For many high schoolers, the college admissions process can feel like a whirlwind. Where should you start? How do you find the school that’s right for you? And that personal essay—what should you even write about? To help demystify the whole thing, NYU created the College Access Leadership Institute (CALI), a tuition-free, week-long summer program where high school juniors and seniors learn about college admissions directly from NYU admissions counselors. In this program, students explore topics like financial aid and standardized testing. They also learn how to craft their own college list and develop their own personal essay. But what is NYU CALI like from a participant’s perspective? Dario Anaya, a current high school senior from Indiana and a 2021 CALI alum, says taking part in the program was one of the best decisions he’s ever made. 

Portrait of Dario Anaya
Granting Access for Underrepresented Youth

At the beginning of his junior year, Dario started exploring different college programs. He’s always had an interest in NYU, so when he heard about NYU CALI, he was excited to apply. It also didn’t hurt that CALI’s mission perfectly aligns with the start-up he cofounded called Pupil.

“Pupil is a free app designed for underrepresented youth, or more generally, any high schooler who’s looking for a mentor,” says Dario. “It’ll match you with a mentor depending on the school you want to attend, the subject you want to study, and the career you’d like to explore. It’s based around the concept of accessible mentorship and college access, so it totally mirrors what CALI does: allowing underrepresented youth to understand how the college process works. That immediately attracted me to the program, and that’s really what prompted me to apply.”

A large group of students on zoom for CALI graduation
Enriching Workshops and Interactive Experiences

Due to COVID-19, Dario participated in NYU CALI virtually this past summer. He attended lectures and workshops on different topics like being LGBTQIA in college, being a person of Latinx descent in college, and being a first-generation college student. He also attended an interactive seminar where he and his peers got to pose as admissions officers. In small teams, they reviewed fake applications to determine which candidates should be admitted into their school.

“It was really exciting to see how different folks picked certain people, and why,” Dario says. “In the end, we all concluded that it’s not always the people with the highest GPAs or the best scores who should be admitted, but rather the people who have genuine passion for what they’re doing and who have a trajectory ahead of them.”

In addition to the enriching curriculum and relatable staff, Dario says his favorite part of the program took place outside the classroom when he and his peers would hop on video calls. “Every night during the program and throughout most of the summer, a majority of our cohort would meet up online,” says Dario. “We’d be up until three or four in the morning talking about politics, sharing jokes, or brainstorming ideas. The time didn’t matter to us. It was the energy that was keeping us up.”

Sharing Knowledge About College Admissions

When students complete the NYU CALI program, they become certified ambassadors who can serve as mentors for their peers and even conduct their own workshops. Dario hasn’t been able to host a full-blown event yet, largely because of COVID, but he has started helping some of his peers create their own college lists and draft their personal essays. When he’s able to host events in-person, Dario hopes to be able to collaborate with the admissions team from NYU.

NYU and Tisch flag hanging outside a building.
A Welcoming Environment for All

If you’re on the fence about applying to NYU CALI, Dario says, “Just take the shot. I was not the ideal candidate, but NYU really looked at what I was working on and the potential I have.”

“CALI was really welcoming for students like me,” he continues. “Plus, it encouraged us to challenge each other. Not in a rude way, but in the sense of bettering ourselves. I think that’s the best thing a program can give to students like me because it’s about college access and that’s all that students from my background could ever use.”

Dario hasn’t finalized his college choice just yet, but wherever he goes, he hopes to study some combination of educational policy, technology, and social impact ventures. One thing he does know for sure: as a CALI alum, he has the skills and resources to find the school of his dreams.