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  • Locations: Atenas, Costa Rica
  • Program Terms: Fall Semester, Spring Semester
  • Homepage: CLICK TO VISIT
  • Program Sponsor: The School for Field Studies (SFS) 
  • This program is currently not accepting applications.
Dates / Deadlines:
Dates / Deadlines:
Term Year App Deadline Decision Date Start Date End Date
Fall Semester 2024 01-APR-2024
Rolling Admission TBA TBA
NOTE: NOTE: You must submit an application to UVA and your outside program provider. The deadline above is when the UVA application system closes. The deadline for your outside program application may be earlier. Confirm the outside program’s application deadline on their website.

** Indicates rolling admission application process. Applicants will be immediately notified of acceptance into this program and be able to complete post-decision materials prior to the term's application deadline.

Indicates that deadline has passed
Fact Sheet:
Fact Sheet:
Click here for a definition of this term Class Status: 1st year, 2nd year, 3rd year, 4th year, Graduate student Minimum GPA Requirement: 2.8
Click here for a definition of this term Language Requirement: none Click here for a definition of this term Open to Non-UVa Students: No
Housing: University dormitory Language Courses Offered: Yes
Language of Instruction: English, Spanish Click here for a definition of this term Credit Type: Transfer Credit
Click here for a definition of this term Program Type: Field Study/ Experiential, Study center Click here for a definition of this term Tuition Payments Made To: Program Provider
Click here for a definition of this term Education Abroad Advisor: Liz Wellbeloved Click here for a definition of this term Application Fee: Yes
Click here for a definition of this term Study Abroad Administrative Fee: Yes Click here for a definition of this term Subject Area: Anthropology, Biology, Economics, Environmental Sciences, Foreign Affairs, Geography, Geology, Latin American Studies
Program Description:


sfs costa rica


  • Terms: Fall, Spring
  • Credits: 18 semester-hour credits
  • Prerequisites: One semester of college-level ecology, biology, or environmental studies/science; 18 years of age
  • Application Deadline: Rolling admissions. Early applications encouraged
  • Financial Aid: All accepted students can apply for need-based scholarships, grants, and loans


Costa Rica is home to lush rainforests, towering volcanoes, rushing waterfalls, and a laid-back culture embodied by the national motto: “Pura Vida.” Spend a semester in the country’s many national parks, farms, and tropical ecosystems studying conservation, development, and innovative strategies for sustainability. Design and conduct an extensive field research project, collecting data and presenting your results to your peers and key community stakeholders.

  • Explore the cloud forests of Monteverde, home to 2.5 percent of the world’s biodiversity, to study tropical ecology and sustainable land management.
  • Take a weeklong expedition to Panama’s Chiriquí Highlands, a lush, forested region of volcanic peaks, coffee farms, rich Ngäbe-Buglé culture, and perpetual spring-like weather.
  • Go behind the scenes at a local coffee farm and sustainable permaculture homestead to learn how Costa Ricans have successfully combined agriculture and conservation.

SFS students live and study at the Center for Sustainable Development Studies. The Center is an active organic farm overlooking the vibrant Central Valley, where green is the predominant color as far as the eye can see. Dorms and classrooms intermingle with orchards and gardens, while Center dog Hera keeps watch over it all. The friendly town of Atenas is a 10-minute cab ride away, offering restaurants, shops, parks, and cultural events.


  • Climate change and tropical ecosystems
  • Agroforestry and conservation
  • Permaculture
  • Avian behavior
  • Urban ecology
  • Sustainable ecotourism
  • Carbon sequestration


  • GIS
  • Biodiversity assessment
  • Songbird mist-netting
  • Forest soundscape survey
  • Basic Spanish language
  • Research design and implementation
  • Data collection and analysis
  • Research presentation





Visit the SFS website
Call the Admissions Hotline at 800.989.4418
Read updates from the field on the SFS Blog
Follow SFS on Instagram and Facebook
Watch student videos on YouTube and Vimeo

Our 25th Anniversary

The Center for Sustainable Development Studies is exploring means of promoting sustainable land use and effective land protection in response to pressure from population growth and a degraded natural resource base. With the results of this research (including our very own transitional organic farm), we will help to develop protocols and training for farmers to help them obtain organic certification, select and monitor indicators of biodiversity, as well as provide information about improving national park operations and relationships between parks and local people.

Our field station is developing a Memorandum of Understanding with the Ministry of Energy and Environment to expan our studies of the Central Volcanic Mountain Range and Conservation Area to address agency needs and priorites. Students will help develop methodologies and information that will help park administrators make better decisions on managing parks' natural resources and ensuring benefits for the people who live in nearby areas. SFS offers a 4 course -16 credit semester program each fall and semester and a 4 credit summer program twice each summer (see below).Community Interaction:

Our field station is a small farm on a hillside with spectacular views overlooking the Rio Grande River in the fertile Central Valley. The property includes a large house surrounded by small faculty cabins, an outdoor classroom, an organic garden, orchard, a patio and pool. Students live in a brand new dormitory (up to 4 to a room) with bathrooms. There is a classroom, small laboratory and a library/computer room. We look out over green hillsides dotted with farms growing coffee, mangoes, bananas and citrus. The field station is part of the small neighborhood of La Presa/Los Angeles. The friendly town of Atenas is a short walk from the field station while Costa Rica's tropical forests, beaches, mountains and volcanoes are within a day's travel.

SFS offers a 5 course -18 credit semester program each fall and semester and a 4 credit summer program twice each summer (see below).

Community Interaction:

Students volunteer at a local orphanage garden.Students truly value the numerous opportunities to integrate into the local community and community land-use choices are among our chief concerns. Therefore, we spend significant time with local residents, farmers and agricultural cooperative members to better understand their perspectives and needs?this is key to our mission. In this area, our academic focus and community connection allows students to become involved in local social activities such as:

  • Spanish lessons throughout the program to help sharpen conversational skills.
  • Soccer games, community festivals, tutoring in schools, volunteering in orphanages, establishing recycling efforts.
  • Costa Rican holiday celebrations; hosting local residents at our field station events.
  • A short homestay to expand students' connections to the community.

Semester Program:

Semester students are registered in four academic courses accredited through Boston University:
EE(NS) 377 Tropical Ecology & Sustainable Development (4 credits)
EE(SS) 303 Economic & Ethical Issues in Sustainable Development (4 credits)
EE(NS) 374 Principles of Resource Management (4 credits)
EE 491 or 492 Directed Research (4 credits)
LS 205E Language, Culture & Society of Costa Rica (2 credits) 

Semester Program Applicants must be at least 18 years of age, in good academic standing and have completed at least one college-level ecology or biology course, and at least one semester of college prior to the start of the program

Research interests ( student directed research projects):

Barriers to certification as organic coffee farms  in Costa Rica.

Use of organic versus chemical inputs in agriculture.

Assessing the services of national parks in Costa Rica from the perspective of people who live in areas around the park (Volcan Poas National Park).

Monitoring bird diversity in Braulio Carrillo National Park.

Developing biophysical indicators of ecosystem health using aquatic invertebrates.

Comparing ecosystem health in organic versus conventional farms and in disturbed versus undisturbed forested areas.

Field Trips, Excursions and Lectures:

Volcan PoasSanta Rosa National Park: camping trip to explore a tropical dry forest ecosystem that is rarer and more threatened than better-publicized rainforests; site of one of the biggest forest restoration projects in Latin America.

Volcan Poas National Park: Investigate parks and people relations and park facility and visitor information needs.

Braulio Carrillo: national park encompassing a wide range of altitudes, ecosystems and a huge variety of plant and animal life.

Carara National Park: Pacific coastal rainforests offer additional lessons in biodiversity; home to monkeys, sloths, scarlet macaws and crocodiles.

Rincon de La Vieja National Park: camping trip to the cloud forest and mud piles from volcanoes.

Eternal Children's Rain Forest Private Reserve and Volcan Arenal National Park in addition to agricultural land surrounding the park.

Local coffee plantations, farms, preserves, forests and the communities of Atenas.

Summer Program:

Summer students are registered in a 4 credit  course accredited through Boston University:

EE (NS) 352 Alternative Strategies for Sustaining Tropical Ecosystems 

Summer Program Applicants must be at least 16 years of age, in good academic standing and have completed at least the junior year of high school prior to the start of the program.

Research interests:

In our search for viable management strategies, we will examine issues of applied tropical ecology, ecotourism and protected area management. We will work very closely with members of the local community, hearing from experts on federal protection schemes and the operation of privately owned reserves and local communities surrounding protected areas. Using data collected during field work, students will examine the challenges and opportunities for maximizing effectiveness in protecting natural resources and conserving biodiversity in Costa Rica.

Field Trips, Excursions and Lectures

  • Studying the incredible tropical ecology and assessing ecotourism efforts of several national parks, including expeditions to Braulio Carillo, the most extensive rainforest national park in the country.
  • Evaluating and comparing the efforts of private reserves like the Monteverde Cloud Forest Preserve and the Eternal Children Rainforest, home to jaguars, ocelots and quetzals.
  • Visits to Volcan Poas, the second largest volcano crater in the world to study parks and people relations and develop environmental education programs.
  • Monitoring biodiversity in forested versus non-forested areas.

This program is currently not accepting applications.