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What Is An Externship?

An externship is a career training program that takes students outside (external) the classroom. You might think of it in terms of an educational boot camp. There are all kinds of boot camps, including physical training, military, sports and skills training. Like boot camp, externships provide training sessions within specific fields of study.

Externships are offered to college students as a way to learn more about their profession and find out not only what to expect on the job but also what skills they need to develop in order to be successful. Some people refer to them as "practicum," because they show the practical application of theory on the job.


Although there are other types of training programs for college students, here are some of the distinguishing characteristics of an externship:

  • Externships are short in duration. In general, externships last anywhere from one day to a week.
  • Externships are unpaid.
  • Externships are not offered to high school students, only college students.
  • Most externships are offered during the first or second year of college.
  • In most cases, there is no college credit given for externships.
  • During an externship, students shadow a mentor, supervisor or other experienced person within the company.
  • Externs are not generally given assignments or projects. They are there to observe and ask questions. Externships require students to log their experience and prepare a final paper on their externship.

What to expect on an externship

Externs can expect to begin their externship with a tour of the company and introductions to key employees who can provide valuable information on what it's like to work at the company. They may be invited to sit in on meetings or attend luncheons. They will be able to see what a typical day is like and what employees actually do. Up to this point, most students have only theory and book knowledge about their chosen profession. An externship gets them inside the company to see what people in their profession do on a day-to-day basis.

Externs will have an opportunity to talk with employees, learn what career paths are offered within the company, ask questions about industry trends, and gauge what the corporate environment is like. Is it casual or more formal? Are the people friendly and helpful? Is the environment team-oriented or is it every man for himself? These are all important facets of the workplace to observe and evaluate.

The experience can either be an eye-opener, or result in increased excitement about pursuing their career. Since externships are experienced early in college, it is a good way for students to find out what they don't want to do as well as what they want to do. For many students who are not certain which direction to go in their career, externships are a great way to get a quick preview, eliminate what they don't like, and identify areas that are a good fit for them.

The value of externships

One of the best benefits of externships is that, due to their short duration, students may participate in several externships early in college. This enables them to gain first-hand knowledge on more companies and more industries, which will help them define their careers. Externships can also lead to internship opportunities, which are longer in duration and paid. Although externships are brief, they provide an excellent opportunity for college students to make connections. More than 70 percent of all jobs in the U.S. are found through networking. Externships open up many career possibilities for students to explore in order to make the right choice for them.
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