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Externship vs Internship: What’s the Difference?

student being coach in externship on the left; student intern talking to coworkers on right

Pursuing work-based experiences before you start your career can help you gain professional experience and hard and soft workplace skills. They can also teach you what kind of work you like (and don’t like!) to do. So what sort of work-based experience should you do — an externship vs internship? We’ll show you the difference between them and how to decide whether to be an extern vs an intern.

We’ll cover:

Externship vs Internship: Definitions

To understand the difference between internships vs externships, it’s helpful to first know what each opportunity entails.

What Is an Externship?

An externship is a short experiential learning experience where you shadow a professional at work. Instead of performing entry-level tasks for a company, you spend most of your time observing what a specific professional does and learning about their career.

>>MORE: What Is an Externship (and How to Get One)?

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What Is an Internship?

An internship is a limited work experience where you do entry-level work at a company. Many companies offer internships to help students and entry-level professionals get work experience, make connections, gain professional skills, and learn more about the company.

>>MORE: How to Get an Internship Without Work Experience

“Internships provide an invaluable opportunity for students trying to gain knowledge of a particular industry or profession through first-hand experience,” Jennifer Lennox, certified human resources executive and vice president of people & culture at AutoCanada, says. “It’s not just about learning more about your area of focus, but also about the inner workings of a team, leadership, how large organizations are structured and the industry as a whole.”

The Difference Between Externship vs Internship

So, how do these two opportunities compare? While they’re both professional learning experiences that help you gain insight into a role and company, here’s how they typically vary in terms of pay, duration, experience, requirements, and more.

InternshipExternship
Application processApplications can open as early as eight months before. They may require an extensive application and interview process.Potentially a short application or education requirement (i.e., must be a third-year law student)
Duration3-4 months, usually done in the summer or for a semesterOne day to a few weeks, usually done during shorter school breaks
Responsibilities Entry-level tasks, potentially contributing to team initiativesShadowing, sitting in on meetings, occasionally helping with tasks
PayDepends on the internship*; sometimes, school credit appliesNo*; rarely, school credit applies
Work EnvironmentRemote, hybrid, or in-personIn-person
Chances of being hired Likely (70% of interns received an offer from an employer they’ve interned for, according to the National Association of Colleges and Employers.)Unlikely, but not impossible
Meant to add to resumeYes!Yes!

*Keep in mind that employers must abide by Department of Labor guidelines when determining whether or not they are required to provide compensation,” Sharon Belden Castonguay, executive director of Wesleyan University’s career center, says. “It should be a red flag when they don’t!”

Extern vs Intern: Which One Should I Be?

So, should you apply to be an extern or intern? You don’t want to judge a book by its cover; instead, look beyond the program title to find the perfect fit. When deciding between an internship vs externship, Belden Castonguay recommends evaluating the “opportunity, not the label.” She advises asking yourself questions like:

  • How much time can I devote?
  • What will I learn?
  • Who will I meet? Who can I make connections with?
  • Will I be paid?
  • Will this experience add value to my resume?

For example, if you’re curious about a career path and unsure if you want to start taking school courses to help you prepare for that path, you may opt for an externship. The externship can give you a short, inside view of that career without taking up too much of your time.

Or, if your dream job is to work for a specific company and you’re hoping to make connections there and increase your chances of getting hired, you might want to apply for its internship program.

Both internships and externships can be valuable professional experiences that give you an inside look at a career path and company while helping you gain real-life work skills — it just depends on what you’re looking for.

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