Resources for Psychology Students

Lisa Frack Fritscher earned a Bachelor’s degree in psychology from the University of South Florida. Now a freelance writer, she uses her psychology education every day as the Phobias Guide for About.com.

PsychologyDegreeGuide.org: Thanks very much for doing a Psychology Degree Guide interview, Lisa. Could you give us a brief background about yourself and the psychology program you attended?

Lisa Fritscher: I always knew I would go into psychology. My mom took a job in the Behavioral Health day treatment program at Winter Haven Hospital, in Winter Haven, Florida, when I was three. Her job title changed over the years as she finished her bachelor’s and later her master’s, but her work was always hands-on with clients. In those days, it was common for employees to bring their kids to work. I grew up around the program, spending time with clients, going on field trips–it looked like a lot more fun than a “real job!”

For a variety of reasons, though, I left school after getting my associate of arts degree (in theater). I decided to go back and finish my BA in psychology after I got married. Interestingly, my then-husband (we’re divorced now) also chose psychology, so we were in all the same classes. Meanwhile, Mom was working on her doctorate in clinical psychology, and for a while the three of us worked together.

While at Harvard, I became a member of Kappa Kappa Gamma, Undergraduate Women in Business and was the Executive Publicity Chair for the nationally recognized fashion show Eleganza.

PDG: Why did you choose the psychology program at the University of South Florida?

LF: There were two main reasons. My dad got his engineering degree at USF when I was very young, and I sometimes went to classes with him. I had terrific early memories of the campus and the experience. Also, USF had a branch campus in Lakeland, Florida, where we lived at the time. I felt like I had the best of both worlds–a small, local campus where I knew everyone, but the ability to drive an hour to Tampa for the full university campus experience.

PDG: Were there any aspects of the University of South Florida psychology program you found particularly valuable?

LF: USF is a highly-rated research university. But many of the top professors also teach at the branch campus in Lakeland. So I was able to get more personal access and develop relationships that would not have been possible in huge lecture classes, while retaining access to the facilities and research opportunities on the main campus.

PDG: You’re currently the About.com Phobias Guide. I imagine your psychology education has been invaluable in that role. Can you talk a little about how your psychology background both helped you attain that position and how it helps you day-to-day in performing your duties as the Phobias Guide?

LF: I absolutely would not have gotten the About.com position without a degree in psychology. The company is highly respected for its expert advice across hundreds of topics, and each Guide is carefully selected from a diverse pool of applicants. Education and expertise in the topic, combined with top-notch writing skills, are essential.

Although every health-related article on About.com is vetted by a trained Medical Review Board, I retain ultimate responsibility for the advice that I give my readers. Phobias are not only a diagnosable disorder on their own, but are often interconnected with other mental health conditions such as generalized anxiety disorder, substance abuse and post-traumatic stress disorder.

Although I cannot and do not diagnose individuals through the website, I know that many of my readers have been diagnosed with these and other difficulties. My general knowledge of psychology gives me a thorough understanding of the complex problems my readers face and helps me create content that is useful to them. Without an education in psychology, I would be “flying blind,” so to speak.

PDG: Besides being the About.com Phobias Guide, can you discuss other ways your psychology education has assisted you in your career?

LF: My career has taken innumerable twists and turns. I got out of hands-on client care in 2001 due to burnout. I’m one of those people who has trouble leaving it all at the office, and I spent way too much time and energy worrying about my clients during my off-time. After a few false starts, I became a freelance writer in 2005. My psychology background has turned out to be quite handy in educational writing, marketing and even travel writing.

I understand target markets almost innately and am able to tailor my writing to meet a particular audience’s needs. While any good writer can do that, I feel that a grounding in psychology has given me a leg up. My clients seem to feel that way, too, as more than once I have won a contract based on my particular background.

PDG: Do you have any specific research or clinical interests, or areas of specialization?

LF: I am particularly interested in marriage and family, and have earned 60 credit hours toward an MA in that specialty. Since I no longer do hands-on therapy, I am debating whether to finish my master’s. But even now, I am particularly interested in family dynamics.

PDG: What should a student considering entering the psychology field look for when choosing a program?

LF: I learned pretty early on that the piece of paper is what is important. Unless you happen to tap into a referral through the alumni network, employers generally don’t care exactly which school you attended or exactly what courses you took.

Of course, you do want the program you choose to be accredited, and it’s usually best to go for a school with some sort of name recognition. But I recommend choosing the program that makes the most overall sense to you. Do you like the campus? Do you enjoy the student life? Can you afford the tuition? Do you like the professors and the course offerings? A psychology program is rigorous and all-encompassing, so I think it is much better to be somewhere that makes you happy and energized, rather than someplace stressful that you can barely afford.

Beyond that, look toward the general career path you plan to follow. If you want to go into research psychology, seek out a research university. If you want to go into therapy, consider a streamlined professional school. Follow your interests.

PDG: Do you have any advice for someone applying to the psychology program at the University of South Florida?

LF: While not strictly necessary, it is always best to visit not only the campus, but the surrounding area, when choosing a university. Central Florida is, of course, a gold mine for tourist attractions, and most places give discounts to Florida residents. But the area isn’t for everyone. Tampa in particular is one of those cities that people either love or hate. One option is to live in a smaller town, like I did, and attend a branch campus while maintaining links to the main campus.

As a state school, USF is significantly less expensive for Florida residents. A lot of people choose to attend one of Central Florida’s excellent community colleges for a year or two while establishing residency, and then move on to USF.

This is also a good option for those who may have less-than-stellar high school records. The state of Florida guarantees admission to a state university upon graduation from a community college, though not necessarily to the school of your choice. USF offers priority admission to community college graduates, although not necessarily to the program of your choice. If you do well in community college, though, it is likely that you will be accepted in the psychology program.

Finally, apply early. USF uses a rolling admissions calendar, so those who apply early have the best chance for success. The financial aid program is fairly liberal, but like anywhere else, funds are limited. File your FAFSA as soon as possible.