Internships vs. Externships: Understanding the Differences and Making the Right Choice


Navigating the world of experiential learning can be a pivotal step toward shaping a successful career path. Internships and externships are two distinct avenues that offer invaluable insights into professional domains. An externship, typically unpaid, entails shadowing seasoned industry professionals to observe their day-to-day operations, fostering learning through observation, networking, interviews, and literature review. Conversely, an internship, whether paid or voluntary, involves active participation in a company's operations, working on substantial projects, attending meetings, and gaining hands-on experience in a chosen field. Understanding the nuances between these opportunities is crucial for making informed decisions that align with your specific goals and circumstances. In this guide, we'll delve into what to expect from both internships and externships, factors to consider when choosing between them, and practical steps to secure these valuable placements. Whether you're a student or a new graduate, embarking on these experiences can lead to invaluable industry exposure, professional connections, and a fortified resume.

Internship vs. Externship

An externship is typically an unpaid program that involves shadowing industry professionals to observe their daily duties. It offers a chance to learn through observation, networking, informational interviews, and reviewing company literature. On the other hand, an internship is a paid or voluntary position where individuals actively participate in a company's operations, working on substantial projects, attending staff meetings, and gaining hands-on experience in their chosen field.

What to Expect in an Externship?

An externship is a placement program that offers applicants the chance to shadow established professionals in their desired field. As externs, individuals observe daily duties and learn through firsthand experience, without the pressure of job site responsibilities. Externships provide an opportunity for participation, questioning, and self-assessment, leading to potential shadowing experiences for various positions.

What to Expect in an Internship?

An internship is a placement program where beginners actively perform roles within a company's operations, aimed at gaining practical experience in a specific profession. Interns receive training, work on projects, and may report to supervisors or assist team members based on the role's requirements. Internships can involve a range of tasks directly related to the company's operations, as well as support duties that contribute to the overall work environment.

Factors to Consider When Choosing Between Internships and Externships

While both internships and externships provide valuable experience and industry connections, understanding their differences can influence your decision. When deciding between internships and externships, consider these additional factors that align with your specific needs and circumstances:

Class Credit

Internships often qualify for university or college degree program credits, while externships may fulfill practicum or fieldwork requirements. The length and nature of the experience can impact whether it counts toward class credit.

Program Length

Externships typically offer more flexibility in terms of scheduling and duration, accommodating individuals with limited availability due to factors like childcare, education, or recovery from injury. Internships, on the other hand, involve more in-depth training experiences and adhere to a set schedule, which can last anywhere from a month to a year.


Internships may provide payment or stipends for the work performed, while externships are usually unpaid as the focus is on observational learning rather than actual job responsibilities.

Impact on Resume

Internships offer hands-on experience, allowing interns to showcase their actual job tasks and responsibilities on their resumes. Externships, on the other hand, emphasize observational experience and networking opportunities, making them suitable for inclusion in workplace training or assets sections of a resume.

Advancement Opportunities

Externships are often part of an academic process that provides resources and pathways for career advancement, even though they may have limitations in terms of financial compensation and responsibilities. Internships closely resemble standard employment and provide valuable industry experience, which can lead to recommendations and potentially enhance future job prospects.

Type of Experience

Assess your existing work experience and career goals. If you need to gain specific skills or explore a different industry, an internship might be the ideal choice. For introductory experiences or assessing fit within a particular position or organization, an externship can be beneficial.

Level of Education

Your academic status may influence the availability of opportunities. If you're currently enrolled in a degree program, internships may offer more comprehensive options for earning class credit.

Networking and Mentoring

Consider the level of networking and mentorship opportunities offered by each option. Internships often provide direct interaction with industry professionals, while externships may offer a broader network-building experience.

How do I get an Externship or Internship?

If you're interested in pursuing an externship or internship, here are some steps to help you secure one:

  1. Research Potential Opportunities: Look for companies, organizations, or professionals in your desired field who offer externship programs. Explore their websites, reach out to professional networks, or consult with your academic institution's career services office for leads.
  2. Tailor Your Application: Prepare a well-crafted resume and cover letter highlighting your interest in the industry and your desire to gain experience. Customize your application materials to align with the specific externship or internship opportunity you're applying for.
  3. Prepare for Interviews: If selected for an interview, thoroughly research the company or professional offering the program. Be prepared to discuss your goals, demonstrate your enthusiasm for the industry, and explain how the externship aligns with your career aspirations.
  4. Follow-Up and Express Gratitude: After an interview or application submission, don't forget to send a thank-you email or letter to express your appreciation for the opportunity to be considered for the externship. This gesture demonstrates professionalism and a good attitude.


Internships and externships provide valuable opportunities for students and new graduates to gain industry exposure, build professional connections, and enhance their resumes. Understanding the differences between these two types of placements is crucial when making a decision. Consider factors such as class credit, program length, payment, impact on resume, and advancement opportunities. Participating in multiple internships or externships can further broaden your knowledge and increase your future employment prospects.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Can you get hired from an externship?

While it is possible to get hired from an externship, the primary purpose of an externship is to offer students the chance to observe and learn from professionals in their field. Nonetheless, by making a positive impression and establishing strong connections, an externship can enhance your prospects of being considered for future employment opportunities within the organization or industry.

Is it better to take a job or an internship?

Deciding between a job and an internship depends on what you want and need. A job pays you and lets you learn by doing real work in a professional setting. It gives you stability and can match your long-term career goals. On the other hand, an internship lets you try out a specific field, learn skills for that industry, and make professional connections. It's usually a shorter commitment and may not pay you. 

Are short internships considered employment?

Short internships are not usually considered regular employment like a typical job. Instead, they are designed to help students learn and gain practical experience in a specific industry. Internships are temporary and focused on providing educational benefits. While some internships may offer payment, the main goal is to learn new skills and get hands-on experience.

Are externships worth it?

Yes, externships are definitely worth it! Externships provide valuable opportunities for students and aspiring professionals to explore a specific career field and gain firsthand knowledge of what it's like to work in that industry. They allow individuals to observe and network with professionals, take facility tours, conduct informational interviews, and review company literature.

What is the difference between getting your LMSW and LCSW license after graduation from an accredited school vs. going through internships/externships while still in school?

The difference between getting your LMSW or LCSW license after you finish school and doing internships/externships while still in school is all about when and how you become licensed. When you graduate from an accredited school with a social work degree, you have the knowledge and skills you need to be eligible for a license. After graduation, you usually have to meet certain requirements set by the licensing board in your state. This might mean completing supervised clinical hours, passing a licensing test, and meeting other educational or professional requirements.

But if you do internships/externships while still in school, you can gain practical experience and collect supervised clinical hours before you graduate. Many social work programs have opportunities for students to work in real-world settings under the guidance of experienced professionals. These internships/externships give you a chance to learn by doing, work with different types of people, and use what you've learned in a real job. By doing internships/externships during school, you might be able to reduce the number of supervised hours you need after you graduate to get your license.

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