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Programs : Brochure

Fact Sheet:
Language of Instruction: English, Spanish Language Prerequisite: 2 Semesters of college level language
Minimum Cumulative GPA: 3.0 Credit Available For: College
Other Eligibility Requirements: Prior Coursework as Required by Subject, See Program Description Type of Program: Semester/Year Study Abroad
Housing Options: Program Provided Housing Application Deadline: Fall/Year: February 15, Spring: October 15
Program Description:

Program Snapshot

BDO LogoOTS Tropical Biology on a Changing Planet Semester in Costa Rica

By visiting a variety of ecosystems and through a series of case studies in Costa Rica and Panama, this program provides students with a strong foundation in the scientific, social, political, and economic aspects of tropical ecology, natural resource management and conservation. In addition to traditional lectures, discussions and lab activities, students learn by leaving the classroom to get into the field, learn by doing, by observing and by talking with community members.
For additional information, visit the OTS Tropical Biology on a Changing Planet Semester in Costa Rica program website
The City of Las Cruces, Costa Rica

As a land bridge between North and South America, and with a complex geography and climate, Costa Rica offers high biodiversity of both species and ecosystems. The country is the center of tropical ecology research and teaching in the Western Hemisphere and a model for the rest of the developing world in conservation; 20 percent of Costa Rica is composed of extensive national parks and biological reserves. In a matter of a few hours' drive, students will discover savanna-like seasonally dry forests in the northwest lowlands, high elevation cloud forests, and classic lowland rain forest in the Caribbean foothills. Mountain chains with active volcanoes form a geologic backbone along the length of the country.

Did you know…?

Costa Rica is famous for its biological diversity with 9,000 known species of higher plants, 200 species of mammals, 800 species of birds, and the ecologically diverse habitats in which they are found. Costa Ricans place great value on their natural resources and conservation. Twenty five percent of the country is in protected status, 15 percent of it in national parks and reserves.



The OTS Tropical Biology on a Changing Planet Semester in Costa Rica program is for College students for College credit only.

Minimum GPA Requirement: 3.0

Language Prerequisite: Successful completion of 2 semesters of College level Spanish or the equivalent, by the end of the academic semester (fall or spring) prior to departure. 
Additional Course Pre-requisite(s): Successful completion of at least 2 semesters of college-level biology or ecology by the end of the academic semester (fall or spring) prior to departure. 

Other Requirements: Program is limited to 25 students.


Language of Instruction

English, Spanish


A full course load on the OTS Tropical Biology on a Changing Planet Semester program consists of 4 classes per semester.  Penn students must maintain a full course load while abroad and may only enroll in courses at the undergraduate level.

Program participants are required to take all four courses offered: Fundamentals of Tropical Biology, Field Research in Tropical Biology, Environmental Science and Policy of the Tropics, and Culture and Language in Costa Rica.

Course Descriptions
Program Overview & Dates
Grading Scale

As on all Penn Abroad programs, grades are recorded on the Penn transcript and are calculated in the cumulative grade point average.  The pass/fail option can be exercised according to the Penn on-campus policy of your home school. For more information on Penn Abroad’s academic policies, click here.

Grades are reported to Penn on the OTS Program scale and then converted to Penn grades according to the following grade equivalencies:
OTS Grade Penn Grade
97-100 A+
93-96.99 A
90-92.99 A-
87-89.99 B+
83-86.99 B
80-82.99 B-
77-79.99 C+
73-76.99 C
70-72.99 C-

Special Features

BDO Special FeaturesOrientation Activities

All Penn students are required to attend the orientation activities organized by the Organization for Tropical Studies prior to the start of each semester. 

Language Courses

All students must enroll in a Culture and Language in Costa Rica course. A sample syllabus (from Fall 2017) can be found here.

BDO Special FeaturesGroup Excursions

Students participate in various activities and day visits. Sometimes these activities will take them to Primary care facilities, hospitals, indigenous territories, forests or remote towns in the countryside. These activities will invariably require closed shoes or rubber boots, water, and your field notebook.

Buddy System

To find out more information on how to connect with alumni from the program, click here


Participants must be willing to live under local conditions for students.

Students live in biological stations throughout Costa Rica. The three main stations have electricity and running water, and students live dormitory-style. Meals are taken at the biological station and are served family style.

  Information regarding accommodation can be found here.

Cost and Finance

Penn Abroad Financial Policies

Students are charged Penn tuition and academic fees for all Penn Abroad programs.  Additional expenses will typically include items such as housing, visas, and airfare.  Please see the program budget sheets below for more information.  For more on Penn Abroad’s financial policies, click here.

Financial Aid and Study Abroad

In most cases, financial aid applies to Penn-approved programs.  Student Financial Services reviews program budget sheets each semester to determine how to appropriately adjust your aid package. For more information on how Financial Aid will work during your semester abroad, click here.

Budget Sheets


Scholarship Opportunities

Benjamin A. Gilman International Scholarship Program: Competition for awards for study abroad, for US citizen students who are receiving federal Pell Grant funding at a 2-year or 4-year college or university. 

Next Steps

For information on the Penn Abroad application process, click here.

To open an application or learn more about the program, please click here to schedule an appointment with a Penn Abroad Global Programs Manager.

For a student perspective on life and academics in Costa Rica, contact a Penn Abroad Past-Participant or Exchange Student.