Externship vs. Internship: How Do They Differ?

Externships and internships provide valuable professional experience. But what's the difference — and which should you choose to reach your career goals?
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  • Externships and internships are short-term professional learning experiences.
  • Interns complete tasks or projects, and most internships are paid.
  • Externs follow an experienced professional to learn more about their responsibilities.
  • Both opportunities can help launch your career in a new field.

Before landing a job, many professionals complete an externship or internship. But what's the difference between the two? And which should you choose?

An externship provides a behind-the-scenes look at an industry or field. During an externship, you'll shadow an experienced professional to learn more about their job.

With an internship, you'll complete tasks and report to a supervisor.

Both internships and externships provide valuable information for job-seekers. And here's the good news: You don't have to choose between an externship vs. internship — you can do both.

What's the Difference Between an Internship and an Externship?

Externships and internships offer different benefits and experiences. Before looking for externship or internship opportunities, make sure you know what you'll get from these experiences.

Interns take on professional responsibilities and gain hands-on experience. In contrast, externs typically shadow a professional without completing job-related tasks. Unlike an internship, which functions more like an entry-level job, an externship can be as short as one day.

Both internships and externships can help your career. In fact, about 70% of interns receive a job offer from the company at which they interned.

Though an externship tends to offer a less direct path to a job offer, it can still help professionals identify a course of study or career path to pursue.

What Is an Internship?

An internship is a short-term placement with an organization designed to train the intern in core skills. Many interns complete their internship over the summer or over the course of a semester.

Millions of college students complete internships every year. From 2013 to 2017, at least 60% of each graduating class completed an internship or co-op. Undergrads may receive college credit and/or earn wages for an internship. In fact, as of 2016, more than 60% of internships were paid.

College students who complete an internship tend to receive more job offers after graduation. According to data from the National Association of Colleges and Employers, the class of 2021 received an average of 0.83 job offers per student.

Graduates with no internship experience received 0.64 offers on average, while unpaid interns received 0.85 offers. Paid interns received the most at 1.12 offers.

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What Is an Externship?

Like an internship, an externship is a short-term professional learning experience. But instead of completing job tasks, externs shadow professionals to learn more about the field.

Externships tend to function less formally than internships. Externs also do not typically get paid. Some externships, however, such as those in healthcare, may offer payment.

While an internship can last several months or even a year, externships usually last for much shorter periods — often a few days or weeks. For example, Bloomberg offers an externship for aspiring global data analysts that lasts just four days.

An externship functions much like an extended informational interview. College students may benefit from completing an externship when choosing their major or deciding on a career path.

Externship vs. Internship Breakdown
Internships Externships
  • A short-term professional learning opportunity
  • Typically 3-4 months long
  • Most internship opportunities offer pay
  • Internships are typically advertised publicly
  • Colleges often connect students with internship opportunities
  • You can list internships on your resume
  • A short-term professional learning opportunity
  • Can last a single day to several weeks
  • Most externships do not offer pay
  • Externships may be publicly advertised or informal
  • Colleges often connect students with externship opportunities
  • You can list externships on your resume

What Are the Benefits of an Externship?

Externships offer many benefits. An externship can help current college students, prospective students, and professionals considering a career change.

During an externship, you'll gain a new perspective on your career options. For instance, business majors choosing between accounting and finance careers can do an externship in each field. An externship can also help build your resume.

When Should You Do an Externship?

Seek out externships early in your professional journey. Learning more about prospective jobs, networking with professionals, and gaining career advice can benefit both your education and professional development.

If you're considering a career change, you may feel torn between two paths. An externship can clarify daily responsibilities and highlight what a typical week looks like for each role.

Understand that you don't have to choose between an externship and an internship — you can do both. Completing an externship early in your career journey often provides valuable information about where to pursue internships.

Externs can also make important connections in their future fields.

Frequently Asked Questions About Externships vs. Internships

What's the difference between an internship and an externship?

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Both internships and externships can benefit your professional development. However, externships are usually unpaid and shorter than internships. While interns complete regular job tasks, externs do not. Rather, externs shadow one or more professionals to learn about their job.

Completing an externship early in your career journey can offer valuable information that may lead to internship opportunities and help clarify your career goals.

Are externships paid?

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Externships are generally unpaid opportunities. Unlike internships, an externship normally lasts a short amount of time — sometimes as little as one day. Externships function more like informational experiences, in which externs shadow professionals to learn more about their responsibilities and field.

Although externships are typically unpaid, you can still list them on your resume.

What is a medical externship?

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Medical externships are slightly different from other externships. A nursing externship, for example, provides hands-on experience for nursing students completing their degrees. Nurse externs also receive pay for their work.

Other medical externships introduce future doctors to various fields of medicine, helping them choose a specialty and internship setting after earning their degree.

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