The internship plays an increasingly prominent role in the modern workplace. Whether you're the new intern fetching coffee or the manager drinking that coffee, it helps to know the ins and outs of interning. While the differences between an internship and a practicum are subtle, the two programs are indeed different beasts.
Before getting down to their differences, it's important to understand what internships and practicums have in common. In either case, you will undoubtedly gain work experience. Both programs put you on the job site, in real work conditions under professional supervision. [Ref 2, 4] Both internships and practicums are offered by colleges as a part of an educational program, though not all internships are linked to education while virtually all practicums are. Students who take on an internship or practicum usually earn course credits and must complete related educational assignments, such as journals, reports, or essays about the experience. [Ref 2]
While both internships and practicums put you on the career path -- or at least dip your toes in the career ocean -- they differ in their core intent. An internship gives you to opportunity to test the waters of a field you may be interested in -- at the end of the program, you theoretically have an idea of whether or not you want to work in said field. Internships may also bolster your chances of landing permanent work, though paid internships have an upper hand over unpaid internships in that department. [Ref 5] Most folks who take on a more intensive practicum have already determined the direction of their career path. [Ref 1] Practicums, a sort of educational shadowing experience that combines practical experience with theoretical study, are often part of an educational major, which makes them a bit more specialized than internships. [Ref 6]
Although each individual program is different, study-heavy practicums are usually graded like a paper, on a numerical or “A”-through-“F” scale. Internships are a little more black-and-white, as they commonly come with a pass-fail grading system. [Ref 2] Practicums sometimes involve a little more educational supervision than internships, including mentoring from faculty members or experts in the field. [Ref 4] This educational focus is key to differentiating the two. While an internship program typically tasks participants with day-to-day work responsibilities and routines, a practicum challenges students with analysis and criticism. Practicums challenge participants take a critical eye and evaluate their experience on a theoretical, academic level. [Ref 7]
More Differences and Considerations
Although pay isn't a guarantee for either type of program, you're more likely to earn a bit of cash from an internship than a practicum. [Ref 3] In many cases, practicums are a required part of study while internships are optional electives. [Ref 2] Ultimately, differences must be considered on a case-by-case bases: internships and practicums are offered in innumerable fields, from forensic science to the performing arts, and each individual program is distinct. This variety means that the actual tasks required of each internship and practicum vary widely. Level of commitment ranges greatly, as well; one internship may require just a few hours per week, while another may require a full-time commitment, and the same can be said of practicums.
- Trinity Western University: Internships and Practicums
- Muhlenberg College: Communication Department Internships and Practicum
- The National Association of Colleges and Employers: Internships, Co-ops, Practicums and Externships: What's the Difference?
- Walden University: Practica and Internships
- The Atlantic: Do Unpaid Internships Lead to Jobs? Not for College Students
- Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis: The IUPUI Solution Center: Glossary of Experiential Education Terms
- Pratt Institute: Practicum (Internships)
Dan Ketchum has been a professional writer since 2003, with work appearing online and offline in Word Riot, Bazooka Magazine, Anemone Sidecar, Trails and more. Dan's diverse professional background spans from costume design and screenwriting to mixology, manual labor and video game industry publicity.