Externship vs Internship: What’s the Difference and How to Choose?

Want work experience before you graduate? In the guide below, we help you understand externship vs internship opportunities and how to choose between them.

Trying to stand out is hard!

After all, it seems like everyone else has a 4.5 GPA, volunteer experience, and a charming personality. Trying to find a unique angle to succeed in this world is tough. 

However, transitioning from college student to young professional can be rough, too. But, the good news is that there are ways to make it easier, though! One of those ways is jumping ahead of the curve with work experience. 

If you’ve already obtained some work experience, you’re more likely to obtain a real job offer post-college. Employers like to see initiative and know they won’t be starting from scratch with you. 

However, with so many options available, which should you choose. When it comes to externship vs. internship, we’ve assembled a guide to help you decide.


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Internship vs Externship

There are a few main goals for finding employment in college. You get to build your resume, make valuable connections within the industry, gain professional experience, build valuable skills, and learn what it’s like in a real workplace. 

This is true for both internships and externships. However, depending on your goals, you may prefer one over the other. 

Some colleges partner with local companies to give students a better shot at post-college employment. These partnerships usually result in internships, which you can get access to at career fairs and through collegiate resources. 

Additionally, some colleges require internships in order to graduate. Many internships result in college credit, while externships do not. 

With an internship, you may get paid. The field is changing here. In the past, many high-scale internships were unpaid. Interning at a publishing house in New York City, for instance, was always unpaid. 

Then, people started to expose the rigged nature of this approach to internships. Only wealthy students can afford to live in New York City on an unpaid internship, and are likely receiving familial support to do so. 

Wealthy students may already have the connections or can get them through family members. As a result, students with financial challenges are eliminated from the game before it truly begins. 

Now, with these sea changes occurring, more internships are paid. But if finances are an issue for you, make sure that you confirm whether an internship is paid or unpaid. 

Related Read: How to Improve Communication Skills: 10+ Great Tips for Communicating

Making A Decision Between Them

By contrast, externships are usually not paid at all. Because they’re so short, typically lasting days or weeks—as opposed to a semester’s worth of interning—there’s no real point. 

Where internships and externships truly differ is time and depth. With an internship, you’re treated as a junior team member. You’ll be put on actual projects, even though they likely won’t be high-stakes or client-facing. 

You’ll also be able to collaborate closely with valuable team members. These are networking connections that can transform your career later on. 

By contrast, externships allow you to dip your toes in the water. If you’re torn on picking a certain major, externships help you get a birds-eye view of what the resulting career path might be like.

Externships are short overviews. You’ll see what the workplace is like, and you’ll get a peek at potential careers. In this way, you’ll still be able to network and gain a little knowledge. 

However, you likely won’t end up on projects or contributing to the team in any individual way. You’ll likely be an outsider with a view of the inside track for this company. Externships are shadowing opportunities, rather than a real chance to participate. 

Benefits of an Externship 

If you’re still trying to decide what you ‘want to do with your life,’ it may feel like the pressure is on. After all, many of your peers seem to have the next five years of their life planned out. 

If you’ve been vacillating between majors, or can’t figure out how to translate your major into a viable career path, an externship might be the right answer. 

Because they don’t last long, you can complete a few externships in a short amount of time. This can help clarify what you actually want to do. 

For instance, say that you are thinking about an English major. However, that’s a very broad field, and English majors end up in all types of careers. 

You might end up shadowing a copywriter and decide it’s not for you. However, a job writing video marketing scripts could be perfect. 

You won’t know what options are available until you get into the workplace and find out. Doing your homework now will help eliminate a lot of the stress you feel as a young professional just starting out.

Related Read: Co-ops vs. Internships: What’s the Difference & Which Should You Choose?

Learn the Red Flags

An externship also gives you an advantage when launching your career. As a young professional, you may feel tempted to take any job offer that comes your way. 

While this is understandable, especially if you’re under financial pressure, take the time to stop and think. Many older employees know that the workplace culture, and whoever they report to, can make or break a job. 

A job description on paper may look perfect. It’s exactly what you dreamed of doing when you committed to a college education. 

But if you don’t know the red flags of a working environment—or the green flags, for that matter—you may waste your time accepting a nightmare offer. 

Another benefit of an externship is that it doesn’t require a lot of commitment. If you decide it’s not for you, the externship will only last a day or a week.

Then, you’ll be able to find one that fits you better. It’s a good way to cycle through a few different career paths and working environments. If you have a hard time committing long-term, this could be perfect for you!

Benefits of an Internship 

If you’re trying to gain work experience, a paid internship might be perfect for you. And if you are looking for the golden ticket of a post-college job offer, an internship is the way to go. 

College jobs are tough because of the level of competition involved. If you get a great internship, do your best. You never know where it might lead! 

Here’s one of the primary differences between an externship vs. internship. If you do well, and the company has an opening, an internship may very well lead to a job offer. 

Many companies treat internships as an extended trial period. First, there’s the winnowing process where companies pick their interns. Then, over the semester or the summer, they pick out the diamonds in the rough. 

Those gems are the ones who actually go on to obtain full-time positions. If you know what you want, this can save so much time blindly applying to jobs open on LinkedIn and Glassdoor.

By contrast, externships rarely lead to job offers. While this is sometimes different in law school and other situations, that’s typically how it goes. 

If you know what you want to do, and are ready to plunge headfirst into a post-college career, go for that internship! Make sure to do your research, though. You’re picking an internship, but you might also be picking your first post-college job. 

Related Read: Fellowships vs Internships: What’s the Difference and Which to Choose?

Build Your Portfolio

With an internship, you’ll also be able to build your portfolio of references and letters of recommendation. In order to extend a formal job offer, many employers will request a minimum of 3 references. 

If you have real work experience, it will set you above every other graduate who is looking for something beyond college jobs. When you’re trying to find employment as a budding professional, this is a big deal.

Internships can also connect you with mentors in your field. You can’t overestimate the value a mentor can provide, especially when it comes to advice that pertains to your industry, your individual career path, workplace conflict, and so much more. 

In fact, one of the top pieces of advice given to overachievers and high performers is finding a mentor. You can learn a lot on your own, but you’ll learn even more if you tune in and listen to someone who has walked this path before. 

Another benefit of an internship is confidence. Transitioning from college to the working world is hard! 

In college, there’s a lot of freedom. There’s so much space to try and fail, or try and succeed! In the working world, there are so many new ‘rules’ to play by. 

If you’ve never worked before, post-collegiate life can feel intimidating. You may not be sure if you can succeed, or whether you’ll ‘be any good at it.’ The best way to put these doubts to rest is diving in headfirst. 

An internship is a good way to do that. Rather than putting all the pressure on your first real job, test the waters with an internship. In the end, you’ll have the confidence necessary to succeed anywhere!

Related Read: Internships vs Jobs: What’s the Difference and Which One is Best for You?

Deciding On An Externship vs. Internship

If you’ve decided to take the plunge and apply for an externship—or an internship—congratulations! As a chance to build your resume, forge connections, and gain experience, it’s a great option for young professionals. 

If you enjoyed this article about externships vs internships, check out more from our blog here:

Further Reading on Internships

Further Reading on Careers

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Goodwall Team
Written By Goodwall Team
This article was written by the Goodwall team or by a contributor for publication on Goodwall. Goodwall is dedicated to helping students, entrepreneurs, and young professionals reach their full potential. We'll share thought-provoking and supportive articles on career advice, self-improvement, navigating the college landscape, climate action, social impact, and more. On the business side, we'll talk about SMB subjects related to community, diversity, talent acquisition, case studies, and enterprise.

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