What Is an Externship? (How To Get One and What to Expect)

Updated March 14, 2023

Two people hold a conversation while walking through an office.

College students have access to several resources that exist to help them start their careers and gain hands-on training, including externships. While students may already be familiar with internships, externships also offer a variety of benefits and learning opportunities. Understanding what these programs include can help an individual decide whether it's the right choice for their professional goals and aspirations.

In this article, we define externships and compare these programs to internships to see how they differ, plus we describe how to get one and review what to expect when completing an externship.

What is an externship?

An externship is a program that allows college students to gain work experience while finishing their degree. Like an internship, it provides an opportunity for students to get hands-on work experience, with a few notable differences.

Externships are valuable resources for students who plan to enter the workforce shortly after graduation because externships can provide them with entry-level experience on a resume, which can make them more competitive candidates.

Externships usually occur during the school year, as a part of a student's curriculum. They provide an experiential learning environment that offers real-world insight into the theoretical topics students learn in their courses.

Typically, students complete externships for experience rather than pay. If they offer compensation, the amount is typically negligible. The benefit of completing an externship is the opportunity to learn in their prospective professional setting, confirm they are on the right career path and make a great addition to a student's resume.

Related: How to List an Externship on Your Resume

Internship vs. externship differences

Here's an overview of the differences and similarities between internships and externships:

Program duration

Internships are usually lengthy programs that students complete over weeks or months, during the summer or concurrent with schooling. Instead, externships offer a short but concentrated program that allows individuals to experience various aspects of their prospective business or industry.

Programs can last anywhere from one day to as long as six weeks. When students get to sit in on a job for a couple of days or a week, they get a reasonable idea of what the job entails and can decide if it's something they want to pursue.

Since externships are short and concentrated, students can complete several of them to apply their skills to different jobs until they find the most fulfilling fit. Because of their short duration, students can complete them anytime during the school year, but typically decide to complete them during time off from classes, such as spring or winter break or during the summer.

Related: Extern vs. Intern: Differences and Steps for Pursuing

Program design

Externs may have access to a variety of learning opportunities, including job shadowing, attending conferences, group learning, practicing several operational tasks, completing small projects and working through any specialized processes. Because of the design of the program, externs may experience a lot of different aspects of an occupation in a short time. Alternatively, interns typically perform day-to-day operations stretched out over months.

Related: A Guide To Finding an Internship During College

Program depth

Since externships are short previews of what a typical job might be like for a prospecting student, they tend to be less detailed training than an internship. One strategy for determining a future career path while in college might be to try a few externships before completing an internship.

The right externship can inform a student as to whether it's a good occupation to intern within. Even if you end up deciding not to pursue work in a field you externed in, it's still a great experience to include on your resume right out of college.

Related: Externship vs. Internship: What's the Difference?

Program pay

Externships are typically unpaid learning opportunities, while internships may include pay. However, there's been a push in some industries to pay interns for their time since they devote so much of it to these learning opportunities. It's unlikely that you can earn college credit during an externship, making them different from most school-organized internships.

Related: Do You Get Paid for an Externship? (FAQs)

How can you get an externship?

There are a few ways that students can find, apply for and get an externship. Here are three common ways you might come across your next externship:

College or university career services

Externships typically exist because of a relationship between the college or university and the organization providing the learning opportunity. For that reason, if you're looking for an externship, it makes sense to talk to your academic advisor.

If you don't have an advisor or you don't know who it is, you can check with your college's career services office. They can usually direct you to a directory of potential externships within your considered field.

Related: What Is a Nurse Extern and What Do They Do? (With Salary)

Networking relationships

If you decide to search for externships on your own, one way to do that is through networking. Whether attending a business networking event as a student, reaching out to existing business connections or attending conferences and participating in educational opportunities where you meet people in your chosen field, it's always good to grow your network. Once you have an established network, you can ask for externship referrals.

You may also use social media to expand your network and ask for help to find an externship. If you don't already have a profile on business networking social websites, it's a good time to start one while you're in college and seeking professional opportunities to gain experience.

Related: 47 Great Questions To Ask at a Networking Event

Other scholastic, professional or educational organizations

Community organizations like a rotary club, chamber of commerce or other non-profits could assist students in setting up externships. Reach out to organizations that rely on community connections for funding and membership and see if they have any leads for your externship search.

Even government agencies like a courthouse or police department might be willing to assist with externship opportunities. Be prepared to get a little creative with your search if your college or university doesn't offer externship placement services.

Related: 18 Best Nonprofit Companies To Work For

What do you do during an externship?

Here's an overview of what you can expect during your externship:

  • Receive a tour with management: A supervisor or other internal leader may give you a tour of the company or of the department where you can plan to complete your externship.

  • Attend meetings: The company may allow you to sit in on meetings with your supervisor. Managers might not invite you to every meeting, since some might be of confidential or cover proprietary company information.

  • Observe daily operations and tasks: During your externship, you can expect to observe others while they complete their job duties. Try to take advantage of this time to watch how people work with others, handle problems and other details of their professional lives outside of academia.

  • Ask questions: Remember to ask questions related to your role and to learn more about how employees got into this field and what they like about it. You may have the opportunity to conduct more formal informational interviews with staff but the more casual conversations can also be very enlightening.

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