Costa Rica

Center for Sustainable Development Studies

Costa Rica

The dense rainforests and mountainous landscapes of Costa Rica are brimming with life – from sloths and frogs to brightly colored toucans and hummingbirds. Costa Rica hosts an astounding 5 percent of Earth’s species despite covering only 0.03 percent of its area. Shaded coffee farms integrated into tropical forests constitute just one example of the sustainable conservation strategies for which the country is known.



Sustainable Development Studies

Experience a semester of sustainability in Costa Rica, home to rainforests, volcanoes, rushing waterfalls, and a laid-back culture that reflects the national motto: “Pura Vida.” Immerse yourself in the country’s many national parks, farms, and tropical ecosystems full of incredible biodiversity. Design and conduct a rigorous field research project and learn how Costa Ricans are creatively addressing conservation and development issues.
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15 Weeks
18 Credits

Spring 2023

Jan 27 - May 9

In The Field

Fall 2023

Sep 1 - Dec 12


summer session I

Biodiversity and Sustainable Food Systems

Using coffee and chocolate as case studies during this summer study abroad program, explore the relationships between food systems, ecology, conservation, and sustainability. Learn how different agricultural techniques have the potential to restore biodiversity and combat climate change. Study the sociocultural history of coffee and cacao, from Indigenous histories to modern production and exports.
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04 Weeks
04 Credits

Summer 2023

Jun 2 - Jul 2

Filling Fast

summer session II

Environmental Justice from the Ground Up

This summer, the national parks and cloud forests of Costa Rica become your classroom as you investigate issues of biodiversity conservation and sustainability from a community point-of-view. Explore diverse perspectives on controversial environmental management issues, learn to conduct community-based data collection, and assist community members in reaching their own solutions to natural resource management and protection.
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04 Weeks
04 Credits

Summer 2023

Jul 7 - Aug 6

Filling Fast

What Students Are Saying:

“SFS offers students some really unique opportunities. Much of the semester was devoted to experiential learning. This meant hiking through the cloud forest and observing first-hand the ecological processes we had learned about in lecture. This meant conducting wildlife research on camping trips. This meant conducting our own research under the guidance of passionate and knowledgeable faculty advisors. I left SFS with a new depth and breadth of knowledge, as well as tangible projects and skills to show for it.”
– Georgie, George Washington University

“On a personal level, I learned how to be independent and succeed in a new setting. Aside from learning a lot in my classes, I also learned (from living at the center) about sustainable living and efforts we can make to truly make a difference.”
– Laura, Brandeis University

“Not only is this program run by very intelligent and personable faculty and staff, but also the students that participate in this program are one of a kind. This program attracts individuals who are concerned about the environment and desire to make a positive difference in the world, but more importantly who realize that the best change can only occur collaboratively. As a result, this program fosters an academic work and living environment like no other.”
– Seamus, Bucknell University


Where You'll Be Living

The Center overlooks the vibrant Central Valley, where green is the predominant color as far as the eye can see. As part of an active farm, dorms and classrooms are nestled among 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.

  • Dorm living with four-person bunkrooms
  • Classroom, library, computer lab, and laundry room
  • Open-air porch with hammocks and chairs
  • Dining hall with scenic valley views, and on-site cooking staff
  • Swimming pool, soccer field, basketball court, and pizza oven
  • Outdoor classroom, greenhouses, nursery, and a vegetable garden
Click here to read stories from students, staff, and faculty on our blog


Program Costs

Study abroad is an investment in yourself – you’ll return home with new experiences, skills, knowledge, and friendships that will stay with you for the rest of your life. SFS program costs cover a variety of expenses, including:

  • Pre-program advising and on-site orientation
  • Tuition and research fees
  • Housing at the field station and on excursions
  • Daily meals and snacks
  • Airport transfers (for arrival/departure)
  • Field excursions and cultural activities
  • Student success and wellness team on site
  • 24/7 mental health and well-being support
  • Emergency evacuation and repatriation insurance
  • Official transcript processing

View Costa Rica Program Costs

Financial Aid

We know cost can be one of the biggest barriers to studying abroad. At SFS, we’re committed to making our programs accessible to students which is why we award more than $650,000 in need-based financial aid each year. Our Admissions Team has worked with thousands of students and are here to answer your questions about the SFS aid process, aid available through your home school, and funding from external sources.
SFS Financial Aid: Need-based aid packages typically consist of a combination of scholarships, grants, and zero- and low-interest loans. SFS matches Federal Pell Grant funding for students applying to an SFS semester program.

Home School Aid: Be sure to ask your home school study abroad office or financial aid office what financial aid resources might be available to support your study abroad experience.

External Funding Opportunities: Organizations such as the Fund for Education Abroad or the Gilman International Scholarship Program award scholarships to students going abroad. These can be a great opportunity to reduce the cost of your program even more.
Learn More about Financial Aid




Research at the Center for Sustainable Development Studies focuses on the connections between conservation and development. Costa Rica’s lush ecosystems, conservation areas and national parks, communities, and farms provide a varied landscape for research on the impacts of climate change, globalization, tourism, and land use change. Our research provides valuable data for community members, NGOs, and government officials as they seek to further the sustainable development goals of Costa Rica.

Our research focuses primarily on the following themes:

  • Climate change in tropical ecosystems
  • Agriculture and conservation
  • Urban and agricultural expansion and water management
  • Vertebrate ecology
  • Food security
  • Sustainable ecotourism

Environmental Issues

Our Centers are strategically located in regions facing critical environmental issues. Students and faculty study these issues and collect data to help facilitate sustainable responses. In Costa Rica, we’re currently investigating the following issues:

Climate Change
Biodiversity Conservation
Land Use Change
Tourism Impacts
Pollution & Waste Management
Natural Resource & Water Management
Learn More About the Issues


Atenas, Costa Rica

SFS is an active part of the Atenas community, where we have been based since the early 90s.

We have built long-term, collaborative relationships in the communities around the Center, and developed our research plans based on the environmental issues they and the surrounding ecosystems face. Throughout the program, students help maintain a local recycling program, teach environmental education to local students, and participate in waterways management projects.

At the end of each semester program, we share our research findings with the community, local NGOs, and the Costa Rican government.

Read stories about our community in Costa Rica

Meet the Costa Rica Team

Víctor J. Acosta-Chaves

Lecturer in Tropical Ecology and Sustainability
Meet Víctor

Milena Cambronero, M.S.

Lecturer in Natural Resource Management
Meet Milena

Mary Little, LL.M.

Associate Professor in Environmental Ethics & Development
Meet Mary