The following content is created in partnership with College of DuPage. It does not reflect the work or opinions of NBC Chicago's editorial staff. For more information about College of DuPage, click here. 

With college costs at an all-time high, is it possible to build a career without building up debt? The answer is yes...and no. There are many jobs that don't require a bachelor's degree, but if you want to make more than $35,000 a year, you'll need some form of post–high school certification.

Luckily, there are several excellent and cost-effective alternatives to a traditional four-year college. Here are five key questions that can help you find the one that's best for your future. 

1. What's your timing? If you're on an accelerated path, consider an associate degree or certificate program. Certificate courses of study are designed for students not pursuing an associate degree but who are interested in taking technical or professional courses needed to enter a field of employment or to update current skills. An associate degree is typically earned through two years of study and usually results in career-oriented skills that can be applied to fields like nursing, business and information technology. You can find certificate programs through for-profit schools or corporate programs or at community colleges like College of DuPage, which offers both AA and certificate courses of study. 

2. What skills would you like to build? Teamwork, communication, adaptability and problem-solving are highly sought after by today's employers but they can take time to build and mature. Many students begin their academic journey at College of DuPage and then, because of the school's innovative transfer agreements, are able to seamlessly transfer to a four-year college or university to earn a bachelor's degree. College of DuPage has a "3+1" option that allows students to take advanced classes taught by faculty from partner universities during their fourth year to earn a bachelor's degree and a "2+2 agreement" in which they can earn a B.A. or B.S. through two years at College of DuPage and another two years at a four-year college or university. 

3. Who do you want to learn from—and with? Both collaborative and leadership skills are essential in today's team-based workplaces. College of DuPage empowers students to build these skills through intimate learning environments with low student-teacher ratios and accomplished, PhD or Masters' level instructors. In addition, first- and second-year students have higher level opportunities at College of DuPage than they would at a four-year institution. Earlier this year, the first- and second-year students on the College of DuPage robotics team competed head-to-head with teams of third- and fourth-year students from Virginia Tech and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

4. Is cost an issue? If you're concerned about paying for school, spending two years at a community college could save you thousands in tuition and fees over a four-year education. In fact, in Illinois, opting to start at a community college could chop more than $20,000 off the total cost of a bachelor’s degree. College of DuPage offers additional support for students with jobs and families by offering high-quality educational opportunities through online as well as on-campus programs.

5. What's your goal? If you are looking for a high-quality education at an affordable cost, then a community college is just the right fit for you. At College of DuPage, students have an opportunity to experience state-of-the-art facilities and gain real-world experiences in their first and second year such as internships with NASA and other large organizations that many juniors at four-year institutions have to wait for well into their college career.

Click here to learn more about College of DuPage and find out how this world-class community college can help prepare you for the world ahead. 

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