Born in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, Dan-el Padilla Peralta came to the US with his family at the age of four. He grew up undocumented in New York City, and his family was housing-insecure for much of his childhood. With the support of a mentor, Dan-el received a scholarship to attend the Collegiate School for middle and high school and he later applied and was accepted to Princeton as a member of the class of 2006. At Princeton, Dan-el concentrated in Classics with a certificate in the Woodrow Wilson School. He was a member of the Acción Latina Board; a mentor for the Black Student Union; and an Academic Peer Adviser for Rocky. He received the Freshman First Honor Prize and the Shapiro Prize for Academic Excellence; he was elected to Phi Beta Kappa and selected as the Latin Salutatorian.
During his senior year, Dan-el also received the Daniel M. Sachs Class of 1960 Graduating Scholarship, which funded two years of graduate study at Oxford. After earning a M.Phil. in Greek and Roman History at Oxford, he pursued doctoral studies in Classics at Stanford, leading to a PhD in 2014. He was a postdoctoral fellow and Lecturer in Classics at Columbia University from 2014 to 2016 before returning to Princeton as an Assistant Professor in Classics. In the spring of 2019, Dan-el was tenured as an Associate Professor.