NAME: Elizabeth Vermilyea

HOMETOWN: Ventura, Calif.

PROFESSION: Traumatic Stress Consulting

DEGREE EARNED FROM CAPELLA UNIVERSITY: PhD in Psychology, General Psychology Specialization


Dr. Elizabeth Vermilyea graduated from Capella University in 2014. In May 2015, she posted the following “admission” on her Facebook page—why she chose Capella and what her experience in a PhD program was like in an online university—and graciously agreed to share it. [reprinted with minimal edits.] 

Elizabeth Vermilyea, PhD in Psychology graduate.
PhD in Psychology Graduate Elizabeth Vermilyea.


I earned my doctoral degree from Capella University. No doubt, at least one person on my friends list is thinking, “you are smart enough to have gone to a real school”, or “that must have been easy”, or even “hmmm, does that count?” Yes, I assure you it counts. The school is regionally accredited.


I chose Capella for 3 main reasons:

  1. I needed to be able to travel for work, and a brick and mortar program wouldn’t have allowed that.
  2. Capella is perhaps the oldest online university in the country since 1993 (online not being anything in the realm of the old correspondence courses).
  3. A friend I trust works there and said they had a good psychology program (which is very true).


On the first day of my first residency,  the dean of my school said we would need to be proud of our work, our degrees, and our school because people still diminish online learning. How true this was and is. In spite of the multitude of online degrees available today, it still matters where the degree is from, because reputation trumps reality 90% of the time.

My experience at Capella outstripped any academic experience I’d had before. Here’s how:


1. Online learning is colorblind.

Neither does it matter what you look like or what your shape is. All that matters is your voice in your writing…your mind expressed through words.


2. Capella used clear grading rubrics based on Bloom’s Taxonomy.

That this was my first exposure to the taxonomy should embarrass my previous schools. Thus, there was less subjectivity in the grading. If you met the criteria, you earned the corresponding grade.


3. They want you to succeed and provide support to do so.

With the emphasis on writing, we had access to writing labs and writing courses. Each of the three residencies focused on the next phase and the writing required.


4. There were no lectures.

NO LECTURES. You read the books and responded to assignments in the courseroom. There was no wasted time listening to a professor go wildly off subject. There was no listening to fellow learners provide their opinions without a shred of research to back it up. There was lots of lively debate and exposure to different perspectives. There was lots of support and encouragement. We didn’t fight, have cliques or such things…we were in it together all the way.


5. Each course had a minimum of 2 assignments per week.

So when I took 3 courses, I had 6 assignments to research and write—each week. I never worked that hard in school before. In addition, you had to respond to the posts of at minimum 2 other learners each week in each course. So, there was a lot of research and writing going on every single day.


6. Capella’s academic requirements are as stringent as others I have experienced.

People often think that online learning is made up of diploma mills. Actually, my master’s degree was more of a diploma mill experience than any other, and yet my master’s school is very well thought of. I earned this degree every step of the way. It’s real.


7. Capella’s registration, business office, support, and advising is the best I have ever experienced.

I didn’t have a great registration experience with my undergrad—we’d find out in line what we owed and have to pay on the spot or we couldn’t register. At Capella, I always knew what I owed, the status of loans, and any other details. If I had questions, they were answered in a timely, respectful manner. My undergrad business office treated me as a nuisance. At Capella, I was treated as a valuable learner.


8. I am a scholar practitioner, and as such, research is what backs my positions.

It amazed me when I would come out as having gone to Capella and people would say, “Oh (long pause) an online program.” That pause says volumes. So I would ask, well, what do you know of online programs? “Oh not much, but they can’t be that hard. I mean, you’re not actually there.”

Seriously?! They are more challenging because there is no room for anything but researched, scholarly work. You have to be a self-starter. No one is keeping track of your attendance. I usually would say this to myself in my head, and sometimes to the person out loud if I felt irked: “Well, in my program, I learned not to make assumptions and to do my research. So, if you know nothing about online learning, assuming online education is easy, not valid, or is somehow inferior is a mistake in critical thinking.”



So here I am, a PhD who earned that degree online. I did real research and wrote a real dissertation that had actual results, and I am proud of it.


Capella University offers PhD and professional doctorate degree programs ranging from business to education and health to technology. Learn more about Capella’s online PhD programs.