Depending on the circumstances, the differences between an internship and an externship can be subtle, but the differences generally center on duration and compensation. While an internship typically lasts for at least a school term and concludes with the reward of academic credit or monetary payment, an externship is usually short in duration and may offer no earnings of any kind. There are however, paid externships, and unpaid internships, as well as long externships and short internships, so these are not a universal distinction.
Both internships and externships are designed to help a student choose a career by offering job experience in a particular field of study. This early exposure to a profession offers the intern or extern an opportunity to get hands-on experience before committing to it. Typically, internships, however, are undertaken towards the end of a student's schooling, whereas externships are taken towards the beginning or middle of the student's education. Either way, both offer the student the chance to test his or her compatibility with a prospective line of work. This approach has long centered on certain careers, including medicine and law, but the practice has spread to other jobs in all facets of business.
Internships are generally required in the fields of law, nursing, media, medicine, sciences and teaching. The duration of these internships vary but it is typically one semester. Academic credits are usually earned but, in some cases, the intern may be paid. The organization that the student interns at often will provide an evaluation of the student's performance, which the school will use in determining the student's academic grade for that internship.
Externships are usually brief, some lasting only a day or two. They may offer no academic credit, much less monetary compensation. Rather than working day after day in a specific position within an organization as an intern would, an extern often shadows someone in that position to get an overview of what the job entails. As a result, the extern often has less hands-on experience than the intern, but he or she might be exposed to higher level transactions. Some schools require their students to complete externships. The externship site may evaluate student performance but, based on the brevity of such programs, this information is less likely to impact grading.
Some internship and externship programs are scheduled to take place over a school break so that a student is not away from the classroom during the regular school term. This period of fieldwork may occur during an extended summer holiday or during the winter break. Schools that require the completion of these types of programs often refer students to potential intern and extern sites and help with placement.
Many companies and organizations without existing programs may welcome interns and externs. In these cases, inquiries and applications are usually required, both with the company and with the school, to be sure that all academic and workplace criteria are met. This scenario may also require a student to interview with the company, which is another valuable experience.