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PSYCH: Mr. Shavalian published a research paper as a Psychology student at Yeshiva University. BP photo by Zoey Botnick

New College Counselor plans to advise from personal experience


Raised in a traditional Persian family in Los Angeles, new college counselor and SAS Psychology teacher Mr. Eli Shavalian took matters into his own hands when it came to heading for college himself.

“When I was applying to college my parents had no idea what was going on,” said Mr. Shavalian, who calls himself a “first-generation college student” since his parents had not gone.

“I was going to be like every other Persian kid, go to Santa Monica College and then go to UCLA and become a doctor and do what my parents wanted me to do,” he said.

But he wanted something else — he wanted to learn more about Judaism, and he wanted to go to Yeshiva University. He didn’t tell his parents until he was accepted.

“I don’t recommend doing this at all, but I didn’t send my SAT scores to the UC’s — to make sure that I had to go to Yeshiva University,” he said in an interview. “I kind of sabotaged myself…

“I wanted to go somewhere where I could learn more about Judaism, and know why I do what I do instead of just doing it because I was told to in Judaism.”

He said he hated his first semester at YU but ended up loving it, getting involved in many extra-curriculars and in the university in general and eventually deciding to major in Psychology.  After graduating, he conducted research and co-authored a paper which studied undergraduate students’ prospective memory.

His experiment presented a short film to two groups of students, prompting them to raise their hand whenever they heard the word “gun” in the film. One group was shown the movie in order, while the other was shown the full movie split into different clips. He said the results of the experiment proved the difficulty of multi-tasking, especially when people are immersed in a certain task.

“You can take that information when you’re engrossed in a book or crossing the street listening to music,” Mr. Shavalian said. “When your mind is distracted by other things, you forget those prospective memory tasks more often.”

Despite his family’s minimal experience with colleges, Mr. Shavalian has ended up building his career around them, at least so far.  After graduating from YU, he worked in undergraduate admissions at both his alma mater and the University of Southern California for about two years each, before being hired as a full time college counselor and SAS Psychology teacher at Shalhevet.

He went to Palisades High School, where the college application process was vastly different from what it is at Shalhevet, he said.

“There were a few [counselors] that were full time, but it wasn’t hands on — it was kind of just figure it out on your own.” Mr. Shavalian said. “It wasn’t constant check-ins and seeing you in the halls and seeing how you’re doing and making those relationships that are so special here.”

He said the most important part of his job as incoming college counselor will be to ensure students’ mental well-being.

“One of the biggest things I’m gonna have to focus on is working with students to work on that anxiety and pressure to be perfect, to get that 1600 or that 36 which is not necessary,” he said. “If you don’t get it, it’s not a reflection on your abilities and skills and your worth in the world.”

Since it’s is first time working on the high school side of the college process, Mr.Shavalian expects to work closely with Dean of Academic Instruction and former head college counselor Ms. Aviva Walls.

“I would say don’t be a stranger, and don’t be afraid to ask literally any questions,” Mr. Shavalian said. “Aviva and I are here because we want to get to know you.”

He said he spent much of the summer reading through questionnaires the seniors filled out last spring, and now he’s looking forward to putting faces to the names. He understands that he doesn’t have as much experience as Ms. Walls does.

“The students who are nervous about that, all the more reason for them to come see me,” he said.

In his free time, he said he enjoys riding his bike and hiking, as well as discussing Harry Potter and the “logistics of the wizarding world.”

Mr. Shavalian is also currently a part time student at USC, and will take classes there twice a week to earn a masters in Public Administration. He said he hopes to work in higher education.



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New College Counselor plans to advise from personal experience