Blog

Monday Morning Essay Tip: Answering the Ethical Dilemma Essay Question

dilemma: An argument presenting two or more equally conclusive alternatives against an opponent (according to Merriam-Webster)

Over the years, we have discovered that the essay question many candidates find particularly challenging is the “ethical dilemma” question. Although most applicants clearly understand the difference between what is and is not ethical, the problem usually lies in the word “dilemma.” As you can tell from the definition provided at the beginning of this post, a dilemma occurs when two “equally conclusive” sides exist simultaneously—emphasis on “equally.” Here we offer two examples of responses to an “ethical dilemma” essay question. The first presents only one reasonable side, while the second offers two.

Example 1: “While I was working at ABC firm, my boss asked me to book our second quarter revenue in advance so that we could create the appearance of a great first quarter. I firmly told him that this was unethical and refused.”

In this example, the candidate is asked to do something that is clearly unethical. However, because the argument really involves only one reasonable choice—the reader would not want to hear the story if the applicant had agreed to book revenue ahead of schedule—no ethical dilemma actually exists in this case.

Example 2: “As the marketing manager for a small pharmaceutical company, I had to set the price for our breakthrough drug. I needed to consider that on the one hand, a rock-bottom price would mean that our life-saving drug would be available to all, but on the other hand, even though a high price would serve a smaller market, it would make the drug far more profitable and would ensure that we could continue to conduct valuable research into additional life-saving compounds.”

In this second example, the candidate outlines a true dilemma. This applicant could be entirely comfortable telling the reader that he/she pursued either of the pricing strategies, as long as the applicant walks the reader through his/her rationale.

A good test to determine whether the experience you are considering discussing in your essay involves a true dilemma is fairly simple. Ask yourself, “Could I comfortably discuss the alternative to the path I chose?” If the answer is “yes,” you are clearly on the right track. If the answer is “no,” try again.



onTrack by mbaMission

A first-of-its-kind, on-demand MBA application experience that delivers a personalized curriculum for you and leverages interactive tools to guide you through the entire MBA application process.

Get Started!


Upcoming Events


Upcoming Deadlines

  • Cambridge Judge (Round 1)
  • HBS (Round 1)
  • INSEAD (August Intake)
  • Yale SOM (Round 1)
  • Berkeley Haas (Round 1)

Click here to see the complete deadlines


2024–2025 MBA Essay Tips

Click here for the 2023–2024 MBA Essay Tips


MBA Program Updates

Explore onTrack — mbaMission’s newest offering allowing you to learn at your own pace through video. Learn more