Internship vs Externship, What Is The Difference

internship concept 3

Building your resume takes a lot of time and effort. To be ahead of the pack, students should mix academics with workplace experience, according to a Journal Article in a 2016 Resume Study. The best way to prove that an applicant has both theoretical knowledge and practical experience lies in internships and externships.

Of Internships and Externships

Between the two, internships are the most popular. For starters, internship programs are work experience programs that bring students to the forefront.

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With this on-the-job training model, trainees are exposed to their chosen fields and are treated more or less like actual company staff.

You can also think of it as the “gateway” towards your future career, as a lot of internships have opened doors for exemplary trainees in the past years. For students, this would also mean getting to know the system more, and actually weighing on pursuing a certain field.

externship concept

Internships last for extended periods and are sanctioned by the school for academic credits. To the delight of students, some businesses offer paid internships, handing out allowances to increase morale and boost the chances of students working there in the future.

And because employers get free or cost-effective skilled labor, internships can be a win-win situation for everyone involved. The Wall Street Journal even published an article on how summer internships can make or break employment prospects.

On the other hand, not a lot of people know about externships. Since these shorter job exposure sessions typically are unpaid, students are not exactly motivated.

Universities usually do not credit externships for academic units, although the potential for finding more about their niche and actually succeeding in their chosen fields is very high when it comes to these short-term job shadowing programs. This would be a practical set-up for students who want to zero in on the field, without much responsibility on their shoulders.

However, a lot of employers and undecided students only have good words for externships. Also known as “shadowing,” it is an avenue for students to see what professionals do in real-time.

Companies do not have to expend human resources to train or even guide externs because the students are supposed to observe and work their way into the hustle and bustle of the actual workday.

Work processes are not stalled or interrupted; official day-to-day operations are recorded and kept and everybody enjoys a productive day.

The Value of Each One

Internships and externships are two types of pre-career activities that are highly recommended for students and aspiring professionals.

Students who participate in several internships and/or externships while in college have a far better chance of finding work or enrolling in graduate school within six months after graduation.

An internship allows individuals to:

  • Hands-on experience in a professional field
  • Immerse in a working atmosphere while completing tasks and projects
  • Apply what you’ve learned in school to tasks that are relevant to your chosen business
  • Under the supervision of industry specialists, you will gain a better understanding of what it’s like to work in a particular sector
  • Make professional relationships and expand their network.
  • Make your resume more valuable.

An externship allows individuals to:

  • Investigate a professional sector and spend a week on the job.
  • Through talks with experts with comparable backgrounds, you will learn how to apply your academic major.
  • Examine their “fit” for a specific job or organization.
  • Make professional relationships and expand your network.
  • Make their resume more valuable.

4 Main Differences Between Externship and Internship

1. Duration

Close-up Of A Student Marking Schedule On Calendar From Diary At Workplace

An internship lasts for at least a semester as they are part of the college curriculum. Most internships last for one school year, from a good few weeks to months in training. On the other hand, an externship typically lasts for a week, although this period can vary depending on the program. Some externships can last for 2 months, but these kinds are difficult to find.

Also, internships, especially the paid ones, will most likely have a long list of applicants. Due to this enormous supply of labor, interested students send their applications about a year in advance.

Because of this tight schedule, it is less likely for trainees to be able to be flexible with their schedules while interning. On the other hand, externships can be more flexible and can be completed over weekends or school breaks.

Externship applications can be sent usually within a month or two months’ notice, and this short processing time is due to the minor disruptions that the externship could cause on a usual workday. Aside from the uncomfortable stares (and a bit of Q&A), the company has nothing to lose if students are allowed to observe their work processes.

2. Payment

young employee receiving money

Externships have almost always been unpaid, although, in rare instances, companies do provide allowances to externs. This program is meant to give students a taste of their future careers, and they don’t often last that long, that’s why the likelihood of getting paid is lower.

Especially if you choose to work with non-profit agencies, there is a huge chance that you won’t get anything from the program.

Internships are usually paid, although, in short-term programs, 48% of students are unpaid. If paid, interns should receive at the very least the federal minimum wage.

It is worth mentioning that paid internships usually translate to higher chances of getting a job, and upon graduation, paid interns to enjoy higher salaries compared to their unpaid counterparts or those without any work experience.

Owing to the controversies hounding internship and even labeling it as “free or cheap skilled labor”, an intern can now ask a court to be declared as a paid employee. The U.S. Department of Labor, Wage and Hour Division, has promulgated important regulations to check if the intern should be paid or not.

3. Credit

Student Services Department Of University Providing Advice on College Credit

Internships usually can work to the student’s advantage as they can be considered for academic credits. Especially with longer-termed programs, the chances of getting class credit are very much likely, although there are a few colleges and universities with stricter guidelines regarding this subject.

Externships, on the other hand, have little to no bearing on your academic units. Typically, the colleges already have their partner businesses but the number of slots is often few. If you’re lucky, your externship can be awarded some credit, but that will depend largely on the ties that the certain company has with the school, and there might be an accreditation involved.

Other than that, becoming an extern can be as simple as asking any business or office permission for a student to observe the workplace. Students can take externships pretty quickly, especially if the business owner or professional is an alumnus–all it takes to be recommended is a letter from the school.

4. Experience

experience busy internship or externship

Interestingly, students find externships more valuable than internships when it comes to practical experience. Since internships last longer and students receive guidance which makes their jobs easier, interns may feel that they do not experience or learn what they believe they should about the work or the workforce.

Companies are also on the lookout for possible problem areas and points of improvement that could possibly arise from internship programs, that is why there’s a huge possibility that every bit of information is spoon-fed to interns, which makes it a bit difficult for them to learn independently.

Externships allow students to see how the day-to-day operations are like, as professionals, experts, veterans, and leaders go about their workday. Think of it as a masterclass, an apprenticeship that would allow you to go face-to-face with your potential future career.

Externs who follow and observe learn about best business practices by actually witnessing how professionals do their jobs with little to no risks involved, as compared to fumbling around and risking damage to essential business assets as interns.

Internship vs. Externship

Let us look at a few industries and see what the market prefers. Each job role, extern or intern, has its pros and cons.

STEM Internship and Externship

Focused senior  engineer holding and showing the micro chip to his student.  Lens focus on the chip.

An internship is not enough in the STEM field, according to an April 2017 research study, and externships have supplanted what an internship lacks. In the highly technical field, a portfolio of projects and verifiable results propel any application up to the priority list.

With recruiters for the STEM industry being scientists first and recruiters second, job applications and interviews will primarily have more focus on skills.

Internships underscore how work-and-life balance should be. Externships demonstrate not only interest in the subject or work; but also centers on experience. For the STEM field, both are highly recommended.

Education Externship

Professor with student-assistant

Even teachers see how important externships are, according to a 2017 study. “Shadowing” veteran educators help aspiring teachers who are still in college gear up for the demanding tasks of teaching in a classroom. Externs easily incorporate a veteran teacher’s techniques through observation.

On the other hand, teaching internships have an excellent reputation in the teaching community. A 2017 study shows that teachers who were interns have increased expertise in candid classroom practice, especially in a K-12 cooperating teacher process, where teacher assistants and interns engage in conversations with students.

On resumes, internships seem to be more favored over externships. In the case of teaching or instruction as a future career, internships are favored over externships.

Medicine Externship

Dentist and his assistant are talking about patient's file

Aspiring doctors need excellent skills in taking a patient’s history as well as presenting a diagnosis. A 2017 research shows that an externship can enhance note-taking and presentation skills to as much as 70% for soon-to-be doctors.

Taking down critical notes, as well as presenting the data and diagnosis, are two immensely essential skills for medical professionals.

Medical internships, more commonly known as residencies, are applicable to those who already possess a state license or have just graduated from medical school. These residency programs can take even up to 2 years! Interns, or more popularly known as resident doctors, still get around $57,000 per year, as of 2017.

How to Get Into an Internship or Externship

For Internships

Ask your University’s office of the registrar if there are any partner businesses or groups.

Some Universities have partnerships. The Oklahoma City University, for one, links with numerous organizations like The Washington Center.

Some academic departments, like Information Technology or Marketing, may also have their own list of references. Especially if you don’t know where to go for your internship yet, your school can offer a great selection of companies where you can start your journey.

Talk to your professors about possible internship advice.

Professor and student outdoors

Professors impart not only academic knowledge; they can help you network with the right people. Some professors work as consultants in their area of expertise and know important industry players and decision-makers – if you play your cards right, you might be able to work with these people, too!.

If you make use of these connections, it would be easier to jumpstart your internship and get an expert opinion about the career you’re eyeing on.

Scour the internet for job boards that are listing internships.

Start your own LinkedIn profile. There are a lot of job boards online. There is no need for you to go to each and every company job posting board because some sites collate all of these postings.

However, if you want to stand out, you should think about researching more about the company you wish to become an intern at. Try to update your professional profile, and fill in entries that you think would stand out to your prospect companies.

Go to job fairs.

job fair

Job fairs can give you great opportunities. Volunteer with organizations and connect with those who matter! With job fairs, there is less pressure to choose a company on the spot: you can buy yourself some time to weigh in on your options, and ask important questions early on. You’ll know decision-makers, recruiters, and organizers that can lead you to the internship of your dreams.

Contact professional organizations.

Studying to be a financial analyst? You can contact FINRA, the regulatory body for the financial markets. You can check out websites of licensed broker-dealers and agents and viola–you have your list of legal businesses and people who are looking for your skills.

Regulatory organizations, as well as other groups like your local chamber of commerce and charities where companies frequently assist, can be a gold mine of network and information.

For Externships

What do businesses and offices get when they accept externs? Businesses accept externships because they want a good reputation. Most organizations also think of externships as a great way to give back to their communities, as well as build connections with students who may soon be the next ones they’d hire.

In short, offices allow students to “shadow” veterans because they want a ready and motivated supply of skilled labor – if they allow students to see that they have a great workplace, more of them would want to work there.

Externships have a different process. Most externship openings have to be created, as opposed to internships where applicants have to find them. Some externships are even initiated by students, who contact companies and business owners directly in order to be given permission for this. Here are a few ways to make an externship role work out for you:

Research what local businesses or groups have direct relevance to your degree.

Business situation, job interview concept.

A local chamber of commerce can give you a list of operating businesses in relation to your course or degree. Local organizations in your area can also link you to businesses that may need your expertise.

Businesses can also be a great source of references: a computer shop may not be looking for an extern now but their suppliers and related agencies might so brush up on your networking skills!

Consult your school’s career services advisor

If you’re looking to find good places for an externship, your school’s career services advisor can be a great resource for possible openings, as companies and services usually course through them for any advertisements and notifications.

Your career services advisor could also help contact willing alumni who could take you under their wing and allow you to visit them during their workday.

There are some schools that have their own Alumni Mentor Database, which allows students to contact graduates for networking and interviews, as well as general guidance regarding their careers. This would be a great opportunity for you to make use of your school’s resources!

Startups and businesses younger than 3 years can give you a lot of valuable experience.

Top view of start-up multinational group of creative people having meeting

The US has a fondness for start-up cultivation as proven by urban powerhouses like Silicon Valley. Start-ups can be easy to spot and your city is likely to have its list because most of them are building their presence online!

You can also do a quick social media or Google search to find start-ups that are looking for externs. Who knows, that start-up might grow big, and you may be part of them in the future.

Social media is your key.

Believe us when we say that you can find almost anything on the internet, including potential externship partners. You can search for local businesses in your neighborhood online through their social media platforms, or try to reach out to business owners or professionals who could let you in on their work processes.

There are also online professional sites like LinkedIn where you can find professionals who may have graduated from your school – tap into that possibility as many of these experts appreciate students reaching out to them. Trust us, a lot of them would be actually excited to have you around!

School is not just for learning but also for networking.

Networking During Lunch Break

If you are interested in working for the academe, “shadowing” a professor can help. All you need to do is to ask permission from the professor to sit in on some of their classes and to read and assist in their research.

When you are able to establish rapport with your professors, you will be able to extend the window of opportunities you can access – as mentioned, these professors also have an invaluable list of connections that they can tap for you at any given point.

You will also be surprised at the opportunities that can be found in libraries and research centers. Some businesses and media outlets tap local colleges and other alternative labor and policy sources for market research since business groups can pool their resources together rather than risk experimenting that can affect their bottom line. Due to this setup, applicants can find local businesses easily and get valuable experience.

How Can I Have a Successful Internship or Externship?

Network, network, network.

Side view of three business people, standing, talking after a business conference.

You can convert your internship or externship into a full-time job by reconnecting with your contacts. Additionally, if you do well with networking, these businesses will offer positions first!

Although it is likely that the business owner you are interning/externing for may not need a full-time worker now, but 3 years into the future, just in time for you to have earned your degree–the business may need you in it. Of course, you have to do your part, and make yourself unforgettable.

Even if the company may not have any demand for additional workers, you can branch out to other related businesses. Rather than look at their competitors, try auxiliary businesses such as their suppliers, consultants, and business clients. It is possible that they could give you valuable connections, which you can tap as you enter the professional world.

Make a role for yourself.

Business people in office, young intern

Found a security loophole in the software? Have a suggestion that you think can improve the revenue or efficiency of a marketing campaign? Noticed unnecessary steps in the business process? Submit your findings to the right people–along with a plan to resolve them.

Better yet, execute the plan yourself! This may mean additional effort and hours on your part, but that is the beauty of it – you’re making your capabilities known! Just like any evolving structure, companies are far from perfect, and a set of fresh eyes may be all they need to improve different facets of their processes.

By adding these achievements to your resume, you get a better chance of successfully entering the workforce. A study of interns in 2018 shows that interns get two additional benefits other than building their resume, gaining practical skills, and having relevant experience. Interns are able to “cultivate a structure” or form habits that benefit them in their careers. They also stand out in job applications.

An excellent way to stand out as well as prove habits that a workplace need comes in the form of quantifiable benefits that an intern has given. By making a role for yourself, interns get valuable credentials.

For externs, a summary of observation works wonders.

Side view portrait of unrecognizable man listening to presentation in meeting room, copy space

Because externs do not usually have the chance to participate in the business processes, they may seem to be at a disadvantage. However, job interviews can turn this weakness around. Externs can provide useful reflections about the workplace with practical suggestions and valuable insights.

As an observer, an extern may be able to give valuable data about what needs to be done in a company, starting with simple comments and suggestions. HR recruiters appreciate an applicant that is thoughtful and observant. By highlighting these traits, externs show promising potential as an employee and a colleague.

For externships, it is extremely important to have noted when you are doing a job shadowing session. This is actually the whole point of it – with the short duration of the whole externship program, you must be able to capture the majority of your observations and be able to share them with the company.

Not only does it show that you are taking the externship seriously; it also lets you document the experience and relive it better.


In conclusion, internships and externships have their roles in a resume. If you are unsure of the role you want, becoming an extern to professionals can be a great idea. If you are decided on your career path, a longer internship may be the better option.

Whichever route you choose, always get the most out of your experience. This will result in a standout resume that will impress prospective employers.