Externship vs Internship: Is There Really a Difference?

A female intern in a black blazer and turquoise pants shakes hands with a female employee in a group of people

As you prepare to embark on your professional journey, you may encounter the terms "internship" and "externship" buzzing around like an annoying horsefly that won’t leave you alone.

There’s a reason for it. These experiential learning opportunities offer you a valuable sneak peek into the real world of your chosen field. They can help bridge the gap between theory and practice and help you decide if that dream job you're after is something you actually want to do.

But what's the difference between internships and externships anyway? Aren't they synonymous? Is externship even a real word? If you're like me, then you're today years old when you learned there's even a difference.

Read on to gain a deeper understanding of these distinct opportunities and get one step closer to the dynamic landscape of your future profession and career goals. Let's plug in.

Externship vs. Internship: What's the Difference?

Internship opportunities offer more hands-on involvement, and externships allow you to observe professionals at work, giving an inside look at the specific role you’re interested in.1

Internships tend to come from companies who will offer some training in exchange for temporary, entry-level work.

Externships often work in collaboration with an academic program, as a way to better prepare students for their future roles during the academic year.

What is an internship?

Internships offers real-world experience. They are structured and supervised roles made for students or recent graduates to apply their academic knowledge and skills in a professional setting.

During an internship, individuals gain practical job training and actively participate in the day-to-day operations of an organization or company, working on assigned tasks, projects or assignments. They gain hands-on experience, develop practical skills and have the chance to network with professionals.

Internships can be paid or unpaid, but the primary draw is supposed to be the experience and the opportunity to put that work experience on your resume.

Internships often provide mentorship and guidance, allowing interns to learn from industry professionals and receive feedback on their performance. Internships can also serve as a launching pad for future employment opportunities and provide a platform for personal and professional growth.

What is an externship?

Externships tend to be a short-term learning opportunity, where you'll shadow professionals. Unlike internships, which involve active participation and hands-on work, externships focus primarily on observation and learning from pros in real-world settings.2

During an externship, participants can monitor an industry professional, gain insights into their daily tasks and responsibilities and observe the workplace dynamics. This firsthand exposure helps students explore different career paths and aids in making informed decisions about future career choices.

While externships may be shorter in duration, they still offer a valuable chance to gain a deep understanding of a particular field and establish professional connections in your potential career path.

Breaking down the differences

Both internships and externships have their unique benefits, can greatly contribute towards your professional growth and career development and can generally be considered a valuable experience. To better understand the differences between externships and internships, let's break them down into key areas:

Nature and focus

Internship: Characterized by active participation, hands-on work and practical application of academic knowledge. The focus is on gaining experience, developing skills and contributing to the organization or company.

Externship: Externships emphasize observation and learning from the pros. The focus is on gaining insights into the industry, understanding workplace dynamics and exploring different career paths.


Internship: Internships are typically longer in duration, ranging from a few months to a semester or more (think summer internship). They offer a more extended and immersive experience, allowing interns to dive deeper into their assigned roles and responsibilities.

Externship: Externships are shorter in duration, usually lasting a few days to a few weeks. They provide a brief but intensive exposure to the professional environment, giving participants a snapshot of the industry and the work being done.

Level of responsibility

Internship: Interns are often assigned specific tasks, projects or assignments that contribute to the organization's goals. They have a higher level of responsibility, actively working and contributing as part of the team.

Externship: Externs primarily observe professionals and do not have the same level of responsibility as interns. Their role is more passive, focusing on shadowing, asking questions and gaining industry insights rather than actively participating in projects.

Academic integration

Internship: Frequently integrated with academic programs, allowing students to earn college credit. Typically, students have an internship coordinator who acts as a liaison between the academic institute and the workplace. They often require reflective assignments, progress reports, or assessments that link the practical experience with their academic coursework.

Externship: Externships are typically less academically integrated and often do not provide academic credit. They focus more on providing a real-world glimpse into the field, helping individuals make informed career decisions.

Networking and professional connections

Internship: They provide ample opportunities for networking and building professional connections. Interns work closely with pros in the field, establishing relationships that can lead to mentorship, recommendations, or future employment opportunities.

Externship: Externships do also offer networking possibilities but less than internships. Externs have limited time to build connections, primarily relying on brief interactions and informational interviews with professionals they observe.

How do I find an internship or externship?

Whether you're in the middle of your college career, nearing the end or recently graduated, there are ways to make your internship or externship search a little easier.

Here are the four biggest tips that can help you in your search:

  1. Define your goals: Clarify your objectives, such as gaining specific skills, exploring a particular industry, or building a network. Determine what you hope to gain from an internship. This will guide your search and help you narrow down suitable opportunities.
  2. Research: Explore companies, organizations and industries that align with your interests and goals.
  3. Utilize your network: Let friends, family, professors and mentors know that you're seeking an internship or externship. They may have connections or know of opportunities that haven't been widely advertised.
  4. Update your resume: Go over your resume and your online presence to highlight relevant skills and experiences. Emphasize any past work that demonstrates your qualifications and passion for the industry.

Are there certain fields where an internship or externship is more common?

While these terms really can be interchangeable, and all organizations can decide which kind of opportunity for students they’d like to offer, the term “internship” is certainly common in business and technology industries. The term “externship” appears a bit more often in healthcare and medical roles.

This makes sense if you consider it. Companies can allow students or very new grads to take on entry-level work in a marketing or data role. But a hospital is unlikely to allow students to just jump in and try their hand at heart surgery or delivering a baby. In these fields, shadowing first through a structured externship is probably for the best.

Now it’s your turn—internship or externship?

It's important for college students and recent graduates to understand the quirks and nuances of both externships vs. internships. Internships offer the chance to dive headfirst into the exciting realm of hands-on work, while externships provide the perfect opportunity to see your desired career in action.

So, whether you prefer rolling up your sleeves or following someone through their day-to-day, these experiential learning opportunities can give you concrete insights. So, seize the opportunities, and remember, both internships and externships are created to help benefit students and new professionals.

And both options can give you a lower-stakes entry into your prospective career. Follow our College Life Blog for more student tips and career advice!

1 National Society of Collegiate Scholars, “Internship Versus Externship: What’s the Difference?” [accessed June 2023] https://nscs.org/internship-vs-externship-what-is-the-difference/

2 Biro, Megan (2023) Considering An Externship? Here’s What You Need To Know, Forbes [accessed June 2023] https://www.forbes.com/sites/meghanbiro/2023/06/21/considering-an-externship-heres-what-you-need-to-know/?sh=156479a23e77

About the author

Robbie Gould

Robbie is a content writer for Rasmussen University. He researches and writes on a variety of topics and is passionate about storytelling, learning and empowering the next generation of students.

Robbie Gould smiles at the camera with a blue light and a grass meadow behind him

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