Undergraduate Opportunities - Organization for Tropical Studies

Tropical Biology Summer Program in Costa Rica

  • Tropical Biology Summer Program in Costa Rica
  • Tropical Biology Summer Program in Costa Rica
  • Tropical Biology Summer Program in Costa Rica
  • Tropical Biology Summer Program in Costa Rica
  • Tropical Biology Summer Program in Costa Rica

Program Details

Where:Costa Rica

When: Jun 7-Jul 7, 2015

Duration: 4 weeks

Accreditation: 1 course - 4 credits

Language: English

Deadline: April 1, on rolling basis


Tropical Biology Summer Program in Costa Rica Overview

This program introduces students to some of the most critical issues facing tropical biodiversity and threatened ecosystems and engages them in research addressing these challenges. While traveling to 5 sites in Costa Rica, including the 3 world famous OTS field stations, students conduct research projects led by invited faculty form diverse fields in tropical biology. Students are mentored on short independent research projects individually or in small groups.


The Tropical Biology Summer Program is comprised of one core course. This course is worth 4 credit hours, accredited by Duke University.

Fundamentals of Tropical Biology
Duke University – BIO 280LA

This course integrates classroom and field instruction to introduce students to the fundamental principles of tropical biology and the natural history of local ecosystems. The ecological complexity of the tropics, the patterns of species diversity and the types of species interactions that characterize these systems are discussed in detail. Classroom instruction includes lectures given by resident and visiting professors, as well as discussions of assigned readings and selections from the primary literature.


Our program is labor intensive. Though we do give campus-like classes and exams, we also take orientation walks to learn important plants and animals, perform field projects with long hours, and make field trips. In the field, your typical daily schedule may look like this:

6:30am Breakfast
7:30am Field activity. Most field activities take all morning, or in some cases will go into the afternoon. For field activities, you will often need to wear rubber boots (or snake guards), and will always take water and your field notebook with you. This is the best part of the day – be prepared to get wet and muddy!!
12:00pm Lunch back at the station.
1:00pm Rest/shower time.
2:00pm Lectures and/or discussion sections. Afternoon classroom activities will often be related to morning field activities.
5:00pm Free time.
6:00pm Dinner
7:00pm Lectures, discussions, and/or study time.

As you can see, most days are pretty well packed with course-related work. The good news is that we are aware of the need for “free” time and arrange the schedule to include “lighter” days and fun trips and activities. Also, of course, much of your work is done in beautiful natural settings!

Schedule of Site Visits*

June 7 Arrival in San Jose  
June 8 Orientation in San José  
June 9-12 Palo Verde Biological Station Dry forest, wetlands
June 13-16 Las Alturas Biological Station Mid-elevation rainforest
June 17-22 Las Cruces Biological Station Premontane rainforest
June 23 Cerro de la Muerte High elevation forest
June 24-July 5 La Selva Biological Station Lowland rain forest
July 6 San José  
July 7 Departure for the United States  
* Exact dates of sites subject to change. If you would like an up-to-date program itinerary, please contact Administrative Assistant Kattia Méndez.

A comprehensive day-to-day schedule including lecture topics and exam dates will be provided upon arrival.

Tuition and Financial Aid

The course costs are detailed below:

  • Tuition for OTS summer program: $4,136
  • Program fee: $1,795
  • Duke lifetime transcript fee: $40 (does not apply to Duke students)

Tuition and fees cover:

  • Room and board at hotels, and research stations
  • Local travel to program sites
  • Participation of many local and international tropical scientists, and other experts
  • Laundry costs

Tuition and fees do not cover:

  • International travel
  • Independent travel
  • Incidentals
  • Personal spending


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 limited funding on a rolling basis. Applicants attending institutions that are members of the OTS consortium colleges and universities 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!!!

Note: Costs for the next school year will be announced in late May of each year.

Application Process

We will make the application available two semesters prior to the summer in which you wish to participate.

Apply Now

“Like” our Facebook page (www.facebook.com/OTSatDuke) to be notified when the application becomes available.

We have a rolling admissions policy, so we will review your application as soon as you complete it. This means that the program may fill BEFORE the application deadline. APPLY EARLY!

To participate in the Summer program, you must apply no later than April 1. If you are interested in a summer for which the deadline has passed, please contact us for availability at

Accommodations & Meals

The OTS program differs socially and culturally from your typical on-campus life in several interesting and important ways. First and foremost, of course, you will be living in a small Latin American country. In general, Costa Ricans ("Ticos" and "Ticas") are warm, friendly, and welcoming. You can expect to develop good friendships and not only learn about Costa Ricans but also reflect more on your own culture by comparison. Since you are a guest in Costa Rica, you need to be sensitive to and respectful of Costa Rican customs, but learning how those customs differ from your own is an exciting part of the study abroad experience.

In addition, while you may have one or two roommates on campus, in Costa Rica you will be living closely with 15-25 other students and 2 to 5 professors and course assistants. Again, you can expect to form strong and life-long friendships. The combination of experiences that are uncomfortable (wet, muddy, tired), wacky (a bunch of Gringos on the dance floor), challenging (yes, you can make it through the mangrove forest!), wonderful (watching monkeys while eating lunch), and truly amazing (interacting with people from all sorts of social backgrounds in very different settings) creates great memories that you will share with your fellow participants well beyond the end of the semester. To make this possible communication and respect will be crucial. All of us need to be as open, honest and cooperative as possible. This includes respect for privacy, for rules and regulations, for different opinions and lifestyles, and even respect for the fact that unpredictability is an inherent feature of field-based programs. Indeed, next to communication and cooperation, flexibility and good humor are the most important characteristics of a successful student in our program. Schedule changes can lead to wonderful - or hilarious – experiences in the field!

Passport & Visa Information

You must have a valid Passport to travel to Costa Rica. It is important that the passport does not expire within 6 months of entering Costa Rica. If you are NOT a citizen of a North American or European country, you will probably need a special visa to get into Costa Rica. We recommend that you contact your respective consulate or embassy services to determine if you need a visa to travel to Costa Rica. It is important to take into account the requirements to get a visa approved before you apply for one of our courses. If you are accepted into one of our courses we will provide any information necessary (within reason) to help with the visa application. Please keep in mind that visa application processes can take several months depending on the country of issue. For more information on this topic please visit


U.S. citizens entering Costa Rica are automatically granted a 90-day tourist Visa. Students will receive a second 90-day tourist visa when the course enters Costa Rica again following a visit to Panama, and that second visa will last until the end of the program. Remember that according to current immigration laws in Costa Rica, you MUST leave the country for at least 72 hours when your visa expires. Students planning to stay in Costa Rica after the program end date need to take this into account.

Please consult OTS if you have any questions about this


OTS summer program is open to all undergraduate students in good standing with their home institution who have at a least a 2.7 GPA. Students applying to the Tropical Biology-Summer must have completed the equivalent of one year of college-level biology. Applicants attending institutions that are members of the OTS consortium have priority, but all qualified applications will be considered.

Health and Safety

OTS is deeply committed to student safety and well-being and does not expose students to unnecessary danger or risk. In cooperation with the Duke University Global Education Office for Undergraduates (GEO), OTS monitors national and international events that might affect our students. Nearly 5 decades of risk assessment, emergency response, and crisis resolution have enabled OTS to maximize student safety and security. All students participate in an on-site orientation program upon arrival in Costa Rica or South Africa. For our most current safety information, please visit the Duke GEO website at www.global.duke.edu/geo or contact the OTS Enrollment Management staff at