Externship vs. Internship: What's the Difference?

Updated June 9, 2023

Students often seek externships and internships before graduating from college. The experiences can enable them to advance their careers and earn course credit. An externship and an internship can both be beneficial, and learning about their differences can help you decide which opportunity is right for you. 

In this article, we compare an externship versus an internship by providing a definition of each term, showing the ways they contrast and answering frequently asked questions about them.

What is an externship?

An externship is a short-term job shadowing program. The focus of an externship is usually learning about a career by observing a professional in their workplace. Typically, externs are college students, but they may not receive college credit for an externship.

An externship's program length can depend on the professional the student is shadowing and how much time that employee can offer. The program could last one day or up to eight weeks. A student might do an externship or multiple externships during a summer or holiday break period.

Read more: What Is an Externship? (And How To Get One)

What is an internship?

An internship is an on-the-job training program for college students or recent graduates. Sometimes, an intern could have some employee-like responsibilities at the company and perform small projects, such as organizing files and recording information from meetings. Students can earn college credits for internships in addition to the small base salary they receive from the company itself. Not all internships are paid opportunities.

A student or recent graduate may complete one or more internships with different companies during the school year or over the summer. Summer internships usually involve full workweeks that span multiple weeks. If a student has an internship during a school semester, they may inform the internship coordinator so they can participate around their class schedule.

Related: A Complete Guide to Internships

Externship vs. internship: how are they different?

Externships and internships can both provide opportunities for college students and recent graduates to learn about different careers while out in the field. With both opportunities, students can observe and take part in hands-on training to see if they would like to pursue that career. Here are some key differences between internships and externships to help you decide which could be right for you:


While externships and internships may be unpaid opportunities, it's still possible for college students to make money for their work as interns. Their compensation plan depends on the companies they work for and the type of tasks they perform. For example, an intern who runs errands for full-time employees may receive reimbursement for gas. As a student, if your objective is to earn an income as you learn more about your industry, then you may consider an internship over an externship.


Interns devote more time to their programs than externs. If you participate in an internship while in college, you may work for an entire semester, which can span for several months. For instance, an internship during the fall semester may start in August and end in December. The programs may align with a typical university schedule. Externships are much shorter, so you may also observe an industry professional for a few weeks. 

Course credit

Since the length of an externship is short, you may not receive course credit for your participation, unlike internships. Universities may encourage or require students to work as interns before they graduate, so there may be an elective in the curriculum that allows students to gain industry experience while making progress toward graduation. For example, students who enroll in a course titled Internship may submit proof of their program participation to their instructor and detail what they've learned.


Another difference between an externship and an internship is the participant's level of responsibility. Since an extern is present to shadow an employee, they may not have tasks to complete or a supervisor to give feedback about their work. An internship may offer on-the-job training, so an intern may contribute to the workflow of the company. Their performance as an intern may persuade a manager to promote the student to a full-time employee after they graduate.

Related: 10 Ways To Get the Most From Your Internship

Frequently asked questions about externships and internships

Looking at externships and internships and their benefits can lead to questions from college and high school students. Here are some frequently asked questions about externships and internships:

How do you get an externship or internship?

You can find many internships on job boards. Students or recent graduates can apply by submitting a resume and cover letter. Some companies may hold hiring events for interns each year for summer seasons or other busier periods. Colleges may also host career fairs on campus for companies to recruit potential interns.

Colleges or universities may arrange externships with professionals, such as alumni. The college might have a listing board and sponsorships for externships available. Consider visiting departments in your major to learn about upcoming programs.

What are the benefits of an externship or internship?

Both internships and externships can help you in the following ways:

  • Developing skills: You can gain professional skills by performing job duties and observing employees while in your internship or externship.

  • Gaining experience for your resume: You can add your internship or externship to your resume as work experience. This can add relevant job experience when applying for new roles within your chosen field.

  • Negotiating a salary: With additional experience, you can also earn a higher starting salary. Your expertise in your industry can help you distinguish yourself from other candidates.

  • Networking with professionals: During your internship or externship, you can meet industry professionals who you can add to your professional network, which can be helpful during your career. For example, you can ask for references from your network when you're applying for jobs.

  • Transitioning to the professional workforce: With both programs, you enter the workplace as a temporary employee, either job shadowing as an extern or taking part in projects and other assigned duties as an intern. This temporary period can help you adjust to the workplace before you apply to roles as a full-time employee.

Related: How to List an Externship on Your Resume

Do internships and externships lead to jobs? How do I get hired?

Internships and externships can lead to jobs. Companies often request interns and externs because they need assistance. If you impressed the employer during your internship or externship, they may offer you the job to continue offering support in a similar role. You can also approach your intern or extern supervisor about the possibility of moving into a full-time role. Being proactive shows you're interested in the company and eager to start your career with them.

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