How a 21-year-old at NYU is paying his $200,000 tuition bill before graduating

This NYU student paid his $200,000 tuition on his own without student...

New York University, like most private colleges, comes with a hefty price tag: $50,464 a year for tuition and fees.

Room and board adds another $17,644. After factoring in books, transportation and personal expenses, students can expect to shell out $72,900 a year, the university predicts.

That's nearly $300,000 over the course of four years, which could easily spiral into a student loan horror story. But not for one NYU senior: Long Island native Eric Hu has been paying his tuition bill as he goes since freshman year, meaning he's already covered three bills for $50,000 each. His parents cover living expenses.

Here's how the 21-year-old media, culture and communications major is on track to have paid $200,000 worth of tuition by the time he graduates next spring.

NYU senior Eric Hu
Courtesy of Eric Hu

He took advantage of scholarships

As an incoming freshman, Hu received three scholarships: a $1,000-a-year merit scholarship from NYU's Steinhardt School, a $10,000 Brookhaven Science Associates scholarship and a $2,500 Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory scholarship.

Since, his merit scholarship has been bumped up, and Brookhaven and Cold Spring Harbor both extended their scholarships. In total, he earns about $14,000 a year in scholarships.

Additionally, Hu receives $6,000 worth of financial aid each year.

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He found ways to earn money

While the scholarship money and financial aid helps, Hu still owes about $30,000 in tuition each year, so he decided to look for work.

"It was a win-win," he told Business Insider in 2016. "I'd be able to gain experience in the field, and not only help my parents by paying for tuition, but help myself in the future by not getting strapped down by student debt."

As a freshman, Hu found several opportunities through WayUp, which helps place college students and recent grads in jobs and internships. He did a work-study through NYU, and he's done freelance photography. Hu worked 20 to 40 hours a week on his six jobs and earned $34,000, enough to pay off his freshman tuition bill at the start of his sophomore year.

Hu found ways to earn money, including working as a freelance photographer
Courtesy of Eric Hu

Lately he's been working fewer jobs but earning more. He now spends about 20 hours a week with Deloitte Digital as a new business consultant and up to 40 hours as a freelance strategist, he tells CNBC: "I saw all the work and experience I had gathered during freshman year and decided I could do something greater with it, so I built my own marketing-consulting business around it, where I'll go around and pitch my capabilities, which range from design and strategy to social media marketing, to new businesses around New York City.

"I've found that owning your own business, instead of working in the service of others, takes a lot more time to pitch, but in the end, it's more efficient in terms of money versus time."

He juggles his classes, a part-time job and running his own business by working smarter and planning out his days efficiently.

"On average, you won't find me on campus for more than 10 hours a week, and I usually spend class time finishing assignments and doing the homework so I won't need to think about it after," he says. "Having the time constraint and pressure to write essays within an hour and 15 minutes has really taught me how to think on my feet and work smart."

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He found ways to cut costs

In addition to the $50,464 tuition bill, NYU says students should expect to pay another $22,436 per year for room and board, books, transportation and personal expenses.

"There is actually no reason to spend that much," Hu says. The most significant way he cuts costs is by renting his own apartment and cooking his own food rather than living on campus and using NYU's meal plan. "My total living costs never exceed $1,700 per month," he says. "After eight months, which is how long the average student spends in the dorm system, I've spent around $13,000, about $5,000 cheaper than an NYU estimate."

Since moving off campus and lowering his cost of living, Hu has taken on most of his living expenses. He now covers rent, while his parents pay for utilities and internet.

As for books, "I've found that most professors will send print-outs or PDFs. I don't even bother to buy anything off the list anymore, and that's the best advice I can give to incoming freshmen."

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He set bigger financial goals

Hu isn't just paying his tuition as he goes —  he's setting aside money for other savings goals, such as retirement and his latest project, in which he intends to drive cross country with a friend to photograph and raise awareness around National Parks.

In establishing these other financial goals, Hu has found that he spends smarter now. "I used to see little things and want them —  maybe I'd see a new camera strap for 65 bucks and get it because I wanted to treat myself. I don't do that anymore. Because I make more, I also see it as an opportunity to save as much of it as possible."

"In terms of things I buy for me, I try to save up for bigger goals. For example, this year we're trying to make a lot of videos for our park project, so we want to put away a sizable chunk for serious camera gear."

The way Hu sees it, "you could either spend $50 on 100 small things, or you could spend $5,000 on one good thing that lasts just as long as, or longer than, those 100 things."

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