Pupil vs Student: Difference and Comparison

‘Pupil’ is also used to refer to children studying under private tutors’ guidance. The term ‘pupil’ connotes the young child’s need to be closely supervised.


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The term ‘student’ denotes that the adult learner requires minimal supervision.

Key Takeaways

  1. A pupil is a learner who is enrolled in primary or secondary school and is under the age of 18.
  2. A student is a learner enrolled in any level of education, including primary, secondary, or higher education.
  3. Pupils are taught by a single teacher and follow a set curriculum, while students have more flexibility in their course selection and may be taught by multiple teachers.

Pupil vs. Student

A pupil is a term often used to refer to a young person enrolled in a primary or secondary school. A student is an individual who is enrolled in a higher education institution, such as a college or university. Students are generally older than pupils and have more autonomy in their learning.

Pupil vs Student

Older learners, like those enrolled in colleges and university courses, are called students instead of pupils. The word ‘pupil’ is deemed inappropriate in such circumstances.

Comparison Table

Parameters of ComparisonPupilStudent
ConnotationThis term is used for younger learners enrolled in primary educational institutions very early in life.This term connotes adult learners enrolled in colleges and universities.
Origin of the WordThe word ‘pupil’ originates in the Latin word ‘pupillus,’ meaning ‘ward or minor.’The word ‘student’ originates in the Latin ‘stadium,’ which means study.
Supervision NeededPupils need direct supervision from the teacher.Students do not need direct and constant supervision.
Figurative UseThe word cannot be used figuratively.It can be used symbolically to connote adult learners of art and music.
PreferenceBritish speakers prefer the term to denote young learners.American speakers prefer the term to denote learners of all ages.

What is a Pupil?

A pupil is a term used to refer to young learners commonly. Children, under 18, are referred to as pupils. The word originates from the Latin term ‘pupillus,’ meaning ‘ward’ or ‘minor.’

Pupils require constant supervision under their teachers. They are minors, making them suitable for such close observation and regulation.

Moreover, the term also often includes learners studying under the guidance of private supervisors and tutors.

The term pupil is a preferred term of reference used by the British populace. They implement this distinction between new and old learners quite staunchly.

However, the American population does not strictly adhere to this distinction and often uses the term synonymously with the word student.


What is a Student?

A student is an individual pursuing an education in a specific field. Originating from the Latin word ‘stadium,’ meaning study, the word ‘student’ is often used to refer to those over 18 years enrolled in colleges and universities.

The level of supervision students need is generally lower than pupils as they are older and capable of managing themselves without constant adult interventions. The word student is often used allegorically to connote an individual pursuing art and music studies.

Often the word pupil is used as a subset of the word student as it denotes a subgroup of learners under the umbrella term of students.


Main Differences Between Pupil and Student

  1. The main difference between pupil and student is in terms of the connotation of each term. ‘Pupil’ is a better and more suited term for addressing younger learners like young children just beginning their educational trajectories. Whereas ‘student’ is considered an appropriate term of reference for older learners, including learners enrolled in higher education.
  2. The meaning of each of these words can also be slightly different. While ‘student’ stands for learners, ‘pupil’ may mean learners under the direct supervision of teachers. Students do not require the direct supervision of professors. Moreover, ‘pupil’ can also mean learners under the guidance of private tutors.
  3. The preference for each term is also quite different among different geographical subgroups of the English-speaking populace. British English speakers prefer the term ‘pupil’ over ‘student’ to refer to young learners and those under the guidance of a private tutor. At the same time, American speakers may prefer the term student to refer to both young and adult learners of a discipline.
  4. Each of these two terms has originated from different words. The term pupil emerged from the Latin ‘pupillus,’ meaning ‘ward’ or ‘minor’. The word student has been derived from the Latin term ‘stadium,’ meaning ‘study.’
  5. Another difference between the two terms is that while ‘student’ can be used figuratively to mean an individual who has dedicated his or her time to the study of a special field like art or music, pupil, however, cannot be used in a figurative sense.
Difference Between Pupil and Student
  1. https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.3102/00028312029001141
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