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Difference Between Internship vs Practicum

Many college and university students are typically required to complete certain extracurricular work experiences in order to fulfill their degree obligations.  These experiences can include either an internship, an externship, student teaching, or a practicum.  However, understanding the differences between internship vs practicum can help students prepare for the work ahead of them in their degree program.

What is an internship?

An internship is formatted in a similar model as a traditional job.  Most students who secure internships will be required to commit to a certain number of work hours per week.  These interns will be trained on the work needs and responsibilities of the role.  They will also be expected to complete the work on their own and to ensure the tasks assigned to them are completed fully and accurately.

Typically, many internships are paid.  There are strict laws regarding the payment of interns, as they are providing work which is directly beneficial to the employer.  Per the U.S. Department of Labor, in order to qualify as an unpaid intern, the following standards must be met:

  1. The extent to which the intern and the employer clearly understand that there is no expectation of compensation
  2. The extent to which the internship provides training that would be similar to that which would be given in an educational environment
  3. The extent to which the internship is tied to the intern’s formal education program by integrated coursework or receipt of academic credit
  4. The extent to which the internship accommodates the intern’s academic commitments
  5. The extent to which the internship’s duration is limited to the period in which the internship provides the intern with beneficial learning
  6. The extent to which the intern’s work complements, rather than displaces, the work of paid employees
  7. The extent to which the intern and the employer understand that the internship is conducted without entitlement to a paid job at the conclusion of the internship

A student’s internship is also typically more involved and hands-on.  The intern will be expected to handle a certain set of work and responsibilities.  These responsibilities will be entrusted on the intern and will likely need to be fulfilled and completed on their own accord.

Internships, on-average, last anywhere from 2-6 months and are a great way to build up a student’s list of connections and network.  While most undergraduate programs do not require students to have internship experience to receive their degree, it is highly recommended to secure one in an attempt at landing a full-time position upon graduation.

What is a practicum?

Practicum’s are much more different than internships.  They are generally more focused, with the primary task being observation and documentation.  Practicum’s are generally required for graduate students, typically within highly specialized majors and areas of concentration.

Practicums are meant to be a learning experience.  They are more of a real-world application of what was studied and reviewed in a classroom.  Practicums are usually supervised, either by a professor or a professional practitioner.

As practicum’s are meant to be observational, with a high-level of documentation, they are typically not paid.  Most student’s will receive academic credit for their time and will complete any degree requirements.  In addition, most practicums are set for less than ten hours per week.

What about externships?

An externship can open new opportunities and career ideas to students.  Whereas an internship is more hands-on, with set and specific job-functions, externships are meant to provide a peek into the day-to-day nuances of career professionals.

As-such, externships excel at allowing students to monitor and observe the daily mechanics surrounding certain professions.  This observation can assist them in making a more informed decision as to where they want to pursue future careers.

Externships help students expand their network.  By observing, commenting, and asking questions during an externship, the student can build rapport and relationships with the career professionals they shadow.  These relationships can be used to leverage introductions and recommendations into the industry once the student has graduated or is prepared for a full-time career.

In addition, undertaking an externship shows added enthusiasm for a specific industry or career path.  Future employers will look to see how involved a student was in picking their industry.  An externship proves that the student both understands the industry and has a level of enthusiasm for it.  Further, many students leverage their externship into an internship for additional experience. (Original Source)

Internship vs. Practicum vs. Externship

There are a ton of differences between an internship, a practicum, and an externship.  To sum it down, internships are closely mirrored to traditional 9:00-5:00 careers.  They require a certain number of hours to complete each week and are typically paid.  Interns can expect to have a certain list of tasks and responsibilities which they are expected to complete.

An externship is a short-term working relationship with a specific employer of choice.  The working relationship typically lasts less than a week and gives the student an opportunity to observe and ask questions about an individual’s work duties.

A practicum is limited in scope and is meant to be observational and a learning experience.  They are typically administered by a professor or a professional practitioner and are usually limited to less than ten-hours a week.  Neither externships nor practicums are paid.

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