Shailene Woodley was born in Simi Valley, California. Her mother, Lori, is a middle school counselor and her father, Lonnie Woodley, is a school principal. She has a younger brother, Tanner.

When Shailene was four years old she began commercial modeling. She began her acting career at the age of five, when an agent recognized her potential and signed her on the spot. Her first major acting gig came in 1999 when she booked a role in Replacing Dad. She appeared in small television roles on Without a Trace and The District during 2002. She was nominated for a Young Artist Award in the Best Performance in a TV Movie, Miniseries or Special—Leading Young Actress category for her role in A Place Called Home as California Ford.

Shailene also had a recurring role in the FOX teen-drama The O.C, in which she played Kaitlin Cooper, appearing in six episodes throughout the first season (2003-2004). In 2005, she appeared as Felicity Merriman in Felicity: An American Girl Adventure, for which she received another Young Artists Award nomination in the Best Performance in a TV Movie, Miniseries or Special (Comedy or Drama) category. This was one of two TV specials that Shailene appeared in with John Schneider.

She has also appeared on shows such as Crossing Jordan, Everybody Loves Raymond, My Name is Earl, CSI: NY, Cold Case, and Close to Home in both guest and recurring roles. In 2008, Shailene was cast in the ABC Family series The Secret Life of the American Teenager as Amy Juergens, a 15 year old who discovers she is pregnant. The show explores the effects of her pregnancy on her family, friends and herself as well as life at Ulysses S. Grant High School in California. Her work as Amy earned critical acclaim from several noted critics, including LA Times critic Robert Lloyd who said of her performance, “Woodley stands out and is appealing as a kid in over her head.” Entertainment Weekly named her as a Breakthrough of 2008 in their annual year-end issue after their TV critic, Ken Tucker, raved about her performance when the show premiered that year.

2011 marked Shailene’s big screen breakthrough role in Alexander Payne’s The Descendants opposite George Clooney. Her performance in the role of Alexandra King brought universal critical acclaim and she was nominated for a flurry of prestigious awards. In 2012 she was nominated for a Golden Globe in the Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role in a Motion Picture category but lost out to Jessica Lange. Another notable nomination came at the Screen Actors Guild Awards. In February 2012 she won her biggest acting accolade to date at the Independent Spirit Awards, taking home the award for Best Supporting Female.