Guidelines and Samples

Questions SHOULD:

  • Require thoughtful answers.
  • Be universally relevant.
  • Reveal values, character and the quality of the writer’s thinking.

Questions SHOULD NOT:

  • Require the writer to set or reveal institutional policy.
  • Ask for information easily obtainable elsewhere.

Questions MAY:

  • Be either short or long. Graduate school admissions tests often require you to read a few paragraphs of information before answering. We should expect no less of college leaders.
  • Contain multiple parts while focusing on a single topic.
  • Pose moral or ethical dilemmas.
  • Be based on hypothetical, real, or fictional events.

All questions will have the following two questions appended to them:

  • If you choose not to answer this question, please explain why.
  • If you feel this question is inappropriate and should not be asked of any college presidents, even those who choose to answer, please explain why.

Rules we authors to follow:

  • We want your original work.
  • You may delegate research and editing, but your thoughts and your words should be your own.
  • Cite sources and credit all those who help you.
  • If you choose not to follow these rules, please tell us why.


POOR QUESTION: What percentage of your graduates (by major) land jobs in their chosen fields?

(While this is a fine question that might be addressed to a college career office, the answer does not reveal the character of the person responding.)

STRONGER QUESTION: Argue both sides of this statement: “Colleges should be required to publish employment statistics for their graduates.” Then tell us which side you are on.

(Nobody should have an excuse for not answering this question, and it does not require the writer to set policy or commit his/her own institution to any particular course of action. It should reveal the quality of the writer’s analytical abilities and it opens the door for a discussion of ethics.)

VERY STRONG QUESTION: A good friend of yours heads the Career Center at a teacher’s college. She has just sent an e-mail: “Last week I wrote to our President to inform him that for three years not one of the graduates from one of our departments has landed a job and none of them will for the foreseeable future, not because our training is faulty but because of demographics and the predictable lack of demand. I told him that I felt a moral obligation to disclose this information so that students can choose to change majors if getting a job is their goal. He responded, ‘Stop collecting this information and do not tell anyone because if the students leave then what will I do with the department. This is an order and I will not discuss it further.’”

“It was then that I realized the students are here for us; we are not here for them. I have had trouble sleeping and today I visited a psychiatrist hoping for a prescription. After hearing my story, he said, ‘You do not have a psychiatric problem, you have an ethics problem. I do not want to give you a pill to put your conscience to sleep.’ I think he is right.”

“As my best friend and highest moral authority, please tell me: 1) What are my options? 2) If you were me, what would you do?”

How would you respond to your friend?

(The respondent is asked to think through the problem for someone else, and then give advice as if the other person. Relieved of responsibility as policy setter at his/her own institution, the writer is free to address the ethical and moral issues at the heart of the question. However, this question is very provocative and might be avoided because the advice authors would want to give and their own behavior might be at odds.)

You can suggest your own questions here.


If you have suggestions on how we can improve these guidelines or examples please comment below.

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