2024 Best & Brightest Online MBA: Heather Forst, USC (Marshall)

Heather Forst

USC Marshall School of Business, OMBA

“Determined tech leader passionate about growing start-ups and fostering increased representation of women in leadership.”

Age: 39

Hometown: Orange County, California

Fun fact about yourself: In the last six years, my husband and I married, had two kids, traveled to eight countries, moved six times, flipped three homes, and I completed my MBA. We’re busy people!

Undergraduate School and Degree: Brandman – Chapman University System. Bachelors in business administration.

Where are you currently working? VP of Client Success Operations, SEW

What achievement are you most proud of in your professional career? I was part of a team that spun off an organization that grew from 6 people to over 250 and was eventually sold for half a billion. In the early days of building the company, we all worked late nights, wore many hats, and stretched ourselves thin trying to keep our clients happy (and paying). Being part of a start-up can be hectic, but seeing your contributions come to life is highly gratifying.

Why did you choose this school’s online MBA program? USC has an impressive reputation for having one of the country’s highest-rated online MBA programs. As a Southern California native, I wanted something that allowed me the flexibility to keep my job and be on campus when I needed or wanted to. USC’s “flipped classroom” approach allowed me to work at my own pace during the week, then meet twice a week with my cohort and professors to have lively discussions about what we learned in our self-study.

What was your favorite part of being in an online MBA program? The flexibility. I am a parent (2 daughters who are 3 and 5) and have a demanding job that requires me to travel about 30% of the year. I knew committing to being on campus during the week would be impossible, so this option was ideal. Being in the online MBA ensured my job wasn’t impacted, and I didn’t miss any of my kid’s soccer games. I remember my family took a trip to Mexico over the summer, and I could still complete all my work and attend both lectures scheduled that week, all while enjoying some family time.

What was the most surprising thing about an online learning environment? How connected I felt during the program. I have done online learning and worked from home for over ten years. Being in online work or learning environments can feel lonely, but the USC program does such a great job encouraging engagement, whether it is in live lectures, optional on-campus events, or in the cohort WhatsApp group.

How did your online experience compare with your in-the-classroom experience as an undergraduate student? I was more prepared to enter this program since I had done online learning before. What is unique about USC is that they still emphasize the live lecture and connected experience. Even though I was remote, I still felt deeply connected to the professors and students all week. If I got stuck on something, I could join virtual office hours or email my professors, and they all would get back to me very quickly. I felt more connected in this program than in my on-campus undergrad classes.

What is your best piece of advice to an applicant for thriving in an online MBA program? SET A SCHEDULE. I tell all new students I meet that this is the key to success in online environments, especially if you’re not used to online learning. The weekly self-study work can be done on your schedule, which can be fantastic if you have a busy schedule and need flexibility, but it can also become a massive problem if you leave everything until the end of the week. I always did my coursework in the morning before my day started, so I knew nothing could get in the way.

How has your online education helped you in your current job? I loved that I took my MBA later in my career because I constantly applied concepts we learned in class the night before to real-world situations at my job. All the material is so applicable and helpful for working professionals, and it helped me better navigate many work challenges.

Did you earn a promotion while in the program or immediately after graduation? My goal for taking this program was to be able to switch industries after I completed it. I was able to do that mid-program, which was a year sooner than I had hoped.

Why did you pursue an online MBA program instead of a full-time residential program? Being a parent of young children and having a demanding job made the full-time program impossible. I was not in a position where taking a year off work was an option, so I am thankful I could do the online program without impacting my work or family.

Number of Hours Per Week Spent on an Online MBA: 25-30

What is your ultimate long-term professional goal? I want to continue to help start-ups grow and eventually own my own business or several. One of my favorite courses in the online program was the Entrepreneurship course because it taught us the ins-and-outs of taking an idea from concept to funding and beyond. I am passionate about this space and can’t wait to use my MBA skills to build a company.


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