Although accepted at Yale University, Dawkins chose instead to attend the United States Military Academy at West Point. He won high honors, serving as Brigade Commander, President of his Class, Captain of the football team, and a "Star Man" in the top 5% of his class academically. A cadet is considered outstanding if he attains even one of these positions. Dawkins was the only cadet in history to hold all four at once. The young man was featured in Life Magazine and Reader's Digest. Even before his graduation, many predicted the bright young man would make General and perhaps even be Army Chief of Staff. Dawkins was selected for the Heisman Trophy as a halfback for Army in 1958, as well as being named Outstanding College Football Player in the nation, and an All American under coach Earl Blaik.
Dawkins was named a Rhodes Scholar, and in 1959 began his studies at Oxford University reading for a degree in Philosophy, Politics and Economics (PPE). He later earned a Ph.D. and MPA from Princeton.
Dawkins served as a U.S. Army officer, holding commands in the 82nd and 101st Airborne Divisions. Dawkins retired with the rank of Brigadier General. Following his retirement from the Army, Dawkins took up a position as a partner in the Wall Street firm Lehman Brothers, later becoming vice-chairman of Bain and Company. In 1991, he moved on to become chairman and CEO of Primerica Financial Services, Inc..