What Is an Externship and How To Get One

Monday, July 24, 2023

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Experiential learning opportunities are an important part of your college education because they give you practical experience outside of the classroom. These opportunities often take the form of externship and internship experiences. Internships provide opportunities to expand your skill set — which can enhance your resume — and give you a taste of your desired career field, but their longer duration can sometimes conflict with a busy college schedule. Or, you may just want to get an idea of a potential career without committing an entire summer to exploring it. This is where externships come in. 

What Is an Externship?

An externship is a short professional learning experience that allows you to shadow an industry professional to learn the ins and outs of their job. Externships tend to be shorter than internships and last anywhere from a day to eight weeks. Many college students complete externships over their winter or spring breaks.   

Externship vs Internship: What Are the Differences?

Externship and internship experiences both give you valuable insights into your chosen industry. One thing you need to know about internships, however, is that they typically involve performing job duties to gain hands-on experience. It is essentially like an entry-level job that can last anywhere from a few weeks to a few months, and students often complete summer internships — often as a temporary full-time job — or intern part-time over a school term.

In externships, students only shadow a professional in the industry — they often do not complete any job duties. Externships provide an excellent opportunity for students to gain a better understanding of a specific role, company, and industry. Most externships are extremely brief, but, like internships, you can make valuable connections that may lead to a professional opportunity later on.

Internship or Externship: Which One Should You Choose?

The good news is, you don’t have to choose between an internship or externship. Each offers something different, and participating in both during college will increase your chances of securing employment or admission to graduate school. Externship opportunities are especially helpful if you are still deciding on a particular industry or career path.

Internships provide actual job experience and sometimes even a paycheckthough students often complete unpaid internships. It really is a matter of which one you find most beneficial for you at any given time. 

Types of Externship Programs

If you’re looking for an externship, you may see a few different types. Evaluate your options to determine which professional experience is right for you. 

  • School-sponsored programs are partnerships between schools and their alumni and/or area businesses to create externships that enhance academic experiences. In some cases, you may earn college credits, though these externships may be longer and involve additional work.   
  • Independent externship programs are especially common in law school and allow students to gain valuable experience at a law firm while earning academic credit. 
  • Virtual externship programs allow groups of students to meet virtually with a company to learn what goes on behind the scenes. Students may collaborate with each other and with company employees during the virtual sessions. 

The Benefits of Externships

There are no downsides to participating in externships. In fact, completing one or more externships can provide numerous benefits. 

Exposure to Your Chosen Career

An externship is a great way to gain a new perspective on your chosen field. Or, if you have more than one field of interest, participating in an externship can help you make an informed decision on the career path that’s right for you.  

Opportunity to Explore Different Companies

Not sure what company to target for a job after graduation? An externship can help you explore your options. Plus it gives you the opportunity to network with people at each company and learn how you’ll fit in with the culture. Even if you can’t extern with the company you’d like to work for one day, you can still get an idea about whether you’d prefer to work for a large or small business, what type of boss you’d like to work for, etc.

Helps Build Your Resume

Externships are great resumebuilders since they provide professional experience. You gain exposure to a particular career, company, and industry, which looks impressive to future employers.   

Increases Your Hireability for a Job or Internship 

Internship experiences can be highly competitive, and having an externship on your resume can give you the edge in securing one. As you get closer to graduating, completing one or more externships may open the door to job opportunities at companies for which you’d like to work. 

How Can You Get an Externship?

Many resources for students are available to find externships. Checking job listings and reaching out to people in your network are good places to start. Many colleges also partner with alumni and local businesses for externships, so be sure to visit your school’s career center to check for opportunities.  

College or University Career Services

The career services office usually has a database of externship opportunities and can offer you a lot of support during both the externship search and application process. Services typically include helping you craft your resume and cover letters and preparing you for interviews and networking events. You can also speak to the career services office about appropriate dress and decorum for a given industry, as some professions might expect more formalities than others. If you don’t own the appropriate attire, make sure to speak to your career services office about your options. Often, they offer programs where you can rent or even borrow business clothes for an interview, internship, or other professional opportunity. 

Networking Relationships

Networking may sound daunting or uncomfortable to some, but it is extremely important. Successful networking involves putting yourself out there and building relationships with people who might be able to connect you to opportunities or vouch for you. Not sure where to start? Check out professional organizations for networking opportunities, explore LinkedIn, and attend job fairs and conferences.  

Start Sending Emails

When you have identified a potential externship opportunity, the next step is to act. If you found the externship on a job posting or in a database, read it carefully to learn how to applythere may be a specific application you need to fill out or a specific contact to reach out to. However, if you learned of the opportunity through networking, it’s time to craft your email expressing interest! Keep it brief and professional while explaining who referred you to the position, why you are interested in it, and what skills you can offer them. Attach your resume as a PDF or hyperlink to your LinkedIn profile.

According to an IvyWise Academic Advisor and Admissions Counselor, 

“First impressions are so important when it comes to networking and landing your first externship. Students that can exude the perfect mix of confidence, humility, and a willingness to learn will leave lasting positive impressions at their externships and with the people they network with.”

These steps are all applicable to finding internships, too. In fact, once you have a bit of practice looking for and applying to externships, the internship search and application process will go much smoother.

Popular Externship Programs

Externships are available in almost every industry, so you are likely to find one in any career path you choose. Some of the more popular industries for externships include law, medicine, advertising, finance, nonprofit, government, publishing, technology, performing arts, and fine arts. 

FAQ About Externships

Are Externships Paid?

The point of an externship is to observe rather than perform job duties, so don’t expect to be paid — though there are exceptions to this depending on the career field you’re pursuing. A production externship, for example, may have you do some light transcribing, copy editing, or even camera work while you’re there. In which case, they may offer you credit for any productions you work on in lieu of pay. Every externship is different, however. Externships are primarily an opportunity for students to gain valuable learning and experience as well as make professional connections. 

What Is a Medical Externship?

Externships in the medical field are a bit different from typical externships and are a way for students to gain real-world experience in a clinical setting. Both a nursing externship and a medical student externship require assisting actual patients. Nursing externs are typically paid for their work. Medical school students use externships as a way to learn about different areas of medicine.

How to Get the Most Out of an Externship Experience? 

An externship is a learning opportunity, so it’s important for you to make the most of your experience. 

  • Set goals. Think ahead about what you hope to gain from this experience so you can tailor your externship accordingly. 
  • Seek feedback and guidance. 
  • Come prepared with thoughtful questions and actively listen. 
  • Build professional relationships with the people you meet during your externship. 
  • Reflect and plan for the future. Did the externship solidify your commitment to a particular career field, or do you need to explore other options? 

There are a number of educational programs and careers you can consider when planning your future. IvyWise counselors are here to help you throughout every phase of your educational journey. Schedule an Initial Consultation today to learn more about our services. 


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