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Graduate School Interviews: Tips for Answering Ethical Dilemma Questions

Graduate school interviews can be nerve-wracking, especially when faced with ethical dilemma questions. These questions are designed to assess your critical thinking skills, ethical judgment, and ability to navigate complex situations. It is important to approach these questions with a clear understanding of ethical principles and a thoughtful approach to problem-solving. In this article, we will explore some tips for answering ethical dilemma questions in graduate school interviews.

Understanding Ethical Dilemmas

Before we delve into tips for answering ethical dilemma questions, it is crucial to have a solid understanding of what ethical dilemmas are. Ethical dilemmas are situations where individuals are faced with conflicting moral obligations or choices. These dilemmas often involve difficult decisions where there is no clear right or wrong answer.

For example, imagine you are a medical professional and you have a patient who needs a life-saving medication. However, the medication is extremely expensive, and the patient cannot afford it. Do you prioritize the patient’s health and find a way to provide the medication, or do you follow the hospital’s policy and deny the medication due to cost constraints?

When faced with ethical dilemmas, it is important to consider various ethical frameworks and principles to guide your decision-making process.

Research Ethical Frameworks

One of the key steps in preparing for ethical dilemma questions is to familiarize yourself with different ethical frameworks. Ethical frameworks provide a set of principles or guidelines that can help you analyze and evaluate ethical dilemmas.

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Some common ethical frameworks include:

  • Utilitarianism: This framework focuses on maximizing overall happiness or utility. It suggests that the morally right action is the one that produces the greatest amount of happiness for the greatest number of people.
  • Deontology: Deontological ethics emphasizes the importance of following moral rules and duties. It suggests that certain actions are inherently right or wrong, regardless of their consequences.
  • Virtue Ethics: Virtue ethics focuses on the development of moral character and virtues. It suggests that ethical decisions should be based on personal virtues such as honesty, compassion, and integrity.
  • Principlism: Principlism involves the application of ethical principles such as autonomy, beneficence, non-maleficence, and justice to ethical dilemmas.

By familiarizing yourself with these frameworks, you can develop a well-rounded understanding of ethical principles and apply them effectively when faced with ethical dilemma questions.

Analyze the Situation

When presented with an ethical dilemma question, it is important to take a systematic approach to analyze the situation. This involves breaking down the problem, identifying the key stakeholders, and considering the potential consequences of different actions.

Start by clearly defining the ethical dilemma and the conflicting moral obligations involved. Consider the values and principles at stake and how they might impact the decision-making process.

Next, identify the key stakeholders who may be affected by the decision. Think about their rights, interests, and potential harms that may arise from different courses of action.

Finally, consider the potential consequences of different actions. This includes both the immediate and long-term effects of each option. Think about the potential benefits and harms that may result from each decision.

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By systematically analyzing the situation, you can gain a clearer understanding of the ethical dilemma and make a more informed decision.

Provide a Balanced Response

When answering ethical dilemma questions, it is important to provide a balanced response that considers multiple perspectives. Avoid taking an extreme position or dismissing alternative viewpoints.

Start by acknowledging the complexity of the situation and the conflicting moral obligations involved. Recognize that there may be valid arguments on both sides of the dilemma.

Next, present your own perspective and rationale for your decision. Clearly explain the ethical framework or principles that guided your thinking. Support your argument with relevant examples or research to strengthen your response.

Finally, acknowledge and address potential counterarguments or alternative viewpoints. This demonstrates your ability to consider different perspectives and engage in critical thinking.

Reflect on Personal Growth

After providing your response to an ethical dilemma question, take the opportunity to reflect on your personal growth and learning from the experience. Discuss how the ethical dilemma has shaped your understanding of ethical principles and your approach to decision-making.

Highlight any experiences or situations where you have encountered ethical dilemmas in the past and how you have navigated them. Discuss any lessons learned and how you have applied those lessons to your personal and professional development.

By reflecting on personal growth, you demonstrate self-awareness and a commitment to continuous improvement in ethical decision-making.


Answering ethical dilemma questions in graduate school interviews can be challenging, but with the right preparation and approach, you can navigate these questions effectively. By understanding ethical frameworks, analyzing the situation, providing a balanced response, and reflecting on personal growth, you can demonstrate your ethical reasoning skills and ability to make thoughtful decisions in complex situations.

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Remember, ethical dilemmas do not always have clear-cut answers. What is important is your ability to articulate your reasoning, consider multiple perspectives, and demonstrate a thoughtful and ethical approach to decision-making.

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