Building a Scholarship With Impact: Behind the Dream Award

Resources Our Blog

From thought leadership to incredible stories of student success, this is where you can get informed or get inspired about scholarships and the educational journey.

Building a Scholarship With Impact: Behind the Dream Award

By Matt Konrad

In 2013, Scholarship America developed the kind of partnership all nonprofits dream of: journalist Katie Couric, inspired by our story and our founder, pledged to donate the profits from her first book to our organization, which lead to the origin of the Dream Award, a scholarship with impact.

We immediately knew we wanted to use Couric’s gift to endow a new type of scholarship program—one that could make a real impact on a population of students pursuing higher education that weren’t getting the help they needed. One that we could hold as an example of scholarship management best practices.

We researched school statistics and census data and consulted with our experienced program designers to identify a population in need: students who’d overcome adversity to get into college, but whose financial aid and scholarship awards were only enough to help them pay for their freshman year.

These students, despite being talented and determined, were at risk of dropping out before graduation, saddled with student loan debt and no degree. Pell Grants, the most generous federal aid for low-income students, only cover about ¼ of the average cost of college—making low-income and first-generation students four times more likely to drop out.

We established the Scholarship America Dream Award to directly address and prevent this from happening. Download our new Dream Award Case Study to learn in detail how we did it, or read on for an overview.

Why The Dream Award is Different

Our goal with the Dream Award is to allow students to focus on school, complete their undergraduate education and be prepared for the next step in their journey — no matter what it is.

To do so, we focused on a few major innovations:

  • Increasing Access to Increase Impact: we ensured that the eligibility guidelines were clear, concise and wide-ranging.
  • Financial Support that Follows the Student: the Dream Award is not only a renewable scholarship, but it grows by $1,000 each year to reflect the annually increasing cost of college attendance.
  • Support Beyond the Scholarship: Dream Award Scholars get to connect with each other and with supporters and business leaders at our annual Dreams to Success Celebration in Washington, D.C. (which was held virtually in 2020, with special guests and videos from the newest Scholars.) As one Scholar said: “The DC event made me feel empowered and that I deserved the scholarship. Networking with other winners … also provided perspective on who the people are that believe in us: the donors and the Scholarship America employees.”

Big Dreams, Bright Futures

After five years, Dream Award Scholars are graduating with various degrees in many different fields of study. They’re following their passions such as science, language, social justice, entrepreneurship or public service.

And they’re continuing their education: half of all recipients have said they’re able to pursue a graduate or advanced degree thanks to the Dream Award. They’ve been able to take advantage of new opportunities to study and live abroad, to inspire younger family members and to give back to their communities—one Dream Award Scholar is even working as a teacher in the elementary school where she grew up.

By providing needed support to students who are poised to do great things, the Scholarship America Dream Award is built to make a real impact.

Download our Dream Award Case Study to learn more details about how the Dream Award works, and what it can do for students.

Ready to make an impact of your own? Get in touch, and let our expert guidance help you as you help more college students become college graduates.