“Where will you be in five years” is an unimaginative interview question. But it’s also a think-outside-the-box approach to career planning.

Everybody knows that a high school education is no longer enough. But that doesn’t automatically translate to “you need to enroll in a four-year degree program three months after you graduate from high school.” The Anoka Technical College Medical Device certificate is just one of many possibilities for moving ahead with both college and career at the same time.

Let’s say you are already in a retail or service sector job paying $14-16 an hour. You see an ad for an entry-level medical device assembly job paying $14-16 an hour. Even if the long hours, split shifts and poor benefits in your retail or service sector job have sent you back to the job ads, the medical assembly job looks like a lateral move at best.

But ask yourself, “Where will I be in five years?” and the picture changes. The medical device job can lead to multiple career paths and educational opportunities that will pay $25 an hour or more in four years, with great benefits and a regular work schedule. If you can’t say that about your service sector or retail job, the medical device assembly job is no longer a lateral move—it’s a bit step from a dead-end job onto a rewarding career ladder.

Or let’s say you’re about to enroll in a four-year degree program, either as a new high school graduate or as someone who’s been kicking around the world of work for a few years. You’ll probably need to reduce your standard of living for four years (and although we still call it a “four-year degree,” many programs take more than four years to complete). And you’ll probably have to go into debt to pay the tuition.

Where will you be in five years? In many cases, about where you’d be if you got some fast-start training for an in-demand industry and then used your tuition reimbursement benefit to continue your education while you gain experience and skills on the job.

There’s no one right answer–just a lot of great alternatives. If retail or the service sector is your passion, by all means, pursue a retail or service sector career. If you’ve always dreamed of being a full-time college student, that’s rich and rewarding experience that you don’t want to miss.

Working full-time while going to school takes discipline and good time management. It’s stressful. But worrying about student loan debt is also stressful. So is getting stuck in a job rut with limited possibilities for advancement, or working a couple of jobs to try to make ends meet.

Neither path is guaranteed but both offer possibilities for success. Isn’t it great to know there are alternatives?

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