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Internships and Externships — What You Really Want to Know

There is no shortage of important decisions to make during your college years. From choosing a school to selecting a major (we’ve heard accounting is the best), the number of choices thrown at you can seem overwhelming. Many of these decisions can and will directly impact your career path and next steps in life. Don’t worry…no pressure, right?

While college does a wonderful job of introducing you to your chosen specialization area and helping you expand your knowledge base, classroom-based experiences can really only teach you so much. Choosing your major and anticipated career is really only just the tip of the iceberg.

There are opportunities available to find out what life is like at the firm, the company culture, or if you prefer working with businesses or individuals. The firm can look perfect on paper….only to find out that it’s the exact opposite your first week on the job.

Explore Opportunities Outside the Classroom

Take advantage of internships and externships while you are still in college. These experiences take you out of the classroom and allow you to experience what life would be like in your chosen profession, just like a first-year staff member.

Let’s start by defining what internships and externships look like in the accounting profession and how they differ:

Externship – An externship is typically a one to three-day program offered by public accounting firms to college students during the summer. These are usually offered during sophomore year or two years before your scheduled graduation. Usually held at the public accounting firm’s office and focus on getting to know the firm, their client base, and socializing with firm employees, at all levels.

Internship – Some public accounting firms will offer a summer program that ranges from four to eight weeks for college students. This is typically conducted the summer of your junior year or the year before your scheduled graduation. This provides students an opportunity to experience what it is like to work for the firm as a new staff member, albeit over a shorter amount of time.
The main difference between internships and externships is the amount of time and depth of experience. Consider seeking several externships at different firms to narrow down your choices for an amazing internship experience. If you like the firm and want to learn more, you can then pursue an internship the following summer.

Three Main Benefits of Internships and Externships

While there are several benefits to taking advantage of internships and externships in college, there are three main ones that we would like to focus on in this blog.

1. You Get Your Foot in the Door – Let’s face it, the job market can be tough. Anything you can do to get yourself in front of hiring managers, senior leadership, and decision makers will help to set you apart from the other applicants. Internships and externships offer you the valuable opportunity to not only put a face to the name, but to prove yourself as a serious candidate. It is important that you take these opportunities seriously and conduct yourself professionally.

2. You Can Get a Feel for What You Like and Don’t Like – It’s hard to know what type of firm will be the right fit for you until you’ve experienced it firsthand. Externships and internships allow you to refine your preferences and reaffirm your desire to continue on with your intended major. For example, it’s hard to know what the right company size or culture is for you until you’ve been embedded in it. This also allows you the opportunity to explore further specialization areas within the industry and see what a typical day in the life looks like.

3. It Looks Good On Your Resume – Regardless of whether you choose to apply at a company that you interned or externed at, having these experiences looks impressive on your resume. This demonstrates to recruiters that you are serious about your future and that you’ve taken the initiative to explore outside the classroom. There is also a good chance that if you perform well during your internship, you could snag a letter of recommendation later that year.

Instead of viewing internships and externships as optional extracurriculars, we recommend viewing them as a best practice. Who doesn’t want to make their transition from college to the workforce slightly less stressful? You could very well end up with a full time offer before you even begin your last year of college.

Mary Margaret Prange, CPA

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