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What’s an Externship?

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For most college students, an internship is an important part of their program of study. Spending a semester working in their chosen field, either full or part time, provides valuable experience and the chance to learn what it’s really like in their chosen profession, while simultaneously earning college credit.

When an internship is not an option, though, or you just want to get a taste of what it’s like to work for a certain company or in a particular field, an externship is a viable option. In fact, many college and universities are including externships as part of programs of study to prepare students for their future careers.

In the simplest terms, an externship is the chance for a student to gain practical skills in their field by working for an organization for a short time, usually a few days up to a week. For example, a public relations student could perform an externship at an agency that is producing a major event; the student would work with the agency for the week leading up to the event, assisting with the details and learning how to set up and troubleshoot. Shorter externships offer less hands-on experience, but you could be exposed to higher-level projects and executives than you would as an intern. And while many interns tell tales of fetching coffee and making photocopies, externs aren’t generally required to perform low-level tasks.

Because externships are much shorter than internships, in most cases students do not earn academic credit. However, the externship could be a part of course requirements. Successfully completing the externship and a follow up assignment, such as a paper, is a percentage of the grade. In most cases, though, because externships are so short, the student is not evaluated by the host.

When Do I Do an Externship?

While most students do their internships during their junior or senior years in college, externships can happen as soon as the first semester. In fact, some students complete externships early on to help them choose a major. And since externships can be as short as a day – some companies might call them “job shadowing” – it’s easy to do several externships to weight your options.

Some students choose to complete externships over the summer or during breaks from school. Schools and organizations with organized externship programs often plan to host externs during those times so the experience doesn’t impact classroom time.

What Do I Get Out of an Externship?

Externships, like internships, offer valuable hands-on experience in the field. Spending even just a few days shadowing an experienced professional can give you insights that no textbook can offer.

For those who have already chosen a field, performing an externship can provide valuable networking contacts for later employment or internships. Not only will you have the chance to meet some of the people that could help you get a job, but you’ll give the company recruiters a chance to meet you and “see you in action.”  Asking plenty of questions, showing initiative, and demonstrating your knowledge and competence during your short stay at the company will impress recruiters, and put your toward the top of the list when positions open up.

How Do I Get an Externship?

Landing an externship depends on your school and the organization you want to work with. If the experience is required for a class, chances are the instructor will have prepared a list of potential sites, or even prescheduled your experience. Otherwise, check with your career services or advising office to see if opportunities have been posted, or visit the website of your chosen site to look for opportunities.

Some organizations do not have formal programs, but that doesn’t mean you’re out of luck. Contact the company directly to inquire about doing an externship; most people will be glad to let you job shadow for a few days. Expect to have to complete an application process for any externship. Some sites will require a formal application or resume, or other evidence that you’re qualified for the experience.

Whether you’re trying to decide what career path you want to pursue, or want to get a taste of the field you’ve already chosen, an externship is a low-commitment, high-benefit way to get your feet wet. Consider clearing your calendar for this valuable experience, which could enhance your entire career path.

This article was written by Jason Evans.  Jason is currently taking LLM tax courses in school and is looking forward to getting his Master’s degree in Tax laws next year.

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