An alumnus (masculine, plural alumni) or alumna (feminine, plural alumnae) is a former student or pupil of a school, college, or university. Commonly, but not always, the word refers to a graduate of the educational institute in question.[1] An alumnus can also be a former member, employee, contributor, or inmate, as well as a former student.[2][3]


  • Etymology 1
  • Usage 2
  • Related terms 3
  • References 4


The Latin noun alumnus means "foster son, pupil" and is derived from the verb alere "to nourish".[4] The word alumnus appears in Roman law to describe a child placed in fosterage.[5] However, according to John Boswell the word "is nowhere defined in relation to status, privilege, or obligation."[6] Boswell cites the research of Henri Leclercq, who studied the many inscriptions about alumni and concluded that it referred to exposed children who were taken into a household where they were "regarded as somewhere between an heir and a slave, partaking in different ways of both categories", and despite the warmth of feelings between the parent and child, "an alumnus might be treated both as a beloved child and as a household servant."[7]


An alumnus or alumna is a former student and most often a graduate of an educational institution (school, college, university).[1][8] According to the United States Department of Education, the term alumnae is used in conjunction with either women's colleges[9] or a female group of students. The term alumni is used in conjunction with either men's colleges, a male group of students, or a mixed group of students:

In accordance with the rules of grammar governing the inflexion of nouns in the Romance languages, the masculine plural alumni is correctly used for groups composed of both sexes: the alumni of Princeton University.[10]

The term is sometimes informally shortened to "alum" (plural "alums"), which stands for "an alumna or alumnus".[11]

"Alumni" (a plural form) is often used as a singular form for both sexes; for example, "I am an alumni of the university", as opposed to "I am an alumnus/alumna of the university." This usage is considered erroneous and is inconsistent with the way the term was used in Latin.

Alumni alumni associations and are often social occasions for fundraising.

Related terms

At most old UK schools (especially independent schools and grammar schools), New Zealand schools, South African schools, Sri Lankan schools, a few universities in the UK, and to a lesser extent in Australia and Canada, the phrases old boy and old girl are traditionally used for former school pupils, and old member or member (or "alumnus" in Australia and New Zealand) for former university students. Some Australian co-educational schools use the gender-neutral old scholar. At the Royal Military College of Canada, the phrases ex-cadet or former cadet and member of the old brigade are traditionally used, as are college numbers. Further examples are the terms old corps, or Old Army in reference to alumni from the Virginia Military Institute and Texas A&M University Corps of Cadets, respectively. Owing to this general restriction of the phrase to schools for the social elite, the phrase is normally associated with the aristocracy of the UK.

The term "Old Boys" is also used as part of many sporting associations and clubs worldwide. Famous examples include Argentine football club Newell's Old Boys and New Zealand rugby union club High School Old Boys RFC.

Some schools use a specific term clearly linked to the school name, such as "Old Pauline", "Old Etonian", "Old Harrovian", "Old Carthusian", "Old Oswestrian", "Old Churcherian", "Old Knox Grammarian", "Old Colcestrian" or "Old Reptonian" (old boys of, respectively, St Paul's School, Eton College, Harrow School, Charterhouse School, Oswestry School, Churcher's College, Knox Grammar School, Colchester Royal Grammar School and Repton School); the school's location, such as "Old Albanian" (St Albans School), "Old Herefordian" (Hereford Cathedral School), "Old Chelmsfordian" (King Edward VI Grammar School, Chelmsford) or "Old Mancunian" (Manchester Grammar School); or a more obscure one, such as "Old Citizen" and "Old Gregorian" for those of the City of London School and Downside School. Other UK examples include "Old Alleynian" (Dulwich College), "Old Blue" (Christ's Hospital), "Old Dunumian" (Down High School), "Old Novocastrian" (Royal Grammar School, Newcastle upon Tyne), "Old Clavian" (Bury Grammar School), "Old Midwhitgiftian" (Trinity School of John Whitgift), and "Old Elizabethan" (Queen Elizabeth's Hospital).

In Scotland, the term former pupil (FP) is also used, especially when referring to sports teams of a school as well as "Academical" or "Accie" in the case of schools with Academy in their name, such as Hamilton Academical.

Some US schools, such as Texas A&M University, prefer former student.

The World Student Christian Federation uses the term "senior friends" for its alumni.


  1. ^ a b The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language
  2. ^ "Alumni – Definition from the Free Merriam Webster Dictionary". 2010-08-13. Retrieved 2011-02-15. 1: A person who has attended or has graduated from a particular school, college, or university. 2: a person who is a former member, employee, contributor, or inmate 
  3. ^ "Alumnus – definition of alumnus by Macmillan dictionary". Retrieved 2011-02-15. Someone who was a student at a particular school, college, or university 
  4. ^ Merriam-Webster: alumnus...
  5. ^ For example, Digest 40, 2, 14
  6. ^ Boswell, The Kindness of Strangers (New York: Pantheon, 1988), p. 116
  7. ^ Boswell, Kindness, pp. 117-119
  8. ^ : Fourth Edition. 2000.The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Languagealumna.
  9. ^ "Archived: Women's Colleges in the United States: History, Issues, and Challenges". Retrieved 2011-02-15. 
  10. ^ "alumni – Definitions from". Retrieved 2011-02-15. 
  11. ^ "alum." Unabridged (v 1.0.1). Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2006. 1 December 2006.