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Decoding the Externship vs. Internship Dilemma

Explore the nuances of externships and internships, and determine which suits your career goals best. Learn about duration, pay, academic credit, and more.
By Synkdup Editorial Team  |  5 October 2023
Externship VS Internship

As a starter with just some hands-on training under your belt, you might be preferred over someone with actual work experience. Because, for the hiring company, you are a candidate who offers real work experience without the additional salary that comes with experience.

The three most mainstream ways to acquire on-the-job training are internships, externships, or practicums. These work programs allow recent graduates and kids who are still in school to get a taste of the job world and can be quite enriching. They often significantly impact career decisions and help young people choose the right career path for themselves.

This article is to help you make a decision if you are considering taking up a practical training program. We will try to cover all aspects of internships and externships, including how they are similar to and different from each other, to give you a comprehensive idea of the whole thing.

What is an Internship, Really?

An internship is like a temporary gig that a student or recent grad gets in a field they're into. It's a hands-on learning experience, and you can do it full-time or part-time, depending on what suits you. The cool thing is that you get to apply all that bookish stuff you've learned in college to real-life situations.

Some internships even give you academic credit, but not all. Oh, and yeah, some pay you for your time, but not all do. It kinda depends on where you are, and there are rules about that in some places. Internships are pretty structured too; they come with a plan that includes training, someone to guide you, and some feedback along the way. You might even get to work on specific projects!

...And, What is an Externship

An externship is like a short trip into the world of professionals, set up by your school or college in cahoots with real companies or industries. It's a bit shorter, usually just a few days or weeks. You're not doing the job; you're more like a fly on the wall, watching what happens. Externships don't usually pay, but that's because they're more about learning than working. You're there to see pros in action, ask questions, and get the feel of what a day on the job is like. Some might even throw in academic credit, but not all do.

So, in a nutshell, internships are like deep dives into real work, while externships are quick peeks behind the scenes. They're both great for learning about your dream job and beefing up your resume for the future!

Externship vs Internship: Understanding the Difference

Understanding the differences between an externship and an internship can be very useful when deciding what kind of hands-on training you want to opt for. Following are the main points of difference between an externship and an internship.

1. Nature of Work:

  • In an internship, you're like an active participant, doing real tasks and projects related to your field of study. It's all about hands-on experience.
  • On the other hand, an externship is more about observing. You shadow professionals, watch what they do, and get a feel for the industry without getting your hands too dirty.

2. Duration:

  • Internships can be quite a commitment, lasting anywhere from a few months to a whole year. They're like a longer journey of learning and skill-building.
  • Externships are like quick visits; they're shorter, usually only a few days to a few weeks. They're like a brief sneak peek into your chosen field.

3. Academic Credit:

  • Internships often give you the option to earn academic credit, which is like a bonus for your education.
  • Externships may or may not offer academic credit, depending on the program and school rules.

4. Compensation:

  • Some internships pay you for your hard work, either with hourly wages or stipends. It's like getting a paycheck.
  • Externships are typically unpaid. You're there to learn, not to earn.

5. Focus:

  • Internships are all about rolling up your sleeves and getting practical experience. You work on projects and tasks to learn the ropes.
  • Externships are more about getting a feel for the environment. You watch and learn, gaining insights into the daily grind.

6. Level of Involvement:

  • Interns dive right into the organization's work, contributing to projects and working closely with colleagues.
  • Externs mainly observe and soak in the knowledge. You might ask questions, but you're not typically in charge of tasks or projects.

7. Goals:

  • Internships are like a boot camp for your career. You gain practical skills and real-world experience.
  • Externships help you decide if a certain career or industry is your cup of tea. They're like a career trial run.

In a nutshell, internships are like immersive experiences, while externships are more like guided tours. Your choice depends on your career goals and how deep you want to dive into your chosen field.

How Can You Get an Internship After College

If you are serious about your career, there are certain things you should do while you are still a student that will significantly raise your chances of getting an enriching internship after college.

First of all, you should maintain good relations with the faculty and try to stay in their good books. It will help you when you approach them with the request for a recommendation letter that attests to your academic performance and work ethic.

You should also try to find online courses or workshops to acquire skills in demand in your industry. There are many wonderful courses available online on various subjects either for free or at the price of peanuts. Make sure to check out relevant courses on platforms like Udemy and Coursera. Also, if your college provides career counseling services, schedule an appointment with a career advisor to review your resume, cover, letter, and interviewing skills.

If you are in the final months of college, you should start applying to internship listings already. You need to keep regularly checking internship portals, company websites, and job boards for internship listings. Make sure to customize your resume for each internship application, emphasizing relevant coursework, projects, and skills.

How to Write a Cover Letter for an Internship/Externship

Trust us, getting a good internship is harder than getting a job. You don’t want to land in an internship where you are reduced to an Excel head. A lot of times, good internships require you to write a cover letter or do a little assignment as a part of the application process. These are typically the really good ones; make sure to look out for them.

Wondering how to write a cover letter for an internship? Here’s a template that you can also use for an externship.

a. Your name and contact information
b. Date of the letter

Recipient's Information:
a. Name and job title of the person you're addressing
b. Company name and address

Salutation: Address the recipient by name

a. Express your interest in the internship position
b. Specify where you found the internship opportunity

a. Highlight your relevant academic background and skills
b. Discuss specific experiences or projects that demonstrate your suitability
c. Explain why you're interested in the company and what excites you about it

a. Reiterate your enthusiasm for the internship opportunity
b. Express your eagerness to further discuss your application
c. Attach a well-written resume

a. Sign off with a professional closing (e.g., "Sincerely," "Best regards")
b. Your typed name (signature)

Academic Credit and Compensation

The best thing about getting practical training during college is that colleges nowadays often offer opportunities to get internships as an elective in a semester for which you earn credits and all. And when the internships are paid, it is just the cherry on the top!

So, let's dive into the world of academic credit and what you might get in return for your time and effort during internships and externships. Keep in mind, it's a bit of a mixed bag, and there are a few factors that come into play.

Academic Credit:

1. Internships: So, you know, many schools - especially colleges and universities - offer academic credit for internships. That's pretty cool, right? It's like getting rewarded for your hard work. You usually get to enroll in an internship course through your school and earn some credits toward your degree. The catch? Well, you gotta meet certain criteria, like completing a specific number of work hours, doing some reflective assignments, or letting your supervisor evaluate how you're doing.

2. Externships: Now, externships are a bit different. They might offer academic credit, but it's not a guarantee. Some schools are all for it, seeing externships as a great learning experience worth crediting. But others might not be as keen on the idea. It really depends on what your school's policies are and what the goals of the externship program are.


Internships: Ah, the big question! Compensation during internships can vary big time. Some gigs are paid, which means you're getting actual money - either hourly wages or a nice stipend. Paid internships are often found in industries like tech, finance, and engineering.

But don't get too down if your internship is unpaid. They're more common in non-profit organizations or fields where you're in it more for the learning than the cash. And hey, some paid internships even sweeten the deal with extras like housing or transportation allowances.

Externships: Since externships are usually on the shorter side they're often unpaid too. But don't let that discourage you. Externships are like a sneak peek into a specific field or profession. You're there to observe, learn the ropes, and soak up knowledge, not so much to rake in the dough."

What is a Practicum

"Think of a 'practicum' as a real-world learning adventure, kind of like an internship, but more focused on certain professions or fields. It's where you take all that bookish stuff you've learned in school and put it to the test in actual workplaces.

In some areas, like teaching, counseling, healthcare, and social work, practicums are a must-do part of your education. During a practicum, you get to work in real settings, side by side with pros who show you the ropes.

Here's what's cool about practicums:

  • You're not alone; experienced folks watch over you.
  • It's all about hands-on learning, where you apply what you've studied.
  • You get to level up specific skills you'll need for your future job.
  • Real workplaces show you what the job's really like.
  • You even get feedback and grades to see how you're doing.

Basically, a practicum is your bridge from school to the real deal, getting you ready for your career journey."

Choosing Between Externships and Internships: What's Right for You

Selecting between an externship and an internship is like mapping out a part of your learning adventure that can significantly shape your path. To help you navigate this decision, consider these factors with a sprinkle of real-life wisdom:

Long-Term Career Goals: Start by picturing your career. Are you itching to explore various industries, taking a peek at different professions? Or is there a specific career path that's calling your name? If it's exploration you seek, externships can be your guide, while internships offer a deep dive into a specialized world.

Learning Goals: What's the main dish you're hungry for in your learning journey? If you're all about soaking up knowledge and gaining insights, like savoring a well-made soup, then an externship might be your preferred taste. But if you're looking for a hands-on experience, where you roll up your sleeves and build skills, then internships are the thing for you.

Time Commitment: Think about the clock ticking in the background. Externships tend to be like quick but thrilling rides, often lasting only a short while. On the other hand, internships can be like a long road trip, stretching out over several months or even a year.

School Rules: Your educational institution might have a say in this. Some programs favor one over the other, and some even offer academic credit. If that's a concern, check with the relevant authority at school.

Money: The budget matters too. Internships are more likely to come with a paycheck, but externships often run on a tight budget. So, if money is a big reason why you want to take up an externship or internship, you should go with an internship.

Mentorship: Consider the importance of mentors in your career path. Internships often come with a side of mentorship, like having an experienced chef by your side. Externships, however, are more about observing the pros at work.

Future: Finally, think about how this dish fits into your long-term career feast. How will your choice of externship or internship spice up your resume and set the table for your future goals?

Final Thoughts: Internships vs. Externships

Reading and learning about processes is one thing but, actually carrying them out practically is quite another. And it is quite clear that employers across industries and levels appreciate practical work experience on the resume big time. Now, if you are wondering how long should my internship be, you need to think about how much time it would take a regular Joe to pick up some valuable skills in your field.

Typically though, 5-6 months is more than enough to win over any hiring manager. However, if your internship is like a year or so, you should really consider if what you are learning would add that much to your resume.

Unless it is a highly accredited or recognized course, we’d recommend never staying stuck in a lousy internship just because you started it, just find yourself another gig and get out of there ASAP.

And remember, how much value you get out of any training program ultimately depends on how much you milk the opportunity. Just put in your hundred percent and the training will be a worthwhile experience even in the worst-case scenario.

Also, be mentally prepared to handle a much greater load of responsibility in the job than you did in your externship or internship. Best of luck.


Q1: What are the responsibilities of an externship or internship

Ans: Interns have a greater degree of involvement in the work than externs, who are more of quite observers rather than non-regularised workers. Naturally, interns are allocated more responsibilities than externs, which is why, interns often get paid while externs hardly ever do.

The specific responsibilities of an intern/extern though, vary significantly from one organization to another and depend mostly on the field of work.

Q2: Should I put an externship on my resume?

Ans: Of course, you should. Especially when it demonstrates relevant experience and determination to gain industry experience. However, if your externship was relatively short and doesn’t add significant value to your resume, you might choose to omit it.

Q3: Are externships worth it?

Ans: Externships are totally worth it in industries like healthcare and technology, where you need to go through an externship before you can join an organization as a regular employee. Even in fields that have no such requirements, an externship can be a very valuable experience. You just need to find an externship that aligns with your career goals, offers learning and networking opportunities, enhances your skills, and fits within your academic commitments.

Q4: How long are internships?

Ans: Internships can vary in duration, typically ranging from a few weeks to a full year. Summer Internships. Summer internships are often 8 to 12 weeks long while semester internships can be around 3 to 4 months. However, some internships may last for an entire year. In specialized fields, industries can even extend beyond a year, such as medical or research internships that can last multiple years.


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