But, after his parents had almost finished packing his bags, he changed his mind and decided instead to head for Longquan Temple in Beijing's Haidian district to prepare to become a monk.
The issue has thrown the spotlight on Liu and the temple and drawn a slew of journalists to the religious center but, so far, Liu has kept a low profile and chosen not to talk about his decision.
Liu's father, who teaches physics at the high school that Liu attended in his hometown of Wuhan, Hubei province, told Beijing Times the family strongly opposed Liu's choice. He said he felt desperate and his wife had become ill because of their son's decision.
According to Dong Zijing, Liu's teacher at the School of Mathematical Sciences, Liu is a mathematics genius and was the winner of a golden medal at the International Mathematical Olympiad in 2006.
Liu joined a Buddhist society in his freshman year at university and later became the leader of another society that was devoted to lifting up the mind.
He is vegetarian and frequently did voluntary work in Longquan Temple during his time at university.
Liu Yang, one of Liu's friends, told Beijing Youth Daily that Liu Zhiyu read many books about Sinology and traditional culture and preached about Buddhism.
A monk, whose Buddhist name is Xiandong, explained to Beijing Times that Liu was not yet a monk but was what is termed a jushi, which means he is in the period of preparation before eventually becoming a monk. The period usually lasts several years.
Jushi are not restricted to the commandments of Buddhism and the only requirement is that their minds be devoted to Buddha.
Master Xue Cheng, the abbot of Longquan Temple and vice-president of the Buddhist Association of China, told Beijing Youth Daily that members of the media and the public have put Liu under great pressure. Master Xue Cheng said Liu has not yet become a monk but people are talking about him in such a way that, if he fails to become a monk, he will feel awkward.
The abbot added that whether one becomes a monk or not, the decision is down to the individual and he said that choice should be respected.