The perceived importance and the prevalence of academic development programs worldwide mean that it is critical that characteristics essential for the success of such programs be identified and incorporated. This article recognises the manifold perspectives on identifying such characteristics, but argues that if it is desirable that an academic development program has ethical outcomes, then an ethical perspective is an appropriate starting point. From the basis of ethical principles, two vital characteristics of academic development programs are identified - vision and choice. In this paper, contemporary conceptualisations of academic development programs are considered first, then characteristics consistent with ethical principles are identified and amplified. The paper concludes with a description of an existing graduate certificate in higher education, and its graduates' outcomes as an example.