Home arrow Tropical Biology Summer Program in Costa Rica
Tropical Biology On a Changing Planet
Semester in Costa Rica

Spring 2015: January 26 - May 12 | Fall 2015: August 24 – December 8
Application Deadline for Fall 2015: May 1st, 2015
Cost: $25,715

Download the Undergraduate Program Brochure APPLY NOW
 If you are interested in a semester with a deadline that already passed, contact otsadmissions @ duke.edu  or call us at 919-684-5155 for availability. 

Program Highlights

  • Live and work in field stations in 6 different tropical ecosystems
  • Receive 16 credits as a study abroad student at Duke University
  • Gain an in-depth understanding of field ecology
  • Develop your foundation in the social, political, economic, and scientific aspects of resource management and conservation
  • Work with ecologists and meet local stakeholders 
  • Learn what biodiversity really means by gaining expertise in Neotropical natural history
  • Conduct your own research projects in the field (see coursebooks for reports of OTS alumni research)
  • Explore case studies in conservation of tropical ecosystems by actually visiting the sites and talking to the people involved
  • Improve your Spanish abilities while living with a Costa Rican family and taking intensive conversational lessons
  • On the fun side, eat breakfast with monkeys, learn how to salsa dance, and enjoy midterm break traveling on your own

Who is this program designed for?

  • Biology and environmental science majors
  • Students from all disciplines interested in tropical biology and environmental science
  • Hard workers looking for a rigorous and hands-on experience
  • Students interested in cultural exchange and international perspectives
  • Students who want to gain research and communication skills that are invaluable for any career path


What do students do in this program?

  • Live and work with 3 resident professors who are experienced ecologists
  • Participate in field research with numerous invited professors from many countries
  • Visit plantations (coffee, banana, rice, sugar, etc.) and meet the farmers to hear their personal perspectives
  • Meet reserve owners and community groups to understand conservation in a down-to-earth way
  • Conduct both faculty-directed and independent research many times in the semester
  • Orientation walks at each site allow students to distinguish habitat features of different tropical ecosystems
  • Collect data from quintessential rain forests, coral reefs, cloud forests, high-elevation paramo, and tropical dry forests
  • Gain true expertise in the ways that humans are impacting tropical ecosystems via climate change, deforestation, etc. and what is being done about it


What Duke courses do students earn credit for in this program?

  • Fundamentals of Tropical Biology (BIOL 280A; 4 credits)
  • Environmental Science and Policy in the Tropics (ENVIRON 282A; 4 credits)
  • Field Research Methods in Tropical Biology (BIOL 281A; 4 credits)
  • Culture and Language in Costa Rica (SP 92A; 4 credits)
  • Please see page 4 of the Brochure for detailed descriptions of the 4 courses


Where does the course go?


Las Cruces Biological Station (Mid-elevation Tropical Wet Forest)
  • Understand habitat fragmentation and reforestation
  • Visit local coffee plantation
Cuerici Biological Station (High-elevation Oak Forest and Paramo)
  • Remote station in the high mountains
  • Learn about trout farming as a sustainable local livelihood
La Selva Biological Station (Tropical Rain Forest)
  • Visit to Dole banana plantation
  • Internationally renowned research center
  • Home to thousands of species of flora and fauna
San Gerardo Biological Reserve in Monteverde (Cloud Forest)
  • Must hike into this remote field station
  • Learn about role of ecotourism in conservation by exploring this hotspot for ecotourists
  • Learn about plant and animal diversity with local biologists
Bocas del Toro, Panama (Tropical Marine Ecosystems)
  • Collect data on coral reefs and coastal habitats while snorkeling with a marine ecologist
  • Understand the impact of human population growth on island ecosystems
Palo Verde Biological Station (Tropical Dry Forest and Wetland Marsh)
  • RAMSAR site with a truly impressive diversity of overwintering waterfowl
  • One of the most endangered ecosystems in the tropics (down to less than 3%)
  • Visits to local sugar cane and rice plantations to learn about irrigation methods

Who are the professors?

The three resident faculty for this program are experienced ecologists with decades of experience in field teaching between them. As a student in this program, you will learn, eat, work, laugh, and travel together and get to know each other very well. Students generally stay in contact with their OTS professors for years after the program.

What are the prerequisites?

  • One year of college-level biology or the equivalent by the start of the semester
  • No language requirement
  • Graduating seniors are eligible to participate the semester after they complete their coursework if they can stay enrolled at their home institution.

What is the cost?

  • Tuition for OTS semester program: $23,825
  • Program fee: $1,850
  • Duke lifetime transcript fee: $40 (does not apply to Duke students)
Tuition and fees cover:
  • Housing and food at hotels, homestays, and research stations
  • Local travel to program sites
  • Participation of dozens of local and international biologists, stakeholders, reserve managers, and other experts
  • Laundry costs
Tuition and fees do not cover:
  • International travel
  • Independent travel
  • Incidentals
  • Personal spending
    Note: Costs for 2014-2015 school year will be announced in late May 2014.


Is there any scholarship aid available?

Scholarships: OTS is committed to providing opportunities to all eligible students interested in participating in our programs. We make scholarship applications available to students upon acceptance into an OTS program and offer funding on a rolling basis. Applicants attending institutions that are members of the OTS consortium have priority, but all qualified applications will be considered. We have dedicated a substantial amount of funding to provide partial scholarships to students who need financial support. Apply early!
Non-Duke students: Please consult with the financial aid office at your institution or write to us at otsadmissions @ duke.edu.
Duke students: Please consult with the Duke University Financial Aid Office.

What travel arrangements should I make for this program?

When you are accepted to the program, you will receive an orientation packet filled with information about how to prepare, including a packing list. All participants should plan to arrive in San Jose, Costa Rica by the evening of the first day of the semester program. Students must have a valid passport to participate. If you will be traveling to Costa Rica on a non-US passport, please contact otsadmissions @ duke.edu to determine whether a Costa Rican visa will be necessary. For more information, please write to otsadmissions @ duke.edu.


What is the payment schedule for the program?

  • Notice of acceptance made on a rolling basis.
  • Upon acceptance, $1000 deposit is required to confirm a place in the program (plus $40 Duke lifetime transcript fee for non-Duke students)
  • First payment of remaining tuition and fees is due 1-2 months prior to program start date.
  • Detailed payment information with amounts and due dates will be provided by the Duke University Bursar's Office.


I am interested, who can I talk to?

We would love to hear from you! If you are interested in this or any other OTS program please write to us at otsadmissions @ duke.edu or call us at 919-684-5155. Duke students can also contact the Duke University Global Education Office for Undergraduates.


All applications will be considered without regard to race, color, national or ethnic origin, disability, sexual orientation or preference, gender or age. The Organization for Tropical Studies and Duke University reserves the right to cancel this program. Should it do so, refunds will be made in accordance with the policy of the Duke University Global Education Office for Undergraduates.


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