The higher education marketing and branding industry is about to hit high school juniors like Finals Week. Pamphlets, e-mails, ads, and guidance counselors will deliver an array of information that will make their heads spin.

It’s hard to make the right choices about college when so much messaging is coming from so many corners. That’s why it’s important that parents help their kids keep perspective, and show them how to look past the brightly colored fliers, and focus on what’s most important: getting a degree that’s debt-free.

This goes against generations of cultural conditioning, which encourages spending whatever it takes to get the most prestigious four-year degree you can find. But as billionaire entrepreneur Mark Cuban told me last year, “Every college has strong programs that can educate you,” and “Nothing will hinder your ability to use your college education (more) than debt,” because “debt pushes you to take a job that pays your loans rather than picking a job you love.”

So, as carefully crafted college visits start filling up the calendar, here’s how parents can help set their teenagers up for a happier and more successful financial future.

First, have a real conversation with your kids about what they want to do with their lives. Not everyone knows their career path at 18, so it may be a waste of interest-laden debt to even start college anytime soon. There are plenty of excellent career and technical educational programs that set high schoolers up for jobs in the medical, agriculture, and technology spaces. And an increasingly large number of Gen Z high schoolers prefer blue-collar trade jobs which can’t be taken by AI and are increasingly offering better pay.

For those students ready to enroll, remind them that colleges are largely white-collar trade schools, and employers don’t seem to care as much about big-name schools as they do about characteristics like personality, teachability, and skill. This means that degrees from local community colleges and regional state schools score pretty well on quality against the flagship universities and well-branded private schools. They do even better on cost, for everything from tuition and books to housing. There are no high-priced skyscraper dorms at Small-Town U – and you can always provide their childhood bedroom for reasonable rent.

When finances enter the conversation, start by figuring out what you and your child can afford today. You don’t want your son or daughter to be one of the seven in 10 college seniors who say college debt will force them into a job they don’t like and hours they hate, instead of choosing a personally fulfilling career path. Even better, when the gold-plated pamphlet hits the mailbox, your teen will beat you to throwing it in the trash.

Fourth, what options are available to improve affordability? Scholarships are worth almost $8,000 annually per student, and grants almost $11,000, but only 60 percent of college students take advantage of them. On top of that, most states allow guaranteed transfers from community colleges to four-year state schools, and the expensive Ivy League schools have generous endowments which help non-rich students attend. And let’s not dismiss the value of good old-fashioned work that can replace weekend parties, or military service that can pay for college now and a full career later.

This summer, you can expect all sorts of focus group-tested advertising to flood your seventeen-year-old’s brain, expertly tailored to beckon him or her into a “college experience” that’s more like an extended resort stay, with the price tag to match. Tell your kids to ignore all the boasts about university status, Greek Life, and everything else that doesn’t help them graduate debt-free. After all, the vast majority of employers don’t care what institution gave your kids the degree. Like you, they care a lot more about what tomorrow’s leaders offer beyond a piece of paper.