Patricia Ellis-Griggs

I chose a PhD program in educational psychology because it provides me with career flexibility. I have an interest in both criminology and helping at-risk juveniles. This program gives me the tools that I need to work in criminal justice as well as with youth.


Capella University


Master of Arts in Criminal Justice, University of Phoenix (2007); Bachelor of Arts in Political Science, California State University (1989)


PhD in Educational Psychology


Why did you decide to attend Capella University to get your PhD in educational psychology?

I decided to attend Capella University for my PhD in educational psychology because I felt that its program structure best suited my learning style and career goals. Capella University designs its online classes to encourage interaction between professors, their students and classmates, which in turn leads to better networking opportunities.

The overwhelmingly positive experiences of previous graduates also factored heavily into my decision. I have spoken with so many Capella alumni who raved about not just the learning they received at the university, but also the doors that their Capella degrees have opened for them.

What are your school’s biggest strengths?

The biggest strengths of Capella are its classroom atmosphere, the quality and quantity of coursework resources and the emphasis on student success. The classrooms feel very official, even though they are entirely virtual. And professors fill these virtual classrooms with videos, articles and audio files to supplement their lectures.

Capella also provides students in my program with time management and critical thinking assessment tools, which in my opinion, indicates its dedication to student succeed during school and after graduation.

However, 1 weakness at Capella is the grading system. My professors have told me that in order to prevent the appearance of grade inflation, they occasionally mark down coursework to make sure that a C stays average, even if they have to grade arbitrarily to do so.

Do you view Capella University as a community?

In some ways I think Capella is a community, and in other ways I don’t. Advisors and students are warm and polite, but do not seem to reach out to me until I reach out to them. I think that an academic advisor should touch base with me at least once a term to make sure that I am doing well in my courses and have everything I need, but that does not really happen. Consequently, I would rate my sense of school pride in Capella a little lower than I would for my previous academic institutions.

Does Capella University have brick-and-mortar campuses?

No, Capella does not have any physical campus locations, although they have regular colloquia, or short residencies, and academic retreats where they temporarily set up a small campus, complete with departmental booths.


How are you paying for college?

I plan to pay for my education with a combination of student loans and special fellowships or grants. Each term at Capella costs a few thousand dollars, and books and fees for colloquia are additional mandatory expenses. However, in my case, I have had difficulty obtaining the loans and financial aid that I need because my financial aid maximums have started taking effect.

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

Capella University has been helpful in assisting me with financial aid so far. I contact the financial aid office by e-mail and phone and request information about my options.

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 is consistent with costs for doctoral programs across most institutions. The higher the level of education, typically, the more expensive it is.

Admissions Requirements

Can you describe the admissions process from start to finish?

Yes, the application process was very straightforward and only took about 30 days from start to finish. I requested letters of recommendation and submitted my application along with copies of my transcripts. Then I spoke on the phone with Capella’s admissions advisor, who helped me to clarify my academic plans.

What did you write about in your personal statement?

In my personal statement, I discussed my reasons for wanting a PhD, as well my future plans following graduation, which involve bettering the lives of at-risk youths.

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

I submitted 3 letters of recommendation, all of which came from University of Phoenix faculty who I had studied with for my masters degree.

Did you have an admissions interview?

Yes, I had an admissions interview over the phone. The representative asked about my reasons for applying, the degree that I intended to pursue and my connections to other universities. The interview was short, just 5 or 10 minutes.

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

No, I am not certain how Capella weighs different elements of the application. Their process seemed very straightforward. I think that the only thing that might hold up your application is if you are unable to provide an accurate transcript of previous coursework at other universities.

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

Yes, I interacted quite a bit with an admissions advisor over the phone and by e-mail. The advisor took the took time to answer all of my questions and expedite the application process for me.

Classroom Experience

How is class material presented?

My classes utilize video, message boards, articles, audio and e-books to present materials. The amount of resources available for each weekly assignment is astonishing. Most importantly, however, the classes do not require me to log in at particular times. The only thing that matters is that I meet my assignment deadlines each week, although I do find that I end up logging in at least once a day.

I prefer to print out and read the lectures in the evening rather than watch the videos, although I do watch the videos that discuss elements of writing, such as American Psychological Association citations or critical thinking skills.

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

One of the biggest benefits of this style is its mix of audio and visual elements. That mix allows me to use the approach that best fits my learning style. If I have a particularly complex lecture, I can watch the video and follow along on the transcript, making notes.

The only drawback to this style is potential technology failures. If my computer stops working or starts working slowly, that could impact my ability to do schoolwork or research.

Are you able to stay engaged in your online coursework?

Yes, I am able to stay engaged in my online coursework. The material is so rich and has such a variety of supplemental sources that I find it holds my attention easily. The message boards are engaging, too. The other students are fellow educators and bring unique insights into the materials that we discuss.

Do your professors encourage class participation?

Yes, professors encourage class participation by requiring a certain number of message board posts every week. I don’t really like the participation element of my grade, however, because it forces me to log in nearly every day to answer or ask questions.

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

I can communicate with my professors through instant messaging, e-mails, phone calls and video conferencing, usually over Skype. While I do not interact as often with my professors as I will later for my dissertation, I still contact them at least once a week, typically by e-mail.

Please rate your faculty in terms of the following criteria:

Criteria Rating Reasons
Overall Excellent Professors fulfill their duties and meet classroom expectations.
Qualifications Good Professors all hold PhDs.
Knowledgeable Good Professors have years of experience researching and teaching in their fields.
Lectures 1) Content: Good

2) Clarity: Good

Professors provide excellent supplemental materials for their lectures.
Assignments 1)Relevance: Good

2)Reasonable: Good

3)Clarity: Good

4)Assistance Provided: Good 

5)Feedback Given: Good

Professors encourage meaningful and self-directed learning experiences.
Grading Extremely Poor Professors seem to use inconsistent or curved grading systems instead of grading individual work fairly.
Responsiveness Excellent Professors generally respond to any questions or concerns within 24 hours.
Reliability  Excellent Professors are always present and engaged with their courses.
Interest taken in class as a whole Excellent Professors seem to take a passionate interest in the success of the class.
Interest taken in student as an individual Good Professors are generally willing to keep in touch and mentor former students.

What resources does Capella University provide to help you succeed in the classroom?

Capella University provides extensive online resources for its students, including online libraries, links to primary sources, an online writing center, lecture archives and even degree-specific databases. I frequently access these databases to obtain citations for papers or research subjects for course assignments.

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

I advise students to live according to their calendars. Students should write down every assignment listed on their syllabi in planners devoted only to assignments. If students review that calendar every day, they will rarely miss or fall behind on assignments and will always know what to do, even if their computers break.


Why did you choose to enroll in your educational psychology program?

I chose a PhD program in educational psychology because it provides me with career flexibility. I have an interest in both criminology and helping at-risk juveniles. This program gives me the tools that I need to work in criminal justice as well as with youth.

Does your program include a dissertation component?

Yes, my program includes a dissertation component. I will start work on my dissertation once I finish the required courses and pass the comprehensive exam. After the exam, I will do my residency and communicate with my review committee frequently to make sure that I am on the right track. The review committee will oversee and approve all aspects of my dissertation, including the topic.

The dissertation has several deadlines, namely for approvals and for my qualitative research. Once those are out of the way, I will put the dissertation together and write it. My goal is to complete my dissertation in 2 years.

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

Yes, I can request former professors, in addition to my academic advisor, to advise me throughout the comprehensive exam and dissertation processes. I will stay in constant contact with these people while I prepare for the exam and write the dissertation. The advisors are central to the process, since they provide the feedback and approvals that I will need.

Does your program have a residency requirement?

Yes, my program has a residency requirement, but from what I hear, it is very flexible. I am supposed to attend 3 to 4 events, each of which lasts 3 to 4 days. Even though the residencies takes place in hotels or conference centers, the events have a classroom feel and include direct faculty instruction. During my upcoming residency, I hope to pin down an exact dissertation topic and the research process that I will use to complete it.

The only drawback to this residency requirement is the expense. It ends up costing as much as a class, not including airfare and the price of the hotel. I anticipate spending around $2,500.

What are your program’s biggest strengths and weaknesses?

The primary strength of the program is its scope. It teaches not just the subject of educational psychology, but also the methods for teaching that subject. Students in my program learn the reasons for people’s behavior and why they behave the way that they do.

The only weakness of this specific program is its cost. I wish it included internships or some sort of teacher assistantship. Most traditional universities put their PhD students to work teaching. Capella University does not.

If you were to do it again, would you sign up for Capella University's PhD in educational psychology?

Yes, if I were to do it again, I would still sign up for Capella University’s PhD program in educational psychology. The program gives me the tools that I absolutely need. If University of Phoenix had a program in educational psychology, however, I would have gone there instead, because I love the Phoenix model.

Students who pursue this program should be ready to practice what they are learning. For example, I do not just read about using the American Psychological Association citation style, I put it to use every day and as often as possible, which makes it easier to use each time. I also recommend that students take advantage of the online writing center. It is free and can prepare students to express themselves well in their dissertations.


What general advice would you give to a student who is considering a PhD in educational psychology at Capella University?

My advice for students who are considering the PhD program in educational psychology at Capella is that they should prepare to read as much as 10 to 12 articles, 3 chapters and several journals a week. Students should also practice honest self-assessment to identify and improve upon their weaknesses.