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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) 
  • Restrictions: Augsburg applicants only
  • Dates / Deadlines
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

The School for Field Studies (SFS) Sustainable Development Studies semester program provides the opportunity for students to examine the effects of globalization on classic development issues such as agriculture, biodiversity protection, economic development, urban sprawl, population growth, waste management, and water resources.

Costa Rica is internationally recognized for its efforts to ensure biodiversity conservation and protect natural resources. The country supports more than five percent of the world’s species and boasts 230 protected areas—about 26 percent of the land area of the country. The cloud forests, rainforests, volcanoes, coastal environments, and mountaintops shelter as many as 9,000 plant species, including at least 1,500 species of orchids alone. More than 1,000 species of butterflies and almost 900 species of birds, such as quetzals, toucans, hummingbirds, and scarlet macaws, are found throughout Costa Rica’s various tropical ecosystems. This remarkable biodiversity provides a rich platform for nature-based tourism, which is one of the country’s primary economic drivers. The diverse landscape mosaic of forests, pastures, coffee farms, and agricultural fields, and the stunning beaches and extensive mangroves, offer residents and tourists alike a natural haven for good food, rich culture, and exploration of tropical biodiversity.

Costa Rica faces a challenge common to developing countries: preserving beautiful—and economically valuable—natural resources while increasing prosperity and allowing for sustainable development. The Costa Rican paradise is increasingly threatened by population growth, urban development, inappropriate waste disposal, and monoculture expansion. The rapid conversion of rural agricultural landscapes into urban areas, the consequent loss and fragmentation of forests, and the increased demand for water in developed areas are threatening the country’s sustainable development efforts. Finding long-term solutions in sustainable practices is imperative for Costa Rica’s future.

Our goal is to analyze different development and resource management models that protect the biodiversity of Costa Rica’s ecosystems while promoting socioeconomic benefits for its people. Students will examine the effects of globalization on development issues such as agriculture, biodiversity protection, economic development, urban sprawl, population growth, waste management, and water quality. Students can see how the SFS farm compares with other sustainable farms in the region through an assessment of ecosystem services in the agricultural landscape.

This program focuses on evaluating the actual success of Costa Rica’s world-renowned conservation 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, farms, and plantations offer opportunities to examine management schemes, identify benefits of protected areas, and determine which systems offer the best options for economic development, the maintenance of cultural norms, and the preservation of biodiversity. Understanding the priorities for Costa Rica’s policies, within the context of environmental changes, is crucial as students analyze potential sustainable solutions for Costa Rica and the Central American region.

  • Compare and contrast development and resource-use issues during an extended field expedition to Nicaragua or remote Costa Rican locations (conditions permitting)
  • Visit national parks to investigate the pressures of ecotourism on small gateway communities and learn about cloud forest ecology
  • Learn about bio-indicators of ecosystem health and rainforest ecology
  • Develop management policies by continuing long-term bird monitoring programs and analyzing the impact of roads as barriers and sources of mortality for the fauna in Carara and Santa Rosa National Parks
  • Conduct social science research to better understand people’s perceptions about their surrounding environment
  • Visit Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve, a protected area rich in biodiversity and cultural significance
  • Explore rare and threatened tropical dry forest ecosystems while camping in the national parks of the Guanacaste Province and studying one of the most successful management models for protected areas in Latin America
  • Develop field research skills including habitat assessment and mapping, species identification, infrastructure assessment in protected areas, GIS or remote sensing, scientific writing and oral presentation, and survey design and interview techniques

Conversations and collaborations with local residents, small business owners, and farmers to better understand their perspectives and needs provide the framework for SFS research plans. Activities might include:
  • Monitoring and maintaining trail infrastructure at the Municipal Forest with local schools and conservation organizations
  • Engaging in long-term community projects: U.S. culture and English taught in the elementary schools; environmental education at the Municipal Forest; and recycling projects
  • Establishing nurseries of native tree species, and reforestation and watershed conservation projects with local organizations
  • Participating in soccer games, community festivals, and short homestays

The Center, located an hour from the capital city of San José, comprises a campus facility integrated with a small Rainforest Alliance Certified™ mango and orange farm overlooking the fertile Central Valley. Practicing sustainability is part of the student learning and living experience. The Center’s facilities include a dormitory and cafeteria, indoor and outdoor classrooms, an organic garden and greenhouse, a soccer field, a basketball court, a swimming pool, and a forested area with trails. The campus is part of the small neighborhood of La Presa/Los Angeles, and the friendly town of Atenas is only three miles from campus. Costa Rica’s tropical forests, beaches, mountains, and volcanoes are within a day’s travel.

Dates / Deadlines:
Dates / Deadlines:
Term Year App Deadline Decision Date Start Date End Date
Spring Semester 2021 10/01/2020 ** Rolling Admission TBA TBA
Fall Semester 2021 03/01/2021 ** Rolling Admission TBA TBA

** 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.