Narketta Sparkman

Students should make an effort to understand their own learning styles and organize their work accordingly.


Capella University


Master of Arts in Liberal Studies, University of Michigan (2004); Bachelor of Arts in Sociology, Madonna University (2001)


PhD in Social and Community Services


Why did you decide to attend Capella University to get your PhD in social and community services?

I decided to attend Capella University for my PhD in social and community services because the online format fits my needs. I can schedule my coursework for the times when I am able to focus on it exclusively. I also respect the instructors at Capella, who have excellent backgrounds in research and education. I think that studying under them improves the quality of my education and my career prospects.

What are your school’s biggest strengths?

Capella’s biggest strengths are its faculty and resources. Not only do the faculty hold advanced degrees and have real experience in their fields, but students can also pull from countless online resources, such as libraries and career calculators. In my experience, this combination of teaching and tools empowers students to learn in ways that best suit their learning styles.

I also appreciate the level of service I receive at Capella. I have never had difficulty contacting an academic advisor, a financial aid representative or an instructor at any point in my educational process with Capella.

However, Capella does have 1 notable weakness. Its colloquia, or the residency weeks for its grad programs, lack organization. The events provide a lot of resources, but accessing those resources can be difficult or unpredictable. For example, poor planning and bad weather at a recent colloquium required a last-minute change in the faculty who were scheduled to speak. As a result, students who attended the colloquium to hear a particular faculty member’s lecture were out of luck.

Do you view Capella University as a community?

Yes, I view Capella University as a community. Even though students and instructors do not generally have face-to-face interaction, they still communicate and share information daily. Students who live nearby each other may even schedule group meet-ups.

That sort of community, along with Capella University’s rigorous academic standards, have contributed to my school pride. I feel as proud of Capella University as I do of my previous schools. I encourage people to attend and find out for themselves the quality of the education and warmth of the community.

Does Capella University have brick-and-mortar campuses?

No, Capella University does not have any physical campuses. However, during colloquia, they set up small, temporary campuses with booths for many of the university services, like financial aid.


How are you paying for college?

I am paying for my education with student loans. Tuition for Capella University is several thousand dollars per course. Colloquia, and the hotels and flights necessary to attend them, are additional expenses, although colloquia organizers typically provide meals. Capella also offers book vouchers to help offset the cost of books.

At the beginning of my degree program, I had access to tuition reimbursement from my employer, but the economic downturn made it impossible for them to continue helping me with my education costs. Capella also offers several scholarships. The competition for them is quite high, but I have been fortunate enough to receive one after applying several times. Apart from the tuition reimbursement, I have not had any help from fellowships or grants.

How helpful was your school in assisting your financial aid process?

Capella has been very helpful in my financial aid process. The financial aid representatives make a point of assessing and communicating all of my options to me. They want me to be able to afford and finish my education with them.

Do you feel like your overall cost of education is more or less than the cost of a degree at a traditional institution?

I feel that the overall cost of my education at Capella University is consistent with what I paid for my previous degrees at traditional institutions, and I believe that the value is the same. Capella is expensive, but no more expensive than a private or prestigious university.

Admissions Requirements

Can you describe the admissions process from start to finish?

Yes, the Capella admissions process from start to finish was very straightforward. I spoke with an admissions advisor who helped me choose between 2 degree paths. The advisor seemed genuinely interested in me rather than my money. Communication with their entire admissions department was very easy. Once I chose my degree, I submitted an application along with copies of my transcripts.

What did you write about in your personal statement?

In my personal statement, I spoke about my career, my educational background and my reasons for pursuing a PhD. I emphasized my goals and my dedication to meeting them.

How many letters of recommendation did you submit in your application?

I submitted 2 letters of recommendation. My thesis mentor wrote 1 of my letters, and a friend of mine, a doctor, wrote the other.

Do you have any insight on how Capella University weighs the different parts of an admissions application?

Yes, Capella seems give the most weight to grade point averages and educational backgrounds. To be honest, I am unsure about the admissions criteria overall, but I do know that Capella removes students who perform very poorly in their programs.

During the admissions process, did you interact with an admissions advisor?

Yes, I interacted with many admissions advisors, each of whom helped me collect and submit the materials for my application and choose my degree path. Overall, I consider Capella’s admissions department very knowledgeable.

Classroom Experience

How is class material presented?

Instructors utilize a variety of resources to present class material. Most instructors do not require students to come online at specific times to access it. Audio and video are common and usually include transcripts for those who prefer reading rather than listening to lectures. Courses also generally involve a discussion and response component on class message boards. Instructors can see if students have accessed these resources, but the only formal attendance is assignment deadlines.

What are the benefits and drawbacks of this style of presentation?

One benefit to this style of presentation is the way it supports multiple learning styles. Those who prefer to read, listen or watch can choose any of those methods to approach the material. The message boards are another benefit. They make it easy to obtain clarification or answers to your questions.

However, this presentation style may be a drawback for students who struggle to complete self-directed work. Time management skills and self-discipline are critical.

Are you able to stay engaged in your online coursework?

Yes, the rigor and breadth of coursework keep me engaged. The challenging academic expectations at Capella ensure that those who do not work hard will not graduate, so I have to engage or I risk falling behind in the program.

Do your professors encourage class participation?

Yes, instructors encourage class participation by requiring discussion and response on class message boards. Classmates may agree or disagree on a discussion topic, but they must defend their positions. That sort of interaction leads to new perspectives and a greater respect for fellow students. I have found the colloquia to be very helpful in this regard too.

What method of communication do you use to keep in touch with your professors?

I interact with my instructors at least once a week by e-mail, phone or both. Most keep office hours but maintain flexible schedules, just in case their office hours do not correspond to the availability of students. Since we have a lot of access to our instructors, we can develop personal relationships with them. An example of staff and faculty dedication to students is the university president, who posts his e-mail address and responds promptly to those of us who contact him.

Can you rate the faculty on a scale of Excellent, Good, Average, Poor, Extremely Poor, in terms of:

Criteria Rating Reasons
Overall Excellent Instructors provide students with an outstanding education.
Qualifications Excellent Instructors have extensive experience in the fields they teach.
Knowledgeable Excellent Instructors demonstrate substantial knowledge of subjects related to their fields.


1) Content: Excellent

2) Clarity: Excellent

Instructors communicate lecture materials clearly and effectively.


1)Relevance: Excellent

2)Reasonable: Good

3)Clarity: Excellent

4)Assistance Provided: Excellent 

5)Feedback Given: Excellent

Instructors assign tasks that align with expectations for the course.
Grading Excellent Instructors provide a comprehensive grading rubric.
Responsiveness Excellent Instructors typically respond to students within 8 hours.
Reliability Excellent Instructors are always present and rarely reschedule appointments.
Interest taken in class as a whole Excellent Instructors participate in class discussions and provide supplemental material.
Interest taken in student as an individual Excellent Instructors share the latest research and initiatives related to an individual's specific academic interests.

What advice would you give to students to help them succeed in an online classroom?

My biggest piece of advice for students who want to succeed in an online classroom is to plan for the demands of the schoolwork. Many programs provide detailed course information, including lists of assignments, at the beginning of the term. Students must take this information seriously and free up enough hours in their schedules to accommodate the coursework.

I also think students should make an effort to understand their own learning styles and organize their work accordingly. For example, those who are visual learners can develop systems for printing out and organizing the lecture transcripts and make their learning environments conducive to taking notes.


Why did you choose to enroll in your social and community services program?

I chose to enroll in the social and community services PhD program because I have worked with children and families in a variety of capacities. This degree aligns with that experience and was a critical step in advancing my career goals.

Does your program include a dissertation component?

Yes, my program includes a dissertation component. Once students complete their coursework, attend 3 colloquia and pass comprehensive exams, they can begin work on their dissertations. Dissertation topics and research require approval to ensure the scientific merit of the topic and the protection of any human subjects. The dissertation for this program requires performing either an extensive qualitative or quantitative study. Finally, a committee determines whether or not a dissertation should be published. Most dissertations in this program take 1 to 2 years to complete and do not have very specific deadlines.

Are you given an advisor to assist you through the dissertation process?

Yes, Capella University assigned me a doctoral advisor once I completed my coursework. The advisor has helped me to find a dissertation topic and will help me organize my writing process. She will also give me pointers on how to prepare for the comprehensive exam, and she will communicate with me by phone, e-mail, video chat or instant messenger whenever I need help.

Does your program have a residency requirement?

Yes, Capella University uses colloquia to meet the residency requirement of the program.

What are your program’s biggest weaknesses?

My program has 1 notable weakness, which is the Scientific Merit Review that it recently added to the dissertation component. The review has several poorly organized elements that slow the approval process, but it is new and is being developed as we go.

If you were to do it again, would you sign up for Capella University’s PhD program in social and community services?

Yes, I would sign up for Capella University’s doctoral program in social and community services again. I am grateful to Capella for providing me with an avenue for continuing my work with children and families in a meaningful way. But I would caution students who are considering this program that it best suits those who already working in or have previous experience in the field.


What general advice would you give to a student who is considering a PhD in social and community services at Capella University?

I would advise students who are considering a PhD in social and community services at Capella to think about the length of the program in relation to their finances. In my experience, the program is exhausting and long, so students without a genuine passion for the subject may burn out long before they finish. This degree also rarely leads to lucrative salaries, so those with limited funding options or ambitious salary expectations may want to consider other degrees.