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Programs : Brochure

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Fact Sheet:
Education Abroad Adviser:
Sarah Spiegel
Minimum GPA:
Class Standing:
2 - Sophomore
Language of Instruction:
Language Requirement:
1 semester
Internship Available:
Fields of Study:
Culture, Ecology, Economics, Language, Research, Sciences, Sustainable Development
Program Description:
Costa Rica sunset

Program Overview     

Costa Rica is currently undergoing a period of rapid economic and social change. As this resource-rich, wonderfully biodiverse country continues along a path of rapid development, it is increasingly influenced by global policy such as the Central American Fair Trade Act (CAFTA) and foreign markets. Costa Rica's economy has shifted from one predominately based on agriculture to one driven by ecotourism and technology exports. At the same time, brisk population growth is straining natural and developed resources. The country is at a critical juncture as resource management decisions are being made in an effort to keep pace with competitive global markets. Our goal is to study different development and resource management models that protect the biodiversity of Costa Rica's ecosystems while promoting socioeconomic benefits for its people.  
Costa Rica frog
Students will examine the effects of globalization on classic development issues such as agro-ecology, biodiversity protection, economic development, urban sprawl, population growth, waste management, and water resources. Students focus on evaluating the success of Costa Rica's world-renowned land and biodiversity management systems and developing alternative strategies for economic development and biodiversity conservation, such as land use planning, organic agriculture, and conservation outside of protected areas. Visits to cloud forests, dry forests, volcanoes, lowland rainforests, and plantations offer opportunities to examine management schemes, identify the benefits of protected areas, and determine which systems offer the best option for economic development, the maintenance of cultural norms, and the preservation of biodiversity. Understanding the forces that are driving Costa Rica's policies as well as those driving change will be key as students analyze potential solutions for Costa Rica, and throughout the Central American region.

For more information about the program, please visit the SFS: Costa Rica homepage.

Program Quicklinks     

Course Offerings
Housing and Meals
Program Costs
Financial Aid & Scholarships
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How to Apply
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Education Abroad Credits

You will receive credit for all academic courses taken at this institution, and all of your grades from abroad will count toward your Penn State cumulative GPA. You may not take any courses overseas on a Pass/Fail basis. Students may not take sport or physical activity courses (e.g. sailing, bowling, yoga, etc.) abroad. These courses will not be credited at Penn State.
Students will register for 18 credits for the program.  The semester program consists of five courses including an in-depth directed research project . This program's curriculum is highly interdisciplinary, focusing on the links among natural ecosystems and social and economic systems in Costa Rica.  Field Trips and Community Engagement are central components of the academic plan.  All student will enroll in the following five courses:
  • EE(NS) 377 Tropical Ecology and Sustainable Development (4 credits)
  • EE(SS) 303 Economic & Ethical Issues and 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 and Society of Costa Rica (2 credits)

To see what kind of credit students in past semesters have received for courses taken on this program, visit the SFS Costa Rica Course Equivalency List. Keep in mind you will need to complete the course equivalency process once you have been accepted to your program and after you have completed your registration abroad. To obtain specific instructions on this process visit our Course Equivalencies webpage.


Successful applicants will satisfy the pre-requisites established by the program.
  • Sophmore class standing or higher at time of study
  • 3.0 Cumulative GPA
  • 1 semester of Spanish
    • Students with no college level Spanish may meet the language requirement with a minimum of 3 years of high school Spanish by submitting an official high school diploma to the Education Abroad office by the application deadline.  
  • 1 semester of Ecology or Biology

Housing and Meals

The Center for Sustainable Development Studies is a small farm on a hillside with spectacular views overlooking the Rio Grande River in the fertile Central Valley. The field station includes a large house, an outdoor classroom, an organic garden, a patio, and pool. Students live in a dormitory (up to four to a room) with bathrooms. There is a classroom, small laboratory, and a library/computer room with internet access. 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.

Program Costs

For more information on program costs, please be sure to review the Fall or Spring budget sheet. These budget sheets include information on costs that are billable to the bursar bill, as well as estimated additional costs. Costs vary by program, so it is important to review this information carefully.

Please note that tuition rates may vary depending on major and class standing.

Financial Aid & Scholarships

Penn State students studying through Education Abroad can use most components of their existing financial aid packages toward the cost of study abroad. This may include federal and state grants, VA educational benefits, federal student loans, and University scholarships and grants. Notable exceptions include work-study awards and some athletic scholarships.

The University Office of Global Programs also administers a number of grants and scholarships. Eligibility is based on academic excellence and/or financial need. There is also funding available for study abroad programs in diverse locations and for students from diverse backgrounds. In most cases, applicants should have a current year FAFSA on file with the Office of Student Aid. Funding opportunities may also be available through Penn State academic departments. For detailed information on financial aid and scholarship opportunities and application procedures, please visit the Funding Study Abroad section of the Global Penn State website.

For More Information

For more information about programs and education abroad at Penn State, we encourage you to meet with or contact our Peer Advisers. These study abroad returnees can explain program options, give an overview of the education abroad process, as well as provide information about his/her program. If you are not at University Park, contact your Campus Global Representative

To learn more about the specifics of each program, schedule an appointment with the education abroad adviser for this program.

For the inside scoop on life in a foreign country, be sure to check out the Student Spotlights of Penn State students currently studying abroad.

How to Apply

If you would like to participate on this study abroad program, you will need to apply to Penn State Education Abroad by clicking the "Apply Now" button on this page. 

You must complete the following materials in your application:

  •  Education Abroad Questionnaire

  •  One academic recommendation

  •  Signature Documents

Visit the How to Apply section of our website for more information.

Please note that you will also be instructed to complete an application with the host provider as a part of your Penn State application either at time of application or upon acceptance. 

Studying Abroad with a Disability

Many students with disabilities successfully study abroad each year. Please note that other cultures may have different attitudes and available accommodations regarding disabilities. While we cannot guarantee the accessibility of all program sites and locations, specific accommodations may be arranged in consultation with our office, the Student Disability Resources office, and our partners abroad. To prepare for success, students are strongly encouraged to research the country and program location to consider if and how they will manage their disabilities abroad in advance of selecting a program. Students with disabilities and other diverse backgrounds can begin their research on our Diversity Awareness Abroad page.

Other Useful Links

Steps to Study Abroad
Schedule an Appointment

Cost & Funding
Health & Safety
Parents & Family

Dates / Deadlines:
Term Year App Deadline Decision Date Start Date End Date
Spring 2018 09/15/2017
Rolling Admission 01/29/2018 05/09/2018
NOTE: Start date marks arrival in host country. End date marks departure from program housing.
Fall 2018 03/01/2018
03/14/2018 08/27/2018 12/05/2018
Spring 2019 09/15/2018
Rolling Admission 01/28/2019 05/08/2019
NOTE: Start date marks arrival in host country. End date marks departure from program housing.
Fall 2019 03/01/2019 03/13/2019 TBA TBA

** Indicates rolling admission application process. Students 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