What is the Difference Between an Internship and a Practicum?

The biggest difference between an internship and a practicum is that they each have contrasting purposes. Practicums and internships are both supervised on-site work experiences that allow students to apply skills and demonstrate competencies, but they have very different scopes. Regardless of the choice, both offer benefits to students.

The Internship

Internships simulate a real job by requiring the intern to independently apply skills and knowledge in real world workplaces. Students are assigned to professionals who supervise their duties and workload while reviewing their performance like an actual manager. During the experience, the internship program leader will visit the student a few times to evaluate their progress and performance. The biggest difference between an internship and practicum is the degree of expected involvement with hands-on work. Interns must actually perform similar duties of their future position.

For example, the education, medical and business fields often use internships. Student teaching interns collaborate with teachers to independently create and execute group lesson plans. Nursing interns don’t just document vital signs, they must independently perform evaluation procedures on patients and consult with their nursing supervisor about the results. Business interns, such as in sales and marketing, will be expected to take on projects will also perform basic tasks, such as making cold calls and creating documentation. Internships are usually full-time experiences with assigned work schedules. Interns will receive academic credit and sometimes a stipend for services rendered.

The Practicum

Practicums are field assignments that allow students to observe and document how working professionals perform their job duties. These students are assigned a limited amount of tasks that are performed under the supervision of staff. These students simultaneously enroll in courses that reflect job duties, expectations and requirements. The expectations associated with each practicum will vary according to the industry. To illustrate, a teaching practicum may only require the student to observe the teacher with small group instruction.

Practicums share general characteristics, such as requiring the student to shadow assigned employees who explain their duties and work processes. These students must observe and correlate field practices with the theories and methods that are currently being studied. Practicum students must record their experiences and report to their mentor professor. Students visit the assigned workplace for two to four hour sessions that occur two or three times per week. Practicums do not provide stipends, but they do qualify for academic credit. They are often required for certain programs, such as accredited social work programs.

Both practicum and internship experiences are excellent avenues for preparing graduates for their future careers. They are both valuable learning tools that afford students rare opportunities to demonstrate their knowledge and skills in real world settings. Understanding the differences between a practicum and an internship will help students select appropriate degree programs that will meet their specific academic needs. The difference between an internship and a practicum lies is that the first is a paid, hands-on work experience, while the second is an unpaid, hands-off work experience.