An externship is an opportunity for a student to engage in practice based learning, by actively participating in a field of interest. It is very similar to an internship, but is generally of a shorter duration. Externships also tend to be less extensive than internships, and students may or may not receive academic credit for them, depending on the institution they attend. The term “extern” is also used to refer to a medical professional who is associated with a facility, but is not considered a full time member of the staff.
The term arose in 1945, when the idea of trying out a career before plunging into it began to be more widespread. In an externship, the student typically trails an experienced member of the company while he or she performs daily tasks. The extern may also participate, generally closely supervised. The externship is usually brief, and focuses on giving someone a taste of a potential career. Unlike an internship, there is less focus on job training, as the extern may or may not choose to pursue that career.
A number of fields offer externship opportunities, including law, the sciences, and the publishing business. Many schools offer referrals to externship programs for interested students, but it is also possible to contact a company directly to ask about externship possibilities. An application is usually required, which may also include an interview, depending on the company. The process also serves as a preview of the job application process, helping the student to learn about effective techniques for gaining employment.
Some colleges require that students participate in at least one externship. Several institutions, especially in the United States, have a short term in the school year, usually in January, set aside specifically for fieldwork. Students are encouraged to explore different careers and engage in more hands on learning during the fieldwork term. A student who takes an externship in January may decide to come back for a longer internship, if the experience was positive.
Depending on how a school operates, a student may be eligible to receive academic credit for an externship. Typically, the student's supervisor must submit an evaluation, and the student must also demonstrate that he or she learned during the externship. The amount of credit which the student may be eligible for varies by institution. Some schools only offer credit for the completion of internships, so if the student is interested in pursuing either for credit, contacting an academic adviser is an excellent idea.