When you finish up your school years with a degree, it can feel a lot like taking a giant leap into a pool of murky water.
You aren’t sure what lies ahead or what you want to do with your life—but you’re expected to leap anyway.
If that makes you feel anxious, don’t panic. There are ways to augment your education with real-life experience.
Internships and externships could be the answer. And before you cringe, don’t worry—I am not here to advocate taking on backbreaking work as an unpaid intern.
Instead, I’m here to answer the question, “What is an externship?” I’ll show you the difference between intern vs. extern and go over the pros and cons of both.
If you like what you read, you’ll find tips and resources for finding the right internship or externship for you toward the bottom of the article.
Internship vs. Externship: What’s the difference
These two terms both refer to programs people in school (typically college or grad school) use to learn more about a potential career through real-life, hands-on experience.
Let’s look at how they’re different.
What is an internship?
Internships allow students to work in an organization within a field they’re interested in, either concurrently with their schooling or soon after they’ve graduated.
Internships can be paid, unpaid (often referred to as volunteered), or they can help you earn college credits, depending on your school.
As an intern, you’ll immerse yourself in a role at a business or organization. Like the jobs you may hold in the future, you’ll have specific tasks you need to complete and objectives you need to meet.
Internships often take place over the summer, and they vary in how much of a time commitment they are—if it’s a full-time internship position, you could put in 40 hours a week during summer break. Other options will have fewer hours and fit in with your course schedule.
In a well-matched internship, the business you work for benefits through your work, and you gain valuable insights and experiences that will illuminate what a future job may entail.
You’ll be able to use your experience as an intern to augment your resume, which can be a big help when it comes time to start applying for jobs after graduation.
There’s a chance the internship you work with may turn into your first job—it’s not uncommon for companies to offer part-time or full-time roles to interns they trust.
What is an externship?
Externships, like internships, allow you to get further real-life experiences as a student or recent grad. But instead of placing you in a role at a company, externships are more observational.
During an externship, you may do things like:
- Sit in on staff meetings
- Attend networking events
- Interview individuals at a company
- Tour various facilities
Externships are typically shorter—they’ll run anywhere from one week to a couple of months. And unlike internships, they are less likely to be paid or earn you college credits.
But on the upside, with an externship, you’re looking at less of a time commitment. You may be able to conduct several different externships in the same amount of time someone would spend at a single internship.
Externships also give you better networking opportunities—because you’re meeting a larger variety of people, rather than getting siloed in one single company, you’ll have more diverse connections when you finish up and graduate.
Internship vs. Externship: Pros and cons
There are upsides and downsides to both internships and externships, and some of these pros/cons overlap. Both internships and externships…
✅ Give you hands-on experience
✅ Open up networking opportunities
✅ Enhance your resume
✅ Give you a headstart when job-hunting
Depending on what you’re looking for, there are a few key differences that could help you make the right decision.
|Getting Paid & Earning credit||✅ More likely to provide compensation or credit||❌ Unlikely to provide compensation|
|Time commitment||📆 Tyically lasts for at least a few months|
☀️ May take place during summer break
💼 May be a part-time commitment during school or in place of a class
|⌛ Typically lasts for a few weeks
🏫 Can be done concurrently with school or during school breaks
⌚ Offers more flexibility than internships
|Style of program||🖥️ Likely an in-office setting (possible remote office) |
🧑💼 Learn the day-to-day of a specific role
📊 Master skills and meet objectives
|🪁 Observe a role from different angles
🤝 Focus on network building
🧱 More control over the direction of the program
How to find an externship or internship
Now that we know the pros and cons of externships vs. internships, how do you go about finding one that will help you advance your career?
I’ll give you resources below, but it will be much easier if you start by answering a few important questions.
Questions to ask before applying for an internship or externship
1. How much time can I realistically commit to an internship/externship each week?
2. How important is monetary compensation/course credit?
3. What specific skills do I want to learn more about?
4. What kind of company/organization do I want to engage with?
5. What kinds of people do I want to meet and network with?
Find internships and externships through your school
The first step toward finding an internship or externship is to investigate what formal options your school offers.
The best resource is likely your Career Services Office. It may be as simple as booking an appointment with a career counselor—be sure to bring your answers to the questions above with you!
Check your school’s activity calendars to see if any job fairs are coming up. Often, businesses will recruit interns directly at such events.
You can also look into your school’s alumni network. You may be able to learn the ropes from people who graduated from the school you’re attending now.
Find internships and externships on the internet
If the options offered by your school aren’t working out, there are still plenty of ways to find internships and externships online.
Here are a few internship and externship websites to check out:
LinkedIn is still one of the best resources for finding internships and externships (and full-time jobs, for that matter!). You can easily filter your search results to look for internships or externships in your area or within industries that interest you.
Glassdoor is mostly known for providing transparent information about companies and roles, including salary info and reviews from current/former employees. But it also has a huge jobs database, including a page that lists lots of internships.
Indeed is another online job board, but you can still easily filter your search for internships in your area.
If change, action, and ethics are important for your future career, then Idealist is a great place to look for internships. The job board specifically features roles in non-profit, advocacy, and community action.
Design your own externship
If you’ve decided an externship is right for you, then you can also try building your own externship.
When you’ve decided what you want to learn and get out of the experience, you can start reaching out to your network, creating a unique program for yourself.
Start by looking for alumni from your college or university who are working in a role you want to work in—you can do this through your alumni network or via LinkedIn search.
You can also use LinkedIn (or trusty Google) to find individuals or specific companies you’d like to include in your externship.
Next, find the right person to contact and reach out to them with a friendly note. In a few sentences, let them know who you are, what career you’re interested in, and what you want to learn. Then ask what opportunities are available.
Example externship outreach email
Hello Ms. Gomez,
My name is Taylor, and I’m in my final year studying English Language and Literature at ABC University.
I’m looking to learn more about how boutique publishing agencies, like your company, operate. I’d love to shadow or interview someone at your company. Is that something you offer?
I look forward to hearing from you!
In addition to reaching out to individuals, you can look for events you might want to attend, either locally or online. Webinars, training courses, conferences, and networking events can all make up the building blocks of your externship. Besides LinkedIn and Facebook, you can find opportunities like these on sites like Meetup.com, or through a local community center.
Final thoughts: Getting the most out of your internship or externship
Now, you know the fundamental differences between internships vs. externships, and you know how to find one that works for you.
To get the most out of the experience, make sure you come prepared to learn and take those learnings with you when you start looking for a job after college.
During your internship or externship, it’s a good idea to keep a journal of what exactly you did, what lessons you learned, and what questions you still have.
Later, you’ll be able to bring these takeaways to life on your resume and use them to launch a career that brings you joy and satisfaction.