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Study Abroad and Domestic Study Away

ACM Costa Rica: Field Research in the Environment, Social Sciences, & Humanities


ACM’s current off-campus study programs around the world will cease operation after the 2018–2019 academic year.  Therefore, this program will not accept applications for future terms, though this webpage will be live for our spring 2019 participants to be able to access the budget information.


The spring ACM Costa Rica program has given students a privileged window onto these developments since the program’s founding in 1964.  Based in San José, only blocks away from the Universidad de Costa Rica, the program takes full advantage of the resources and scholars of that institution, while reaching out to local and international NGOs and investigators throughout the country to facilitate student research in science and the humanities.

Students spend a month in San José at the beginning and end of the program to polish their Spanish and their research plans and to analyze their data and write their final papers.  In the middle of the program, students fan out to the four corners of the country (and its mountains, and two coastlines) to carry out independent field research under the supervision of an advisor with experience and contacts in the student’s chosen field.  Students with urban interests or whose data is best gathered in the capital city may remain in San José.  

Program Type

Associated Colleges of the Midwest


San Jose, Costa Rica

Languages of Instruction


Program Dates

Spring 2018: January to May

Spring 2019: Late January to Mid-May

All dates are tentative and may change.  ACM will alert all accepted students of final dates.


To be eligible to participate in this program, students must meet the following requirements:

  • Good academic and judicial standing during time of application AND time of participation in program
  • Undergraduates must have completed at least two semesters of study at Lake Forest College AND have second-semester sophomore status before participation. (Transfer students may participate after the first semester on campus) Students with junior status or higher are strongly preferred.
  • At least 18 years of age by the program’s departure date
  • Be able to stay at the host program for the duration of the semester, including through the exam and travel periods
  • Minimum GPA of 2.75 
  • Second-year level college coursework in Spanish, taken in the year prior to the start of the program, is strongly recommended.  For those students whose projects require interviews, a higher level of Spanish may be more appropriate. ACM will review applications on a case-by-case basis and may recommend that a student arranges to refresh or augment his/her level of Spanish prior to the start of the program.


experience a country of tropical beauty and hospitality

Sandy beaches, volcanoes, lush vegetation, remote mountains, farms, and exotic plant and animal species characterize Costa Rica’s rich landscape. Friendly Costa Ricans (or “Ticos”) take pride in their long-lived democracy, the country’s natural beauty, and their relaxed way of life. You’ll hear people greeting each other with the country’s signature phrase, ¡Pura Vida!”

While Latin American countries may have been characterized as “coffee” or “banana republics” in the past, their economies are becoming more diverse as they confront globalization and other 21st century challenges. See for yourself how Costa Rica is balancing new economic opportunities in tourism, pineapple growing, and high tech industries with the need to protect its precious natural resources and a national commitment to creating a sustainable way of life.

See Costa Rica through urban and rural lenses

Living in San José, the capital of Costa Rica and a major cultural center, will expose you to architecturally-renowned buildings, parks, and plazas, as well as other cultural events and cuisines. If you conduct research in a rural location, you will be surrounded by other aspects of Costa Rica’s geography, such as small farming towns, seaside fishing communities, mountains, national parks, rainforests, and wildlife at every turn. No matter where you live, you’ll grow to love the peaceful rhythm, natural beauty, and vibrant culture of Costa Rica.


Most students will enroll in courses taught by the ACM Costa Rica center.  

The program includes one course, plus a field research project and a research seminar courses. 

  • Spanish for Researchers (4 semester hours)
  • Field Research (8 semester hours)
  • Research Seminar and paper (4 semester hours) 

More information on course offerings can be found here.  

In Costa Rica, students will earn letter grades (A/B/C/D/F) for courses and for the research.


Academic Environment and Teaching Style

As this program was designed in conjunction with a US liberal arts college consortium, the professors understand the unique higher education system and culture of US students. Some professors, especially for the language course, will be native to Costa Rica.  Other ACM courses may be taught by a visiting faculty member from one of the ACM member institutions.

Students will be doing a good deal of independent research on their own and will be guided by faculty on-site as well as with local research advisors.


Course Approvals

Check to see if your department has pre-approved courses here. If not, don’t worry. You can work with your advisor.

Experiential Opportunities

Costa Rican society and the nation’s abundant natural resources provide many excellent opportunities for student research.  The program’s professional contacts in Costa Rica allow students to pursue field research in a broad spectrum of disciplines, including scientific research and community-based research in the social sciences and humanities.

Prior to the start of the program—and as the program begins—students discuss possible research options with the program director.  Each student will be matched with a local research advisor in Costa Rica with similar interests and expertise in their specific field of interest.  Advisors are drawn from academic institutions, business, government, and non-governmental and international organizations.

Student Life

Wondering what you’ll do with your free time in Costa Rica?

UCR offers ACM students plenty of ways to get involved throughout the semester. Join a sports team or take a class in yoga, mountaineering, karate, drama, or dance. For the musically inclined, consider joining a choir or band. You can also participate in activities sponsored by student organizations at UCR, or volunteer for a few hours each week at different organizations throughout San José.

Because the UCR campus is nearby, you can study at its large library. Spending time on the university campus or studying in San Pedro’s internet cafés also gives you the chance to make new friends with Tico students.


A highlight of the Costa Rica program is a five-day excursion to Nicaragua, which gives you a broader perspective on ecotourism and conservation in Central America. You’ll see several of Nicaragua’s colonial cities and unique geological and geographic points, including Lake Nicaragua and two of the oldest biological reserves in the country, Masaya Volcano National Park and Mombacho Volcano Nature Reserve. Read more about the Costa Rica program field trip to Nicaragua.

In the past, students have also traveled throughout Costa Rica to explore the chocolate-making process at La Tirimbina rainforest center, visit the Llano Bonito coffee plantation, and volunteer at a Habitat for Humanity project in San José. Other trips to the country’s Central Pacific region and the Cartago Province have exposed students to everything from quiet rainforests to a Roman Catholic basilica.

Class excursions are designed to help you understand your role in the social, environmental, and economic development of Costa Rica. With ACM’s connections in Costa Rica and the country’s tradition of openness, you will also have opportunities to meet and network with national and international experts in fields related to politics, economics, education, conservation, humanities, and public health. 

Housing and Meals

During the first month and the last month of the program, students take classes at the ACM center and live with families in San José.

Housing arrangements during the field work phase of the program vary widely according to the location of the student’s research project, but many students are placed with families who speak only Spanish.

For those in remote areas, conditions may be quite rugged. The staff assists students in finding suitable housing.

Financial Information

For all programs, students pay their Lake Forest College tuition plus a program fee.  The program fee for the ACM Costa Rica (spring) program includes orientation, housing, several day excursions, and insurance.  Most meals are included.

Here is an estimated budget for your Spring 2019 program:

Budget Item


Lake Forest College Tuition


Program fee


Program Credits (ACM + Lake Forest Deposits)


Total Expected Billed by Lake Forest College


Program Deposits (ACM + Lake Forest deposits are 





Estimated Airfare


Estimated Personal Expenses (passport, visas, immunizations, books, supplies, personal expenses, additional travel etc.)


Total Out-of-Pocket Expenses




Tuition rates and program fees are subject to change each year, but this information was up-to-date as of February 2018. Deposits to other programs, if required, will appear as a credit on your study abroad term bill.

Keep in mind that you may spend more or less in certain areas like personal expenses, travel, meals, or airfare, depending on exchange rates and your own spending habits. Classroom or lab fees are not included in this estimate.

Don’t forget to apply for scholarships! A great listing can be found here.  Students pursuing internships/volunteer projects are highly competitive for Gilman awards, among others!

Do check your student account on My.Lakeforest for your aid awards, as much of this will go with you. If you want to compare your program to the cost of being on campus, those numbers can be found here: https://www.lakeforest.edu/admissions/tuition/fees.php

You can discuss with Financial Aid your specific aid package and your expected family contribution.