Know Your Options: Externship vs. Internship

Updated: November 19, 2019

Today, a college internship is widely known as the gateway to a fruitful full-time job—the key to a painless transition from new grad to new hire.

But while an internship is the most well-known way to get on-the-job training, there are other types of on-site learning opportunities, too. One lesser known, but still invaluable, option is the externship.

What is an externship?

An externship is a short-term shadowing experience in which a student follows a professional to observe the day-to-day activities in their workplace. As an extern, you’ll gain an insider’s perspective of your chosen field, make connections with professionals in the industry, and assess if this is really what you want to pursue post-graduation.

Since the timeframe for an externship is so brief, externs tend to learn through observation and aren’t expected to perform any hands-on tasks. You see the actual equipment and practical techniques used by professionals in their day-to-day work, and you have the valuable opportunity to ask a professional in the field whatever you want. But, as such, externships are typically unpaid and do not result in class credit.

What are the benefits of an externship?

While internships can last a summer or a year, an externship is quite short, usually lasting from one day to two weeks. This means that they’re more flexible than internships and can be completed over spring break or even on a day without classes. You should think of an externship as a quick and easy way to gain information about your intended career before making any major decisions that could have a lasting impact. While some externships can lead to more long-term internship or job opportunities, they’re more about demonstrating your enthusiasm, building your network, and exploring your options than anything else.

How do you get an externship?

Externships tend to be more informal than internships. You won’t typically find externship listings on job boards or email lists. However, some schools have specific externship programs, offered as part of an academic program. Often, finding an externship is as simple as working your network. Family friends, your parents’ colleagues, or leaders in your community may be able to connect you to people who work in your field of interest.


Other alternatives to an internship include an apprenticeship, fellowship, or co-op. To learn more, read our guides to apprenticeships, co-ops, and fellowships.