Graduate Application Process

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The Graduate Application Process + FAQs

OTS has a rolling admissions policy, which means programs may fill prior to application deadlines.

Begin Your Application

Press the green “Apply Now” button above to start the application process.

Application Submitted

You will be notified by email once you have successfully submitted your application for an OTS course or program through our online system. You will receive notification if your application is incomplete or has any missing information prior to the application deadline.

Review + Evaluation

A committee from our education team will review and evaluate your application.

Final Decision

You will be notified of your acceptance or declination no later than two weeks after your entire application is submitted.

Frequently Asked Questions

When will a decision be made about my application?

All applications will be reviewed and evaluated by 2 week after the application deadline.

When will I receive email notification for my incomplete application?

Currently, OTS policy is to send email reminders to students with incomplete applications 1 month, 2 weeks, 1 week, and 1 day prior to the application deadline.

Can you tell me more about the courses and accreditation?

The graduate courses are accredited through the University of Costa Rica. The credits count as graduate level semester credits and are transferable to OTS member institutions as well as non-member institutions. Please keep in mind that the transcripts from the course may take up to two months to process before they are sent out to your institution. Accepted students are encouraged to consult with their advisor and department what is needed to transfer the credits once the course is over.

What if I am unsure if I meet the pre-requisites for a program?

Our Education Team can review unofficial transcripts and answer your concerns. Send us an email at graduate@tropicalstudies.org, or fill out the contact us form below.

Is there a language requirement?

OTS graduate courses are taught in the language that corresponds to the course title. As such, a course like Tropical Plant Systematics is taught in English while Sistematica de Plantas Tropicales is taught in Spanish. Students that apply to a graduate course are expected to have at least an intermediate level of the language the course will be taught in. No official language test is required to prove proficiency. However, the student may expect to be interviewed if the course they are applying to is not taught in their native language.

Do we get to live out in the rain forest?

You will live in and visit a variety of tropical ecosystems. The program emphasizes “hands-on” experiences, and all of your time will be spent at field stations in amazing natural settings. Contact us for more information regarding specific field sites for each program.

What is it like to live and work at a biological station?

A biological station provides direct access to exciting natural environments, but is by definition isolated from surrounding communities. At each station you will have the opportunity to meet senior researchers and other graduate students conducting dissertation research. In addition, you may meet natural history visitors who come to enjoy the stations’ biological wealth.

 Living at a field station is definitely different from living in a college dormitory, and you will have less privacy and personal space than you are used to. In addition, OTS students are expected to conform to station rules on noise and conduct so as not to interfere with the ongoing work of other station residents and staff. But if you are flexible, outgoing and adventurous, you will find that few experiences match waking up to howler monkeys at La Selva or a having a quiet encounter with a hummingbird at Las Cruces.

Can you tell me more about the independent field projects?

The independent project, or “IP”, is conducted under the approval and supervision of your professors. In some cases, you will have the opportunity to collaborate with other students in the completion of the IP. Independent projects must test a valid, justifiable and interesting hypothesis. Whether you choose to test your hypothesis through manipulative or observational experiments will depend on the constraints of time and the biological system with which you decided to work. IPs are a great opportunity to be imaginative and develop skills in experimental design, data analysis and presentation of scientific results. This is a memorable experience that could change the way you see ecology and nature, particularly in the context of the tropics.

What is the student:faculty ratio in the OTS graduate courses?

Student to resident professor ratios in our courses range from 5:1 to 12:1, depending on the course offering. In addition to Resident Professors, at least one teaching assistant will be with you in the field. In addition, visiting faculty and guest speakers participate in the course. You will have a tremendous opportunity to interact and establish mentoring relationships with a variety of professionals from the fields of biology and environmental science and policy.

What about safety and risk management on OTS graduate courses?

OTS takes safety and risk management very seriously in all its course offerings. Accepted students receive information regarding strategies for managing risks that they may encounter while in the country, including a general risk management orientation at the beginning of the program and specific risk management orientations for each site visited. Students are expected to follow these guidelines and behave responsibly while on our programs. OTS also encourages prospective students from the U.S.A to visit the State Department web site at http://travel.state.gov/ and to contact OTS if you have any questions or concerns about risk management on our programs.

What about medical care?

In the event of a serious illness or injury, excellent and modern medical care is readily available in clinics located near most of our field sites.

How about financial aid and funding opportunities?

We offer partial scholarships principally to students that come from one of our member institutions. In some instances we may be able to offer partial scholarships to non-member institution students. These partial scholarships are assigned on academic merit and socioeconomic need. If you are interested in being considered for a partial scholarship please make sure to include a request for a partial scholarship along with the rest of the required documents. The letter should outline your financial situation, previous scholarships/grants (if any), and the amount you are seeking from outside sources to cover the costs of the course. The letter will help us assess your situation individually and determine you eligibility for a partial scholarship if you are selected for the course.

Please note that the scholarships are awarded and applied only to the tuition/course cost. They cannot be applied in any other way, for example travel expenses. Although we may be able to award a partial scholarship, we highly recommend that you seek funds for the course through your own means, such as applying for grants from your department or organizing small fund raisers.

What do I need to bring for an OTS field course?

OTS graduate courses are designed to be immersive field courses. Students will spend all their time out in Biological Field/Research Stations. The following is a suggested list of items that students may need when participating on a course. Please keep in mind that not all items on the list may be necessary depending on the course, your research interests or habits.

Clothing and Personal Items: 

Except for your “town clothes,” most of your clothing will get muddy and receive rough treatment. Do not bring expensive watches or jewelry. Do bring large ziplocks or trashbags and put your clothes in them. 

  • Shirts: 1 town shirt plus 4-5 for the field (long-sleeved are good for bugs, roll them up when too hot). Lightweight cotton work shirts are ideal, plus several T-shirts. 
  • Pants: 1 pair presentable for town, plus 2 or 3 pairs for field. While blue jeans are fine for casual wear, they do not make good field pants; denim is hot, heavy, and very slow drying. Shorts for relaxation, the occasional hike, or field wear. 
  • Swimsuit.
  • Socks: Including a couple pairs of warm ones for higher elevations. You might find rubber boots more comfortable with heavier socks.
  • Sweater, sweatshirt, or a wool shirt for San José and higher elevations.
  • Very warm clothes for Cuerici Station (if applicable)—sweater, stocking hat, large bandana for use as a scarf, plus a windbreaker.
  • Sleeping bag for the Cuerici if you are very cold-sensitive. The station has many blankets.
  • Soft (foldable) hat with a broad brim for sun and rain, or baseball cap.
  • Rainwear: Bring a poncho or a light breathable rain jacket, rain pants and an umbrella; umbrellas are very useful when caught out in a shower and for staying dry when walking between buildings at our field sites.
  • Boots: Fancy leather hiking boots are not advised. We suggest light-weight and fast-drying hiking boots, work boots or “jungle boots.” You can also get rubber boots for the very wet sites or streams. Good rubber boots are available in Costa Rica, but it is much easier to purchase these in the states and bring them with you.
  • Sneakers or tennis shoes for wading in marshes and mangroves.
  • Towels: A thin one is better and dries faster than the thick luxury types.
  • Toiletries: Most items (shampoo, toothpaste, etc.) are available in Costa Rica, but you should not expect to find your favorite brand.
  • Personal medical supplies.
  • Insect sting kit: Some people have severe (and dangerous) reactions to insect stings. If you are one of these, bring an emergency adrenaline kit, such as “Anakit” or “EpiPen” available by prescription, to keep with you, and inform the coordinators of your sensitivity to insect stings.
  • Extra eyeglasses or contact lenses and prescription, in case yours get broken or lost.
  • Sunglasses.
  • High rated (30+) sunscreen.
  • Sewing needles, strong thread, extra buttons, safety pins, extra shoe/boot laces.
  • Clothespins (a few).
  • A flashlight/headlamp.

Important Field Equipment:

  • A good light is an absolute MUST!
  • Extra batteries: Pack batteries in watertight containers.
  • A day pack for daily field use.
  • Pocket knife.
  • Wristwatch, inexpensive, water-resistant (Casio digital watches survive well in lowland humidity).
  • Insect repellent.
  • Lecture notebook: Be sure it is durable.
  • Waterproof or sturdy field notebooks.
  • Pens and waterproof ink.
  • 10x hand lens.
  • Plastic bags, including ziplocks to use for carrying specimens and for packing your gear in during moves when your pack will probably get wet.
  • Binoculars (optional).
  • Compass (optional).
  • Water bottle/canteen/camelback®, 1-liter size minimum.
  • Earplugs (worth several times their weight in gold to counter the San José street noise or for occasions when you want to sleep and your bunkmates do not.)

Almost Essential Field Equipment (depending on your interests):

  • Camera.
  • Watertight plastic bag or storage container.
  • Vials (The course will have some, but if your project interests require large quantities, bring a good supply.)
  • Aspirator and insect net, if you are entomologically oriented.
  • A roll of duct tape.
  • Your laptop computer.
  • Memory stick, flash card, etc. for data storage, pdf files, etc.
  • Any special stains (e.g., those used by pollination biologists) that you might use.

In addition, bring any special materials you expect to use for research projects other than everyday items that OTS will have. OTS provides microscopes, refractometers, densitometers, stopwatches, counters, scales, measuring tapes, fluorescent dyes, nets, traps, shared laptop computers, and many other items.

NOTE: Again, while the fully-equipped OTS student brings all of the items listed above, not all students need all items. Your own personal habits and research interests should be considered in deciding what to bring.

Remaining questions on the application process? Reach out to our graduate department using the form below:

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