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Externship vs Internship: What’s the Difference?

Written by Shefali Sundram

Updated on: 03 Jan 2024

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Before entering the workforce, more than three-quarters of students engage in externships, internships, and other experiential learning through their degrees. 

The externship vs. internship stupor will likely strike during the college phase.

A lack of clear understanding of externship vs. internship: what is what might certainly lead you to make a bad choice.

What is an extern?

What is an intern?

What are the key differences between an externship and an internship?

Let’s simplify this for you:

The main difference between an externship and an internship is that an externship requires you to shadow experienced professionals and observe their professional duties to understand the job role; in an Internship, you work on projects as a company team member.

Here’s a three-pointer breakdown of the same:

  • Externs observe the job role of an organization.
  • Interns perform tasks in the organization.
  • The former is unpaid, and the latter can be paid or unpaid.

What are externships?

Companies offering Externship Programs
Companies Offering Externship Programs

In an Externship, an extern observes and shadows a professional in the work setting to learn how to perform certain tasks required in the respective field.

Externs do not receive any tasks to perform. An Extern may or may not get paid. They watch the tasks carried out by the professional they shadow and learn what it takes to be in the field. 

Additionally, they are invited to be part of staff meetings and are briefed on how the organization functions. However, unlike internships, externships span from a few days to a few weeks and can last as short as a day.

What are internships?

Internships require you to work closely with the team members in an organization and assist them in projects. Interns actively carry responsibilities in the projects

Working as an intern helps to develop the primary skill set required as a professional. Internships span from a few weeks to a couple of months and can be paid or unpaid. 

Zippia carried out extensive research on Internships in its report, 20+ Compelling Internship Statistics[2023]: Data, Pay, and Trends. 

It concluded that $20.76 is the hourly stipend of paid interns in the US

Key differences between externship vs internship

LengthTypically shorterTypically longer
RoleShadow an experienced professionalComplete tasks aligned with career goals
PayTypically unpaidCan be paid or unpaid
CreditMay be offered for academic creditNot typically offered for credit
Key differences between externship and internship

What are the similarities?

Even though they are very different from each other in terms of experience and outcome, externship and internship have two similarities:

Expands professional network 

Since both externship and internship require you to work on-site, you get a practical understanding of your job role.

Whether you are an extern or an intern, such experiential learning is bound to expand your professional network. You get to make new professional connections in organizations that may help you with referrals down the line. 

Or they are aware of new job opportunities and can help you out with landing a new job after graduation!

Adds value to Resume

Adding externship or internship experiences to your resume strengthens your profile. It shows the credibility of your understanding of professional skills, which raises your chances of getting hired over someone who has not engaged in such experiential learning.

Externship vs internship: future employment, college credits, and payment

Externships and internships can result in employment. If you made a good impression on the employer during your internship or externship, you may get to transition into a full-time position. 

As per Zippia’s 20+ Compelling Internship Statistics[2023]: Data, Pay, and Trends report, 56% of Interns accepted job offers from the company they interned for in the US. 

Since Externships are short and informal, colleges don’t count them for course credits. Some externships can last for just a day. But it’s not the same case with Internships. 

Colleges may require students to engage in internships during their studies to gain practical and hands-on experience. Internships can be counted as an elective too! Some of the universities that consider this are:

  • Duke University
  • Cornell University
  • Massachusetts Institute of Technology
  • Purdue University  

Paid Externships are highly unlikely as they are of short duration and don’t involve hands-on work. Whereas, Internships can be both paid and unpaid. The compensation of paid Internships varies from companies.

Should I pursue an externship or internship?

Internship vs. externship, which is better, depends on what you are seeking from the experience.

  • Length of experience: An externship may be a good option if you are looking for a shorter experience. If you are looking for a longer experience, then an internship may be a better choice.
  • Role: In an externship, you will typically shadow an experienced professional and observe their work. You may be given some basic tasks to complete, but your primary role is to learn about the profession and the industry. If you are looking for more hands-on experience, an internship may be a better choice.
  • Pay: If you need to earn money while you are gaining experience, then an internship with a paid position may be a better choice for you.
  • Credit: If you want to earn academic credit for your experience, then an externship may be a better choice.
  • Goals: What are your career goals? If you are unsure what you want to do after graduation, an externship may be a good way to explore different professions and industries. If you already know what you want to do, an internship may be a better way to gain experience in that field.

When should you choose an externship over an internship?

During an externship, you will encounter a variety of working professionals who could guide you in your chosen field.

It can help you make new connections with less effort than what is required in an internship. Because, usually, an externship spans shorter than an internship.

You can decide which field you’d like to work in in less time. You can take up an Externship in Journalism or Copyrighting, a few days each, and figure out which one interests you more.

So if you’re more in an exploring phase, looking forward to building connections and experimenting with different career paths, an externship is your answer.

When should you choose an internship over an externship? 

Internships offer paid opportunities as well. You get compensated for the work you put in, be it a part-time or full-time internship.

According to Zippia’s Internship Statistics, 60.8% are paid internships and 39.2% are unpaid.

An internship provides you an opportunity to apply and perfect the skills you need if you plan to work in a field that requires them. You get to be part of the organization officially and work closely with a team, earning proper work experience.

How do you find an externship or internship Program?

Talking to your mentors, tutors, or professors, attending workshops and career fairs, searching on the internet, and approaching companies directly via emails or other job application platforms are some powerful ways to find an externship or internship. Let’s see how:

College career centers

Generally, college career centers are up to date with Externship and Internship programs as Universities partner with other organizations for such opportunities. You can look for programs in your field of interest accordingly.

Networking with professors and other professionals

If your college does not have a career center as such, you can request help from your Professors as they may be aware of opportunities. Otherwise, you can attend networking events like webinars, seminars, and workshops and expand your connection with professionals. 

Job sites and portals

There are plenty of job sites and portals that post internship opportunities. You can check out this blog post on 10 Best Websites to find an Internship and land your internship!

Externship opportunities can be found on Company websites and within colleges, where students can shadow their alumni. The application process is not as complex as that for an Internship.

Students should highly consider additional experiential learning for entry-level jobs. Knowledge gained from Externships and Internships strengthens your job profile and increases the prospects of receiving more opportunities.

Related stories

The videos listed here share related stories and information on internship vs. externship and when to choose what.

Externship vs. internship: FAQs

Are externships paid?

Externships are typically unpaid, but they can still be valuable experiences. They are often shorter than internships and focus more on shadowing professionals than completing regular job tasks. While externships may not offer financial compensation, they can be a great way to learn about a particular profession and network with professionals in your field.

What is the difference between an extern and an intern?

An extern is a student or recent graduate who is gaining work experience in a particular field by merely observing the operations. Externs are typically unpaid.

On the other hand, interns complete regular job tasks as team members of the company or organization. Interns are mostly paid for their work.

Give some examples of externships and internships.

Here are some examples of externships and internships:

Legal externship: An externship with a law firm where you would shadow lawyers and learn about the legal process.
Medical externship: An externship with a hospital or clinic where you would shadow doctors, nurses, and other medical professionals.
Business externship: An externship with a company where you would shadow managers and other employees and learn about the business world.
Education externship: An externship with a school where you would shadow teachers and other staff members and learn about the educational process.
Nonprofit externship: An externship with a nonprofit organization where you would shadow staff members and learn about the organization’s mission and work.

Software engineering internship: An internship with a software company where you would work on real-world software projects.
Marketing internship: An internship with a marketing firm where you would help with marketing campaigns and other marketing activities.
Finance internship: An internship with a financial institution where you would work on financial analysis and other financial tasks.
HR internship: An internship with a human resources department where you would help with recruiting, onboarding, and other HR activities.
Sales internship: An internship with a sales team where you would help with lead generation, cold calling, and other sales activities.


  1. Elsie Boskamp, 20 + Compelling Internship Statistics [2023]: Data, Pay, and Trends. (n.d.). Retrieved May 2 2023, from https://www.zippia.com/advice/internship-statistics/
  2. Matthew T.Hora, Jared Colston, Zhidong Chen, and Alexandra Pasqualone – National Survey of College Internships (NSCI) 2021 Report. (n.d.). Retrieved May 2 2023, from https://ccwt.wisc.edu/wp-content/uploads/2022/04/CCWT_NSCI-2021-Report.pdf
  3. Co-ops/Internships. (n.d.). Retrieved from May 2 2023, https://www.usnews.com/best-colleges/rankings/internship-programs

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Shefali Sundram

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