Atenas, Costa Rica

The School for Field Studies
Sustainable Development Program


Bordered by Caribbean and Pacific beaches, Costa Rica, with its spectacular natural resources, is a prime destination for ecotourists. Hillsides are dotted with farms growing coffee, mangoes, bananas, citrus and pineapples. Cloud forests, rainforests, and mountain plains shelter more than 6,000 plant species. There are also more than 500 species of butterflies and more than 800 bird species.

The base for the School for Field Studies is a small farm on a hillside near the town of Atenas in the fertile Central Valley. At 2,600 feet above sea level, nights in Atenas are cool, and the days are warm.

The Program

The goal of the program is to contribute to management plans for the sustainable development of Atenas Region communities by focusing on community development, management of protected areas, reforestation, agricultural production and the development of alternative economic opportunities, including ecotourism. The program begins with Spanish language lessons and introductory lectures. Course material is integrated and presented in interdisciplinary case studies focusing on local environmental problems and resource conflicts. Case studies change as problems are solved and new clients and issues are identified. Days are generally spent in a combination of lectures, field exercises, and research. In the last month of the program, students will conduct a Directed Research project and present the results to their peers and the local stakeholders. Research projects are defined by the Center’s Five Year Research Plan, which includes projects requested by local clients. Before projects begin, there is a week-long introduction to field research methods, statistics and scientific writing.


Students must have completed a college-level course in ecology or environmental science. At least one college-level Spanish course is preferred but not required. Coursework in international development, economics, or anthropology are recommended but not required.

Application Process

Allegheny students must first be approved to study off-campus before applying to their chosen program. Application deadlines are February 20 for fall programs and September 20 for spring programs. Applications will be reviewed immediately following the appropriate semester deadline. For more information about the off campus study application process, please visit:

Student Life

The School for Field Studies’ base in Costa Rica includes a cafeteria overlooking the valley, an administrative building, and faculty casitas. Students live in a refurbished factory that was converted into a dormitory and contains large bedrooms for 6-8 students to share. The base also includes classrooms, a small laboratory, and a library/computer room. Meals are prepared by local cooks and consist of vegetarian and ethnic cuisine.

Students have many opportunities to interact with the local community. They can participate in volunteer work, lecture at local schools, and play soccer against local teams.


Students pay Allegheny tuition, double room and the daily meal plan, as well as a study abroad fee of $300. Allegheny financial aid, except work/study, is applied to program costs. Normally, Allegheny students do not have to pay the $650 program deposit requested by SFS. Additional costs include airfare to San Jose, personal expenses/spending money ($500-$800), visa extension ($50), break travel ($400), and appropriate immunizations (minimum of $200).