The actress shot to fame portraying Gabriella Montez in the Disney trilogy but by the time she'd finished the third installment she was ready to ditch her squeaky clean alter-ego.
Speaking in an interview with Untitled magazine, she said: "For a while I was kind of struggling and fighting for these roles that I just desperately wanted. It was hard and it was a struggle, but then again life is always a struggle.
"Having a career will always be a struggle. You'll always have to fight for what you want. Definitely crossing over and being able to tackle these grittier parts was a challenge, but I feel like I've done it! It's a whole new chapter!"
Although she wanted a new challenge, Vanessa - who dated her 'High School Musical' co-star Zac Efron until December 2010 - insists making the children's films was an "incredible" experience for which she will always be grateful for.
One of her upcoming films, 'Spring Breakers', sees Vanessa in a contrasting role as college student Candy, who is forced into working for a drug dealer after he bails her and four friends out of jail for robbing a restaurant.
She said: "I'm really proud of the movie. I feel like it's a breed of its own, it's a movie unlike any other and it's very fresh and fun and exciting.
"I feel like it's a great take on our youth culture right now."
She can also be seen opposite Nicolas Cage in thriller 'The Frozen Ground' released in November, which is based on the real 1980s Alaskan hunt for serial killer Robert Hansen, who is played by John Cusack in the movie.