Externship vs. Internship: What's the Difference? (+ Benefits of Each) [2020]

externship vs internship

Externships and internships are frequently confused. An externship program provides valuable opportunities to shadow professionals and applies real-time use of the job training and skills gained through education. The externship program is most frequently provided by the school for a law student, medical student, or college student. While an internship is an unpaid opportunity providing limited work experience for a professional who desires to gain “on the job” experience for a particular job title. Internship opportunities are not usually provided by a school or university and are often pursued independently by a recent graduate.

An externship usually applies toward college credit, while an internship is for the employee who is looking to gain previous work experience to list on a resume.

What’s an Internship?

An internship is a period of work experience offered by a company or organization. The period of the internship is usually short term, providing limited work experience. An internship is used for a wide range of placements (or job titles) in businesses, non-profit organizations, and government agencies.

Unpaid internships are fairly common and mainly provide the recent graduate or student with the ability to list valuable experience, specific to a job title, to list on the resume. The internship experience is generally designed for specific job titles on behalf of the employer, allowing the intern to develop a previous work history for a future employer.

Benefits of an internship

The benefits of an internship include:

Fremont College goes on to add that a key benefit of an internship is the ability to gain confidence in the field. And says that “internships allow you to test out specific techniques learned in the classroom before entering the working world.”

An internship is usually found by applying directly to the internship program offered by the employer, rather than finding the internship opportunity through an education program. This includes the student attending career fairs to search for available internships.

An internship is often confused with a practicum. A practicum is similar to an externship, though is provided much earlier in the undergraduate or graduate program. A practicum is designed to provide students with a supervised practical application of a previously or concurrently studied field or theory. A practicum is often found provided to those who are receiving their social work majors.

Who should pursue an internship

Those who should explore an internship program are those who have decided to pursue careers in:

What’s an Externship?

An externship is an experiential learning opportunity, which is similar to an internship but often much shorter. Externships are provided by partnerships between educational institutions and employers to give students short practical experience in their field of study.

Students don’t often receive paid compensation for their efforts in an externship, nor do they usually receive school credit (or academic credit) for their experience. The key benefit of an externship is the student having the opportunity to shadow a working professional (sometimes referred to as “job shadowing”). Each institution and university handles an externship opportunity and the application of the academic credit differently. A student investigating the externship should review whether or not those hours will be applied to class credit before agreeing to the program.

During fall externship programs generally have students work approximately 7.5 hours at the site per week (if the institution allows for it, accounting for 2 credits). During summer semesters (or summer internship season), externship students will generally work approximately 13 to 21 hours per week on the site (for 2 to 3 credit hours).

Capital University Law School defines their program goals for an externship as to “give students the opportunity to develop their practical lawyering skills in government, nonprofit, public service, and other legal organizations.”

Benefits of an externship

The benefits of an externship include:

Ohio Business College says that additional benefits of externships for students include “forming a strong work ethic, gaining in-demand skills, and receiving real-time feedback from experienced professionals.”

Who should pursue an externship

Due to the structure of externships, they are often pursued by those who would like to go into:

Externships are perfect for medical students and law students. Many observership programs and externship programs are provided to medical students during their residency program. This is the time during their educational training that includes gaining clinical experience.

A clerkship is often confused with an externship or observership. Clinical clerkships are the rotations a medical student may do during the 3rd or 4th year of school and can range in time in terms of commitment. Anywhere from a few weeks to a few months depending on the institution and medical school.

An externship opportunity will generally be provided by those seeking to enter the career field as a nurse or lawyer, as it provides them “on the job” experience and opportunities to utilize the training that was received in law school or medical school. The student will be able to “job shadow” a professional and under supervision, take on some level of responsibility on the site of the externship.

Internship Resources

author: patrick algrim
About the author

Patrick Algrim is an experienced executive who has spent a number of years in Silicon Valley hiring and coaching some of the world’s most valuable technology teams. Patrick has been a source for Human Resources and career related insights for Forbes, Glassdoor, Entrepreneur, Recruiter.com, SparkHire, and many more.


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