The MBA Ethics Essay


The heart of an ethical dilemma essay is a difficult choice that tests your values and character. The choice can come from your personal or professional life, but you must demonstrate your ability to analyze a difficult situation, present the pros and cons of your options, and explain the principles or values that guided your final decision.

Sample Ethical Essay Questions

Describe a situation in which your ability to perform ethically was challenged. What was the issue, how did you handle it, and what did you learn from it? (Duke)

Describe an ethical dilemma that you faced and how it was resolved. (Kellogg)

When have your values, ethics, or morals been challenged? How has this shaped who you are today? (Wharton)

Choosing the right topic is usually the most difficult aspect of this essay. One way to begin brainstorming is by asking yourself, “In what situations was I most uncomfortable or distressed?” Your answers should hopefully lead you to experiences that demanded you choose among two or more options, none of them ideal. Some situations will require you to choose the “right,” more difficult path despite the temptations of taking the “wrong,” easier path (e.g., giving a bribe to win a sales contract), i.e., long-term benefit vs. short-term expediency, respectively. Other situations will require you to choose between options with no clear right or wrong solution (e.g., laying off workers to sustain a company).

Consider the following structure:

Background – a brief but focused explanation of the situation, built around the details that illustrate the difficulty and importance of the choice you will face.

Progress – the sequence of events and your role in them that led to the difficult choice.

Choice(s) – the detailed pros and cons of each option; the more nuances of each choice that you can explain, the stronger you can demonstrate your ethical decision-making skills.

Results – to make a strong statement about your values, you should explain what you decided and how you reached your decision. You may also want to include the reactions of others involved to show either the positive influence your decision had or, in the case of a negative reaction, your ongoing commitment to your values.

Lessons – Why was this experience valuable? What did you learn? How has it impacted you as a person and/or as a business leader? Can you make a broader statement about the role of ethics in your decision making process?