The difference between an internship and an externship

    Article by Tasneem Johnson-Dollie

    Tasneem Johnson-Dollie

    Posted: July 14, 2021

    Gaining work experience may be the next step in your professional development plan. If so, you might want to know the difference between an internship and an externship.

    You’ve probably heard of an internship before, but what is the difference between an internship and an externship?

    Well, both internships and externships allow you to gain work experience, but each one goes about it in a slightly different way.

    Both these work-experience opportunities have their own benefits, and which one you pick boils down to what’ll work best for your professional development goals. 

    Here are eight differences between an internship and an externship that’ll make your choice much easier. 

    1) An internship is best if you’re certain about your future career path

    If you’re clear on the field and position you want to be working in in the future, then an internship offers you the chance to gain the specific skills and experience you need. 



    For example, you may be set on working in community development and sure that you want to work as a project manager. If this is the case, an internship is a great way to help you reach your professional development goals. 

    But, if you’re more interested in experiencing the working world in general, and considering your options before you make any commitments, an externship would be a better pick for you. 

    On an externship, you’ll be involved in a variety of different tasks in the field and observe what working in different positions is like before you decide on what you want to do in the future. 

    2) Externships are more about observation

    Taking part in a work-experience program means stepping into an environment that you aren’t that familiar with. This can make the transition from student to professional daunting for some people.

    If you’re someone who wants to ease into the working world at a slower pace, then an externship is a good place to start. 

    Externships are focused on teaching rather than doing. An extern will observe the day-to-day activities of a specific staff member or department. 

    This type of work-experience program offers the chance to gain a broader picture of how an organisation operates and the role that each staff member plays. 



    Internships are more involved work-experience programs. In an internship, participants contribute to the organisation’s daily activities by assisting the staff in their usual tasks. 

    So, if you’re looking to dive into work tasks and take on as much responsibility as the organisation will allow you to, an internship will put you on the right track to achieving your professional development goals . 

    3) Internships make it easier to develop workplace skills

    What’s the biggest difference between an internship and an externship when it comes to soft skills development? 

    Well, because interns are much more involved in the organisation’s operations, they’ll get to work more closely with staff and patrons.

    Externs may only work with a supervisor on a daily basis and only engage with other staff members or patrons every now and then. 

    So, if you opt for an internship work-experience program, you’ll have more opportunities to develop your people skills and figure out workplace etiquette.

    This is one of the best internship benefits, since people skills are one of those things that are learnt by doing.



    But, because interns will engage with so many more people, there’s the chance that their workplace experience may be more stressful than an extern’s.

    Remember that even though this is a significant difference between internships and externships, any program you sign up for should offer support to see you through your program successfully (and with minimal stress). 

    4) An externship may be a better option after a gap year

    If you’ve taken a gap year or career break and are looking to enter a field you’re not familiar with, an externship can get you up to speed at a comfortable pace.

    As an extern, you’ll get to familiarise yourself with the structure of the work day, task management and deadlines without having to be at the forefront of operations.

    This is a great way to bridge the gap in a stress-free way after taking some time off. 

    5) Externships usually require less time commitment

    When it comes to planning, duration is a significant difference between an internship and an externship.

    Since internships are more engaging and geared towards achieving specific professional development goals, they usually run over a longer period of time than externships. 



    For this reason, externships are a good option for those who want to take part in a meaningful work-experience program but don’t have tons of time to spare. 

    6) You can earn college credit on an internship

    Quality internships are structured to allow individuals to achieve measurable professional development. 

    In fact, many internships include regular feedback sessions that allow interns to gain insight into how they’re doing in the workplace, what their weaknesses and strengths might be and how they can improve their performance. 

    This allows interns to gain a deeper understanding of their role in the organisation and gives them the chance to build on their capabilities in relevant and effective ways. 

    Some colleges will accept a completed internship as a credit on your college application. This is because taking part in this type of work-experience program shows that you’ve gained skills and experience that can add to your academic performance. 

    Having an internship under your belt also shows that you’re committed to your professional development, which is a great starting point for any college student. 

    7) Internship opportunities may offer the chance to achieve qualifications

    Internships offer a more in-depth form of work experience and some programs may even include opportunities to gain qualifications. 



    The qualifications you can earn all depend on the internship program you take part in. 

    These are some of the qualifications you could achieve while on a GVI internship:

    Since externships offer work experience that’s more in line with job shadowing, they usually don’t offer the chance to gain certifications. 

    8) You could take part in an internship that pays

    If you’re considering taking part in a work-experience program but don’t have tons of cash to spare, an internship that pays you a stipend may be a better option for you – since externships don’t usually include compensation.

    Internships that include a stipend are usually offered by large-scale and international organisations, like the United Nations, and they’re much more competitive than unpaid alternatives. 

    How the difference between an internship and externship can benefit you


    By figuring out what exactly you’re looking for in a work-experience program, you’ll be that much closer to knowing whether an internship or an externship will be best for you. 

    And, picking a program that speaks to your own professional development goals means that you’ll have a more productive workplace experience. 

    If you’re not sure where to start, try answering these five questions to gain some clarity:

    • Do I know what career I want to work in?
    • Would I be more comfortable observing rather than participating in workplace activities?
    • How much time do I have to commit to a work-experience program?
    • Do I want to gain university credit?
    • Would I prefer a work-experience program that allows me to achieve qualifications?

    Once you have all your answers, look back at the differences between an internship and an externship that we’ve discussed in this article. 

    Comparing your answers to the differences between internships and externships means that you’ll be able to decide which type of work-experience program would work best for you.

    Hopefully, this article helped you to better understand the differences between an internship and externship, and if you’ve decided that an internship is for you – then take a look at the online and in-person internships available at GVI.

    By Tasneem Johnson-Dollie

    Tasneem Johnson-Dollie is a travel writer living in South Africa. She has experience in public health nutrition and worked as a dietician before launching her writing career. She loves bringing her passion for public health and sustainable development to every article she writes. Her travels around South Africa as well as to India, Australia, and Saudi Arabia have fueled her passion for exploration.