Difference Between Pupil and Student (with Table)

The main difference between pupil and student is that while the word ‘student’ is often used as a term of reference for older learners, the word ‘pupil’ is generally used as an appropriate term of reference for younger learners. Children enrolled in primary schools are addressed as pupils. Older learners, like those enrolled in colleges and university courses, are called students instead of pupils. The usage of the word ‘pupil’ is deemed inappropriate in such circumstances.

‘Pupil’ is also used to refer to children who are studying under the guidance of private tutors. The term ‘pupil’ connotes the young child’s need to be closely supervised. The term ‘student’ denotes that the adult learner requires a marginal degree of supervision.

Comparison Table Between Pupil and Student

Parameters of ComparisonPupilStudent
ConnotationThis term is used for younger learners enrolled in primary educational institutions at a very early stage in life.This term is used to connote adult learners usually enrolled in colleges and universities.
Origin of the WordThe word ‘pupil’ originated from the Latin word ‘pupillus’ meaning ‘ward or minor’The word ‘student’ originated from the Latin word ‘stadium’ which means study.
Supervision NeededDirect supervision of the teacher is needed by pupils.Direct and constant supervision is not needed by students.
Figurative UseThe word cannot be used figuratively.It can be used symbolically to connote adult learners of art and music.
PreferenceThe term is preferred by British speakers to denote young learners.The term is preferred by American speakers to denote learners of all ages.

What is a Pupil?

A pupil is a term used to commonly refer to young learners. Children usually under the age of 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 usually minors which makes 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.

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What is a Student?

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

The level of supervision needed by students is generally lower than pupils as they are older and considered capable of managing themselves without constant adult interventions. The word student is often used in an allegorical sense to connote an individual pursuing a course of study in the field of art and music.

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.

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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 considered a better and more suited term for addressing younger learners like young children who are just beginning their educational trajectories. Whereas, ‘student’ is considered to be an appropriate term of reference for older learners including learners enrolled for 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 usually 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. The British English speakers prefer the term ‘pupil’ over ‘student’ to refer to young learners and those under the guidance of a private tutor. While 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 word pupil has emerged from the Latin word ‘pupillus’ meaning ‘ward’ or ‘minor’. Whereas, 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.


The words pupil and student are often used interchangeably by the English speaking populace. Their meanings are generally considered to be overwhelmingly similar. However, upon closer examination, these two terms are slightly different.

While the usage of the term pupil is more likely to be used for younger children who are enrolled in primary schools, students are adult learners who are enrolled in colleges and universities. This usage is more appropriate for children under the age of 18 years, while the term student is more suited for adults of 18 years and above.

The meanings of the two terms are slightly different as well. While the term ‘pupil’ is considered to include any individual enrolled under private instructors and tutors, the word student refers to people who study under professors.

The origin of each of the terms, as well as their preference among different English speaking subgroups of people, is also different. The term student can also be used figuratively to refer to those enrolled in the study of different arts and hobbies. While ‘pupil’ is not a word suitable for such usage.

Overall, we can say that the word pupil can be considered as a subset of the word student, with very specific and restricted usage and meaning. It is important to be cognizant of such subtle differences to use each term appropriately in keeping with the grammatical syntax of the English language.


  1. https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.3102/00028312029001141