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The internship series

Internship vs. externship: What’s the difference?

Learn the pros and cons of each, and find out which option is right for you.

As a college student, you are always looking for valuable experience to help you on your career path. This is why you may wonder about the difference between an externship and an internship.

When it comes to externship vs. internship, which provides a better learning experience and helps your job search after graduation? Are they paid? Do they count toward college credit? Do they provide practical job training? How much time do they require? And so on.

Read on to fully understand the ins and outs and pros and cons of externships and internships.


Internships are designed to give college students like you real-world experience in a job, helping you explore and enter a career field. As you expand your skill sets, you can turn your class learning into practical experience to send you along your job path.

Internships can take different forms. Some are full-time job opportunities, and others are part time. Many are paid positions, but some are unpaid internships.

Many students do summer internships when they can devote a lot of time to the experience. Sometimes, an internship might replace a school semester and count as credits toward a degree.

Depending on where you are headed in your career, you might choose between an internship for a nonprofit or for-profit organization.


Intern responsibilities can vary according to each company’s requirements and industry. Typical responsibilities include:

  • Doing tasks assigned by a manager
  • Attending meetings and taking minutes
  • Handling social media accounts
  • Taking care of clerical duties
  • Helping organize and run events

Interns must be good employees, show up on time, work hard, and demonstrate an eagerness to learn.


Internships are real-world job opportunities that provide hands-on experience at an organization in the career field you are interested in pursuing. Among their benefits:

  • Paid internships.Most internships are paid, helping you with your learning and living experiences.
  • Academic credits.Some internships provide credits toward your degree. Some programs might even require one or more for graduation.
  • Stepping stone for future work.Internships provide practical work experience (and professional connections) necessary to achieve career goals, helping you to land future work.
  • Extended duration. Internships can last a few weeks to a few months to a year, giving you lots of time to immerse yourself in a job.


Some internship drawbacks include:

  • No job guarantee.While an internship can give you valuable experience, it doesn’t guarantee you’ll land a job later.
  • Not enough money.While some internships pay money, it might only be a small stipend or hourly wage — not enough to cover your living needs.
  • Boring tasks.Since many internships are entry-level jobs, you might find yourself doing a lot of boring or repetitive work.

Qualification requirements

Internship qualifications often vary according to the organization and industry, so researching your specific internship is important. Some common requirements are:

  • A well-written resume
  • Academic transcripts
  • Letters of recommendation
  • A relevant major
  • Writing samples

When to do an internship

An internship can happen almost anytime during one’s college education. But its focus may change depending on when you do it.

You might complete an internship during your freshman or sophomore year to test career possibilities and see what you like.

Later in your education, you might focus more on gaining specific experience for a particular job and expanding your relevant knowledge base.


Rather than doing practical jobs, externships tend to involve shadowing a mentor in a company or organization to better understand what they do and what the field involves.

Externships are usually unpaid experiences and tend to be shorter-term opportunities than internships, typically lasting anywhere from a few days to a few weeks.

With this short duration, trying a few different externships or combining them with longer internships is possible.

Externships are usually unpaid or pay very little, but they are a good way to gain relevant work experience for your resume.

Schools often have relationships with organizations offering work experience, so your college is a good place to start searching for externship opportunities. Speak to an academic adviser for guidance, or search for externships through networking events and family or friend connections.


An externship can provide access to a variety of learning situations, which may differ according to a particular company and career field. Externs may be involved in:

  • Job shadowing
  • Attending staff meetings and conferences
  • Doing different operational tasks
  • Working on small projects
  • Learning about specialized processes


Externships help you gain experience in an actual work environment to learn more about an intended career field. Benefits include:

  • Fast work experience.They are a quick way to gain work experience for a resume.
  • Decide a career change.If you can’t decide between two majors, taking externships may help you decide.
  • Flexibility.They are typically short, so trying a few different externships or combining them with internships is easy.


Drawbacks of externships include:

  • No pay or low pay.If meeting your living costs is an issue, the lack of pay in an externship can be a deterrent.
  • No academic credits.Because of their short, temporary nature, externships don’t usually count toward academic requirements.
  • Provide only an overview.While an externship’s overview of a job/industry is useful, it doesn't provide the in-depth or hands-on practice of an internship.

Qualification requirements

Usually, the qualification process for an externship is less demanding than an internship because you are not expected to do the same kind of hard work (you might not, for example, need to interview for an externship).

Externship qualifications may vary, so reviewing each one’s requirements is important. They might include wanting students from specific programs in specific years (such as fourth-year nursing students.)

When to do an externship

There are different reasons to apply for externships at different times in college. In the early years, you might use externships as a way to check out different career paths.

Later on, they can be a way to get some quick credentials on a resume, spelling out the kinds of relevant work experience you gained.

Which is right for you?

Ask yourself some fast questions when deciding whether to do an externship or internship. Are you looking for in-depth practical work experience in a particular company and field, or are you just trying to get a feel for an industry? Do you have the time to take on a full internship, or are you looking for something lighter and faster?

Finding and landing an internship or externship

Finding a good internship or externship involves using your college’s many resources and networking through any personal and social media connections. Do some homework to land the opportunity you want.

Use your college resources

Colleges usually have different internships and externships available to students. Speak to your academic counselor for advice about what’s available. And specific programs and majors may offer different internships and externships.

For example, law students might have judicial externships, and medical students could have clinical internships.


You can look for externship and internship learning opportunities by attending professional networking events or using networks of personal contacts.

You can also use social media networks, checking LinkedIn contacts to see if they work for companies that give students this kind of work experience.

Also, don’t be afraid to try a head-on approach. If you see a company you might like to work for, reach out directly to see if they can offer you an internship or externship.

Prepare, prepare, prepare

When applying for an internship or externship, read the application closely to check its particular requirements. You may need a letter of recommendation, cover letter, resume, and/or transcripts.

Does the company require you to be in a particular field of study or year? If the company requires an interview, learn all you can about the business and industry so you can answer questions effectively.

Find internships on Handshake

Internships and externships are good ways to prepare for work life after college.

Use Handshake’s resources to land internship opportunities and find a job when you’re in the market.

Simply sign up, download our app, meet potential employers, and apply for internships with a click or two. A detailed search function makes it easy to sift through thousands of work possibilities to find the positions you want.

You’ll soon shake hands with new co-workers and managers at an internship.


Find the right jobs for you. Get hired.