycheck, Cosgrove avoided the usual teen star pitfalls of growing up too fast. She credits her parents, Tom, who owns a dry cleaning business, and mom Chris, a homemaker, who insisted their only child live as normal a life as possible by raising her in an L.A. suburb an hour away from Hollywood. “It was far enough away that it was my own world. I was never into going to events. I preferred to stay home and hang out with my friends,” says Cosgrove, who moved into her own three-bedroom, 2,900-sq.-ft. L.A. home in October.

She’s trying to keep her love life grounded as well. “It’s hard!” the single Cosgrove squeals. “Everybody in L.A. wants to be an actor. I just wish I could meet somebody who doesn’t act or sing.” It’s a description that might one day apply to Cosgrove herself. While acting remains her passion, “that’s what college is all about,” she says, “figuring out what you want to do next.”