Say I am a third year student. I find myself frequently need to refer to "some student" in their fourth year and fifth year. For example,

"A student of higher year than me" helped me with project.

What is the right term to replace those in the quotes?

If you guys know Chinese, there is simple term for this purpose, "xue zhang" or "xue jie". However, I seem not able to identify a corresponding term in English.


  • 3
    Maybe "older student." But we don't really use this. We'd be more likely to say "I received help with [specific part of project] from [name], a junior (or "third-year student") in the [Department name] Department"
    – SAH
    Oct 19, 2017 at 19:22
  • 3
    I'd just say a student was a year or two ahead of me, unless here was a reason to be precise.
    – ab2
    Oct 19, 2017 at 23:54
  • 2
    What @JohnLawler said. Ask them.
    – Drew
    Oct 20, 2017 at 0:59
  • 3
    Definitely, "older" not "elder." "Elder" often means somebody much older, who might have left the school 20 or 40 years ago, and the usual was to describe for such people is "alumni" (borrowed from Latin), not "elder students".
    – alephzero
    Oct 20, 2017 at 4:25
  • 5
    I'd like to point out, except for "x years ahead" none of the answers here will be universal. Education systems vary a lot even between English speaking countries. Words like "Sophomore" etc are not likely to be understood outside the US. My next point is based on an assumption but I suspect the term you are looking for is based on showing respect to older students. At least in my culture this doesn't exist, all students are on the same level and since language flows from culture there is no term at least in my version of english for what you are looking for.
    – user50210
    Oct 20, 2017 at 8:52

8 Answers 8


The word used in my experience is upperclassman. The dictionary definition is a student of the junior or senior year of either high school or college, but for new first-years, it is often extended to sophomores, juniors, and seniors.

Note that this word is not (politically correct) gender neutral, and so may be phased out in the next twenty years or so.

  • 7
    Just to clarify: the word as used historically and in common use today -- absolutely is gender neutral grammatically. But there are social, political, and/or linguistic reasons that other terms may be preferred by some. (For example, "upperclassmate" is a probably less controversial alternative.)
    – wjl
    Oct 20, 2017 at 19:13
  • 2
    "Man" was traditionally used as a gender neutral term for people... in the sense that traditionally women were not really considered to be people, they were property. In other words, it was never really gender neutral.
    – industry7
    Oct 20, 2017 at 19:23
  • 1
    @wjl Surely upperclassmate implies that you actually had a class together, which I don't think "upperclassman" does.
    – Casey
    Oct 20, 2017 at 19:46
  • 1
    My undergraduate university used "upper division students" and "lower division students" rather than "upper/lower classmen", way back in the 1990s. It doesn't work very well to distinguish between 1st year students and everyone else or between juniors and seniors, though.
    – 1006a
    Oct 20, 2017 at 19:50
  • 2
    @industry7 That is incorrect. Man was historically used used as a gender-neutral term for people because it meant ‘human being’. It referred to women just as much as to men. The narrowing down of its meaning to only refer to males came later (when it ousted the original word for ‘male human’, wer). At that point it stopped being gender-neutral as a standalone count noun, though it remained fairly gender-neutral in many other senses. The perception that words like mankind are not gender-neutral is of recent date. Oct 22, 2017 at 10:15

x "year(s) ahead of" me
y "year(s) behind" me

He is fond of casually dropping the names of his drama school contemporaries. Ewan McGregor, Joseph Fiennes ('We would potter next door to see Ralph playing leads at the RSC'), and more long-term friends such as Dominic West, whom he knows from his Eton days. 'Dom was a couple of years ahead of me,' Lewis recalls.

from The Telegraph

President Obama was four years ahead of me at Harvard law school....

quoted in The Atlantic

That reminds me: Lee Harvey Oswald, a year or two behind me in school, lived in Covington in those days.

from the New York Times

Prince Harry had started at Sandhurst in May 2005 and was a year ahead of his older brother.

from the Evening Standard


My favorite Stanford summer was 1979, when a woman engineer in the class ahead of me helped me get a summer job at Chase Manhattan Bank in NYC.

Stanford University website

  • This is what I've heard most often in the mid-Atlantic US. Followed by "upperclassmen". Oct 20, 2017 at 2:55
  • 6
    In the UK you'd use "above" and "below" rather than "ahead" and "behind". Or colloquially: "Someone in the year above helped me"
    – Muzer
    Oct 20, 2017 at 8:57

In the United States, we would say the following:

  • Freshmen (first year)
  • Sophomore (second year)
  • Junior (third year)
  • Senior (fourth year)

The following terms work both for high school and college, both of which are typically four years. In other English speaking countries, they would usually just say first year, second year, etc. Even in some American Universities, this is becoming more common as fewer students complete their degrees in four years as is traditional. Personally, I went to a school where the typical degree took five years, so we used the term middler to describe a third year student, while junior and senior described a fourth and fifth year respectively.

Additionally, for simply contrasting two students of different years, you could say lowerclassman and upperclassman. The former refers to a first or second year student, while the later refers to a third or fourth year student.

  • 18
    I would rearrange your answer to emphasize upperclassman more. That is the more direct answer to the OP's question. As you say yourself, the US system isn't that widely applicable.
    – Unrelated
    Oct 19, 2017 at 17:52
  • 1
    Neither the first group of suggestions (Freshmen/Sophomore/Junior/Senior) nor the second group of suggestions (lowerclassman/upperclassman) convey the "of year higher than me" that the OP asked for. Just because a student is a Senior doesn't mean he or she has more school years than I do, because I might be a Senior too. Likewise, the subject might be an upperclassman, but I might be too, so the term fails to convey that they have more school years than I do.
    – Rainbolt
    Oct 19, 2017 at 21:06
  • @Rainbolt If you're both seniors, then the other person doesn't have more years. You could be a junior and the other person a senior, and then you'd both be upperclassmen, but then you could just say "senior". If you're a sophomore, you can use "upperclassmen". If you're a freshman and you want to compare to a group that includes upperclassmen and sophomores, then you're stuck. I might just say "non-freshmen" in that case. Oct 20, 2017 at 2:54
  • And if you're not in high school, then it would be "a fifth grader", "an eighth grader", and so on... Oct 20, 2017 at 13:00
  • 1
    @ToddWilcox I agree that without any context "upperclassman" usually means "junior" or "senior", but in some contexts, "upperclassman" just means "someone in a higher year than me", such as: "I was having trouble, but an upperclassman helped me" (a freshman referring to a sophomore) would be totally understandable and acceptable.
    – wjl
    Oct 20, 2017 at 19:19

If I were saying that another student helped me with something, I wouldn't consider it important to mention whether that student was of a higher year, a lower year, or the same year. Maybe this could be considered a bit of a cultural difference.

If, for some reason, I did consider it important to identify the year of the student who helped me, I'd be more likely to do it by identifying the grade level (e.g. "a tenth-grader helped me") or by using the terms "freshman", "sophomore", "junior", or "senior" if those terms are applicable. But I still generally wouldn't emphasize the relationship between that student's year and my own.

In a pinch, I could say something like "an older student" or "a more senior student", but those strike me as phrases characteristic of more formal or clinical speech. It's just not something I would include without a strong reason to do so.


There are often regional names for students of specific years (the most common in the United States being freshman, sophomore, junior, and senior for 1st, 2nd, 3rd, and 4th year of a four year program, respectively). For a more general term, I would typically say, "A more senior student" or "A more advanced student".

  • 2
    "A more advanced student" could work, but it might be a little bit ambiguous. (I think that term could also refer to a more gifted student, or one with a higher GPA, or one who had taken more honors classes, or one with a stronger academic background coming into a given program.)
    – J.R.
    Oct 19, 2017 at 21:34
  • Yes, that's a good point. A more senior student is probably less likely to be misinterpreted, but even that could technically also mean a student more advanced in age (but of the same year), though I would find that usage odd.
    – Mozglubov
    Oct 20, 2017 at 0:43
  • Although etymologically senior refers to age, its current use (at least in my idiolect - I'm from south-east England, FWIW) more typically refers to authority. I hear the noun phrase senior management more often than the only age-related one which comes to mind, senior citizen (the politically correct term for old person). As such, more senior student sounds odd to me: there's no hierarchy in the student body. Oct 21, 2017 at 21:24

In England you'd say " In the year above " for someone who's been there longer and " in the year below" for someone who's not been there as long as you - this is also sometimes express as an " upper " or " lower "

If your at university you'd generally refer to them by the year of their degree "a Third year helped me figure out X" or " a graduate student helped me out"

its common in other areas of the world to use "upperclassman" and "lowerclassman"


Just say "another student". It should be enough, and it's not disrespectful to them in any way. If you have to clarify, say something like "John help me with this project: he's in his fourth year."

I'm Korean, and my language also makes that distinction all the time. When I joined a graduate program in the US, it took me some time to adjust: I'm a first-year student, here's another guy who joined two years ago, but we can be friends! Unthinkable in Korea.

It is very unfortunate that my native language (and social custom) forces one to make such unnecessary distinction all the time, and it sounds like the Chinese language also does it to some degree, but for some reason, English does not have this particular problem, and there's no reason to import the unnecessary distinction into English.

(If I sound too preachy, consider a more neutral situation: imagine a language that makes distinction between male and female doctors, and one asking, "I want to say 'I went to see a doctor.', but I want to explain the doctor was female. How do I make the distinction in English?" The correct answer is: you don't, unless the doctor being female is somehow relevant, in which case you can simply say "The doctor was female, by the way.")


In England, when I was at school, years were arranged as so:

  • Year 1
  • Year 2
  • Year 3
  • ...
  • ...
  • Year 10
  • Year 11

Years 1 - 6 were at Primary School, and Years 7-11 were at Secondary School.

Then if the school had a Sixth Form:

  • Year 12 (Sometimes called Lower Sixth)
  • Year 13 (Sometimes called Upper Sixth)

If someone went to college instead (college is 16-18 typically in the UK, 18-21 is University) then you'd simply say they were in their xth year of college (i.e. 1st year, 2nd year)

As such, if I was in Year 10 and I wanted to talk about some a year above me, I might say:

"A Year 11 helped me out with homework"

Or if I wanted to talk about an activity I did with someone a year below me

"I played football with some Year 9s"

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