Welcome to the 2016-17 ACA Graduate Student Ethics Competition


Registration for the Competition is now closed.
To see the results of the 2016-2017 Competition and previous winners, click here.

On behalf of the ACA Ethics Committee, we would like to thank you for your interest in the ACA Graduate Student Ethics Competition! The purpose of the competition is to educate members of the association regarding ethical issues and to engage graduate students (masters and doctoral level) in critically analyzing a potential ethical case and creating an appropriate ethical decision making plan to respond to the ethical situation. The names and institutions of the winning masters and doctoral teams, along with links to each team project, will be published in Counseling Today.

NOTE: As part of the competition, students must use an ethical decision-making model “that has been discussed in the professional literature.” While teams are encouraged to consider a variety of models and choose the one they feel helps them best resolve the scenario, ACA is happy to announce that a 2016 version of “Practitioner’s Guide to Ethical Decision Making” by Holly Forester-Miller, Ph.D. and Thomas E. Davis, Ph.D. is now available with a bonus corresponding infographic. Click here to explore.

If you have any questions, please e-mail ethicscomp@counseling.org.


The purpose of the ACA Graduate Student Ethics Case Study Competition is to support the ACA Ethics Committee charge of helping educate the members of the association regarding ethical issues. The case study competition serves as an opportunity to engage graduate students (masters and doctoral level) in critically analyzing a potential ethical case and creating an appropriate ethical decision making plan to respond to the ethical situation.

Competition Structure and Rules

The members of the ethics committee will create two mock ethical scenarios, one for the master's students and one for doctoral students, addressing a current ethical issue facing the profession of counseling.


  1. Each Counselor Education Program will be allowed to have one team of Master's level students and one team of Doctoral level students enter to compete.
  2. Only one team of Master's students may apply from each counselor education program, even if the master's program has more than one specialty area.
  3. Only one team of doctoral students may apply from each counselor education program.
  4. Masters and doctoral student teams will be judged . Teams must not be mixed level.
  5. Counselor education programs with separate and distinct campuses may have a Master's level team representing each campus.


  6. Each team must have a faculty member who will serve as an administrative contact person for the counselor education program.
  7. The faculty must be an ACA Member in good standing.
  8. The role of the faculty contact person is one of a representative of the team's counseling/education program only and should not act as a consultant in this competition.
  9. The faculty member's email address must be their own, not that of a student.


  10. Teams must either have the minimum 3 or maximum 4 students.
  11. Each team member must be currently enrolled, in good standing, in a Master's or Doctoral level program in Counselor Education and must be enrolled for the Fall 2016 term for a minimum of three credits.
  12. Each team member must be a member of the American Counseling Association (team members may submit membership applications online when they submit their competition registration form).
  13. Incomplete registrations will not be accepted. All students and the faculty member must provide membership numbers at the time of registration.
  14. When a team has properly registered, the appropriate level scenario and submission instructions will be emailed to the identified faculty member within 3 business days.


  15. Teams should utilize the 2014 Code of Ethics of the American Counseling Association and information from relevant counseling literature for their case study response.
  16. Utilization of outside sources, URLs, and articles are encouraged in the completion of the case study, but the graduate student team members may not consult with anyone outside of their 3 to 4 member case study team, including their faculty contact or other members of their faculty.


  17. Submission instructions will be sent to the identified faculty member.
  18. All submissions should be sent in Word, PDF, or text format.
  19. Documents submitted should be named for the school and level. For example, a masters team from ACA State University could submit a document named "ACA State U - Masters.docx". If we can not determine from the document itself which school submitted it, the submission will be invalid. In order to ensure a blind review of submissions, essays should not contain any information that refers to the teams' university affiliations - headers, footers, location descriptions, etc. The submissions will be assigned a numerical code to ensure anonymity prior to evaluation and scoring by the members of the Ethics Committee.
  20. By submitting a case study response, teams agree to allow their names to be posted online, to appear in Counseling Today, and for their responses to be posted online.

Scoring Criteria

All essays are scored based on the following criteria. Final scores are determined by an average of multiple reviewers.

  • (20 points) Identification of the Dilemma: The team clearly identified the ethical dilemma(s) including conflicting factors, dimensions, and variables included in the professional quandary. The dilemma was described in relationship to ethical standards, laws, and professional ideas or aspirations.
  • (20 points) Proposed Ethical Action: The team proposed action it would take including having:
    (a) clearly articulated professional interventions
    (b) persuasive justification for proposed action
    (c) a description of the professionally recognized decision-making model or process used to arrive at decisions.
  • (20 points) Use of ACA Code of Ethics: The team cited appropriate sections of the ACA Code of Ethics (2014) and, if appropriate, other ethical guidelines considered in rendering their arguments.  In addition, the team provided a clear rationale regarding selected sections of the 2014 ACA Code of Ethics and any other ethical guidelines cited.
  • (20 points) Use of the Proposed Model:  The steps of the group's decision-making model were clearly followed and skillfully applied to the case.
  • (20 points) Overall: A thorough yet concise paper addressing details of the case and:
    (a) the case study included proper citation of sources throughout the paper and in the reference list
    (b) paper was well organized and written, and information was presented clearly and concisely
    (c) the paper cited the appropriate scholarly literature relevant to solving the ethical dilemma. 

Case Scenarios

To maintain the integrity and academic rigor of the competition, the case scenarios will be emailed directly to the faculty members of the teams upon completed registration.

Student teams are to present their responses to the case study in a brief paper (maximum of 15 pages of content) addressing the details of the case; as a reminder, the essay should in no way refer to the university affiliation of the team.

Teams are to clearly identify:

  1. what they believe the dilemma to be
  2. the proposed action they would take in this case (what team members believe are the most ethical actions)
  3. the justification for their proposed action(s)
  4. and a description of the decision-making model used to arrive at that decision

The decision-making model should be one that has been discussed in the professional literature and team members are to offer a rationale regarding why they chose to apply that model to the case study. Teams should cite appropriate literature and must give proper credit to the authors of any decision-making models used to analyze the case. Team members are to cite any sections of the 2014 ACA Code of Ethics (and may include other ethical guidelines) that they considered.

Role of the ACA Ethics Committee

In addition to creating one case study for master's-level teams and one case study for doctoral-level teams, ACA Ethics Committee members will serve as judges for the competition.

Ethics Committee members may not serve as the faculty contact for teams from their institutions. Furthermore, should an Ethics Committee member be associated with an institution that registers a student team for the competition, that Ethics Committee member will recuse herself or himself from judging that particular project.


Prizes recognizing the top three master's teams and top three doctoral teams will be presented to the winners during the awards ceremony. In addition, one master's team and one doctoral team will receive an honorable mention. The names and institutions of the winning master's and doctoral teams will be published in Counseling Today and posted online. In addition, the winning responses will be posted online and submitted to VISTAS for consideration of publication.

  • First place: Each team member will receive a $100 gift certificate to the ACA Bookstore and a certificate. Each member will also receive a letter of recognition.
  • Second place: Each team member will receive a $75 gift certificate to the ACA Bookstore and a certificate. Each member will also receive a letter of recognition.
  • Third place: Each team member will receive a $50 gift certificate to the ACA Bookstore and a certificate. Each member will also receive a letter of recognition.
  • Honorable Mention: each team member will receive a letter of recognition and a certificate.

In addition, all members of winning teams will be invited to attend the ACA Annual Conference & Expo to receive recognition at the National Awards Ceremony.

Competition Timeline

Registration Opens: 10/24/2016
Registration Closes: 11/28/2016
Case Submission Deadline: 12/12/2016
Winners Notified: on or before 1/31/2017

All deadlines occur at 11:59 pm Eastern time on the date specified.

Case scenarios will be emailed to teams upon completed registration. Teams with incomplete/partial registrations will not receive scenarios until registrations are completed.

More Information

If you have any questions about the competition, please contact ethicscomp@counseling.org.

Additional Code of Ethics Resources

Click here to learn more about our comprehensive six-part webinar covering various components of the 2014 Code; relevant Counseling Today articles; a FREE podcast; books (ACA Ethical Standards Casebook and more); and Ethics Consults. 

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