Externship Vs Internship: What’s The Difference?

Externships and internships are two types of short-term professional experiences that offer valuable insight into a specific career. Both are popular options among new graduates looking to enter the workforce as well as college students exploring potential career options. Understanding the differences between externship vs. internship and the pros and cons of each can help you decide which is a better choice to help you reach your career goals.

While both provide exceptional learning opportunities, there are significant differences between the two. Let’s explore each.

What Is An Internship?

An internship is a short-term placement with an organization. It is designed to give an intern real-world experience in a job while simultaneously training them in core skills. Internships serve multiple purposes. They allow students and graduates to explore a career they are interested in. This can help them make a more informed decision about whether or not that career is right for them. The first-hand experience also helps interns expand their skill sets and boost their resume, which can increase their chances of landing a higher-paying job.

Internships may take many different forms. Students can choose to intern at a nonprofit or for-profit organization. Some are paid positions (59% according to a recent NACE study), and others are unpaid. Some are part-time opportunities, while others may be full-time. A student may choose to do a summer internship and devote a significant amount of time to the experience. Alternatively, some students may choose to skip a school semester and do an internship instead. In this case, the internship hours may count as credits toward a degree.

An intern’s responsibilities and specific job functions vary from one company to another, depending on the industry and the company’s requirements.

General responsibilities of an intern include any one or more of these tasks:

  • Carrying out tasks assigned by a supervisor or manager
  • Performing clerical duties
  • Attending meetings and taking minutes
  • Organizing and running events
  • Handling the organization’s social media accounts

Pros & Cons of Internships

Internships offer some significant benefits but they do have a few drawbacks too. Understanding the pros and cons can help you know what to expect from your internship experience.

Pros

  • Internships are an opportunity to get a first-hand look at a career you may be interested in pursuing. This can help you decide whether or not this is the right role for you.
  • They are a great way to gain practical work experience in a prospective career. Having an internship on your resume can make it easier to land future work.
  • Some internships are paid opportunities and the earned money can help offset some of your college or living expenses.
  • Depending on the internship, you may be able to earn credit toward your degree. This can be especially beneficial if your program requires students to complete at least one internship to graduate.
  • Most internships have an extended duration, lasting from a few weeks to a few months. This gives you plenty of time to immerse yourself in a role and garner relevant experience.

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Cons 

  • The opportunity may give you valuable relevant experience. However, it does not guarantee that you’ll get a job either with them or with another organization long term.
  • Organizations may hesitate to entrust interns with some of the more high-level, challenging tasks. As a result, there’s a chance you may be performing some of the more routine, entry-level tasks.
  • Very few organizations offer interns high salaries. In most cases, interns earn a relatively low hourly rate or a small monthly stipend. (But hey, if you are in a paid internship, count yourself lucky. Some pay is better than none.)

What Is an Externship?

Externships are similar to internships in that they are both short-term professional learning experiences.

One of the differences between externships and internships is that externs don’t do practical work or complete job tasks. Instead, they learn more about a prospective role by spending time shadowing experienced professionals as they go about their work day. Externships are particularly popular in the healthcare field. Premed and med students shadow experienced and licensed medical practitioners in hospitals, clinics, and other healthcare settings to learn more about a field of medicine they are interested in.

Another difference is that externs generally don’t get paid because they aren’t actually doing any work for the organization. They spend the workday observing their mentor and taking notes. They do not offer help or suggestions, nor do they intervene during interactions between the medical practitioner and their patient.

Externships are typically shorter-term opportunities, usually lasting anywhere from a few days to a couple of weeks.

The main goal of an externship is to get a better understanding of what a workday involves in that particular role. This can be useful in helping you decide whether or not a career path is right for you. It is also a good way to boost your resume.

General responsibilities of an extern may include:

  • Shadowing a mentor through the workday
  • Performing behind-the-scenes clerical tasks
  • Attending conferences and staff meetings
  • Making notes about specialized processes

Pros & Cons of Externships

As with internships, externships also have benefits and a few drawbacks. It’s important to understand the pros and cons so you know what to expect from your externship experience.

Pros

  • Observing an experienced professional at work is a great way to get a behind-the-scenes look at what a role actually entails. Doing an externship allows you to get a good, hard look at what to expect in an intended career field.
  • Doing multiple short-term externships can help you make informed choices when deciding between two majors or when you’re looking for a career change.
  • The short-term nature of externships makes it easier to try a few different opportunities to get diverse experiences. Also, because you won’t be handling any major responsibilities the qualification process will be less demanding too.

Cons 

  • You’ll only get an overview of the role you’re interested in. While this is useful in itself, the lack of hands-on practice doesn’t allow you to explore the career in depth.
  • You don’t usually get paid as an extern as you won’t be doing any actual work. This can be a deterrent if you’re looking for a way to earn while you learn.
  • You don’t usually get academic credits with externships.

Externship vs. Internship: Which One Should You Do? 

Both internships and externships provide valuable experience that can help you make informed career choices. Both also help to add value to your resume and help you build a network of professionals in your chosen industry. However, there are a few notable differences between externships and internships. Which one is better for you will depend on a few different factors.

An internship may be a better option for you if you want to:

  • Earn some money while also learning more about an intended career.
  • Get hands-on experience in a role that has specific skill requirements.
  • Immerse yourself in the workplace to get a more realistic understanding of what it would really be like to work for that organization.
  • Put your theoretical knowledge to practice in a relevant field.
  • Expand your knowledge of a specific field under the guidance of an experienced professional.
  • Make valuable career connections.

An externship may be a better option for you if you want to:

  • Get a behind-the-scenes look at a typical workday in a prospective role.
  • Assess your fit for a particular role when deciding between two majors or exploring a new career path.
  • Make connections with industry professionals without spending as much time as is required in an internship.

Whether you’re interested in an internship vs externship, a good place to start is by speaking to your academic counselor. In addition to helping you decide which may be a better fit for you, they can also help you find available opportunities.

Check out College Raptor’s Career Finder to explore career paths that might be a good fit for you.

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