The alumni of a school, college, or university are the people who used to be students there.

But what do you call the university or school one person graduated from in one word or one phrase?

  • He went to... She read X at ... He was at... She is a X graduate... – RedSonja Mar 11 '16 at 7:54
  • there's really no term, as such, for this. there is "alma mater" which is basically a comedy term for it. – Fattie Mar 11 '16 at 15:23
  • 2
    @JoeBlow Why is that "a comedy term"? – Joshua Taylor Mar 11 '16 at 15:57
  • Hi Joshua ... I mean one can only make a value judgement. (As with absolutely any question, whatsoever, about word usage.) I have never heard it used other than with a smile or an outright joke. It's an "old-fashioned" term, if you will. – Fattie Mar 11 '16 at 16:04

Good old FU. That's my

alma mater

al·ma ma·ter
älmə ˈmädər

the school, college, or university that one once attended. the anthem of a school, college, or university.

Source: Google

It sounds funny because it's a Latin phrase. The words literally mean:

alma, "nourishing/kind"

mater, "mother"

Source: Wikipedia

But few English speakers think about that when referring to a school. It's the kind of thing only us word nerds care about.

| improve this answer | |
  • 5
    Must have been so awkward for all the Roman kids who were talking about their alma mater to people who just didn't realise they literally meant their kind mother. – John Clifford Mar 10 '16 at 13:15
  • 15
    I'd note that alma mater is rarely used in British English. – Jack Aidley Mar 10 '16 at 15:22
  • 3
    @JackAidley: just to put some numbers on that, Google ngrams suggests that alma mater has been about 2 to 3 times more common in American English than British English through most of the 20th century. I would expect most Brits to be familiar with the phrase, though. – PLL Mar 10 '16 at 21:50
  • 5
    @PLL - to my British ears 'alma mater' sounds almost absurdly pompous. For myself, and people I know it's usual to say 'The college/Uni I went to ...', or 'My (old) college/Uni ...'. – Dan Mar 10 '16 at 22:29
  • 3
    @Dan: yep, as a fellow Brit, I’d generally agree. Having since lived in the States for a fair few years, I’d think of it as a bit pompous in American English too, though not quite as badly so. – PLL Mar 10 '16 at 22:53

In British English, you'd probably just say that the university in question was your university or your old university


My university was very nice

My old university was Oxford Brookes.


| improve this answer | |
  • 1
    If your university was Oxford or Cambridge, you would probably say "my college" not "my university." I don't know if that usage applies to other collegiate universities in the UK, such as Durham, York, etc. Note, this comment does not apply to Oxford Brookes University, which is a separate entity (originally the Oxford School of Art) and not part of the University of Oxford. – alephzero Mar 10 '16 at 17:10
  • 3
    In the US you'd be more likely to say "my college", even if it was a university. I went to Iowa State University, which I refer to as "my college". – DCShannon Mar 10 '16 at 18:12
  • 1
    Oxford Brookes? A university? Pah. (:P) – Lightness Races in Orbit Mar 10 '16 at 19:01
  • @alephzero: yes and no. You might well talk about “my college”, but that would mean the specific college you went to — Trinity, St. John’s, or whatever — within the university. If you were referring to the university in general — Cambridge or Oxford — you’d definitely say still university, not college. (I presume this distinction is one of the reasons why the US use of “college” to refer colloquially to any university hasn’t caught on much the UK.) – PLL Mar 10 '16 at 21:42
  • 2
    @BarryTheHatchet That's what happens when you let politicians have control of education policy. Prime minister Blair made the arbitrary decision that 50% of school leavers in the UK should go to university. The most cost-effective way to do this was obvious: just rename a large number of existing further-education establishments as "universities". The only costs involved were painting new signboards outside the buildings, reprinting their paperwork, and updating their websites. Cheap at half the price! – alephzero Mar 10 '16 at 21:53

I would go with former school/college/university:

My former university, where I spent 6 amazing years, is XYZ University.

| improve this answer | |
  • As a native American English speaker, from that phrasing I would infer that you didn't graduate, or that you actually graduated from a different school. (I.e., the university from which I graduated forever remains "my school", not "my former school".) – David Mar 11 '16 at 20:09

Just wanted to say that people will often ask someone "where did you get your education?" or "where did you attend school" so I'd just like to add that it is possible to say "I got my primary education at..." or say "I attended college/university at... ". In sum, I think primary education or basic education could be used to state one's education background before university level.

| improve this answer | |

Especially when discussing returning to/visiting such an institution you could use “my old campus, although it can be used in other contexts purely as an identifying phrase:
“Things went … a bit bad at my old campus.”
(example of use in “visiting” context from ‘The Michigan Alumnus’ and in “identifying” context from ‘Break Your Heart’ by Rhonda Helms, both via ‘Google Books’)

Although its use in the purely “visiting” context might fall within Merriam-Webster’s first definition below (grounds/buildings), its use to identify and discuss such an institution as “an academic entity” (and not just its grounds and buildings) definitely falls under definition #2, and when used with “my old” could mean “the institution from which I graduated”:

1: the grounds and buildings of a university, college, or school
2 : a university, college, or school viewed as an academic, social, or spiritual entity

| improve this answer | |

These are all very good...

If you are in the US: "I'm an alumni of Temple University" "I'm a Penn State Alum" "I graduated from Harvard" "I went to college at MIT" ("college" is commonly used even if the school is a "university") "My alma matter is FSU" (less common admittedly) "I did my MBA at Wharton"

"alumni" is used more formally or in resume's (we do not use "CV" in the states unless you are an academic)

My friends that are Brits and Indian do say "university" much more as stated in previous posts


| improve this answer | |
  • The question is asking for a term for the institution, not its graduates, who anyway should say I'm an alumnus/alumna, not I'm an alumni, if they were paying attention in class. – choster Mar 11 '16 at 19:47

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.