Expand your horizons
The Organization for Tropical Studies (OTS) is a nonprofit consortium of over 50 universities and research institutions in the United States, Costa Rica, Mexico, South Africa, and Australia.
Founded in 1963, OTS has a mission to provide leadership in education, research and the responsible use of natural resources in the tropics. To this end, graduate and undergraduate field courses are offered in the pure and applied areas of the natural sciences in Costa Rica and South Africa. In addition, OTS operates three research stations in varied ecosystems in Costa Rica and one station inside Kruger National Park, South Africa:
La Selva Biological Station is located in the Caribbean lowland at the northern base of Braulio Carrillo National Park and recognized internationally as one of the premier sites in the world for ongoing research in lowland rain forests. In particular, work on climate change and its impact on biodiversity in tropical wet forests has become a significant area of study at the station.
Palo Verde Biological Station located in the northwestern Pacific lowlands, it is known for its deciduous dry forest, freshwater marsh, and extensive wetlands. Palo Verde is home to thousands of migratory and domestic waterfowl, yet the wetlands are experiencing negative impacts from large scale agriculture located outside the boundaries of the park. Research on the ecological processes occurring within the park and in the surrounding region of the Lower Tempisque Basin is helping to protect the park’s wide array of ecosystems and its biodiversity as well as having significant ramifications on similar parks around the world.
Las Cruces Biological Station & Wilson Botanical Garden on Costa Rica's southern Pacific slope is renowned for its extensive collection of palms, bromeliads, and endangered plants. Las Cruces is part of the La Amistad Biosphere Reserve and is a key site in the study of restoration ecology and biological corridors.
Skukuza Research Station (South Africa) is the newest addition to the Skukuza area of Kruger National Park. located in the heart of the Kruger National Park. The Skukuza Research Station is the result of the Skukuza Science Leadership Initiative (SSLI), a partnership between OTS, the Nsasani Trust and SANParks which aims to provide science and leadership opportunities for South African and international students and researchers. At Skukuza OTS has focused research on twelve projects, all of which are aligned with the research goals of the KNP researchers.
For five decades OTS has been the world’s leading institution in the study of tropical biology with more than 350 graduate-level courses in the ecology and management of natural resources and over eight thousand students participating in its programs and conducting research annually.
Research at the OTS stations has added significantly to what is known about tropical biology and forest ecosystems - more than 300 scientists from 25 countries work at OTS sites each year. The traditional focus on education and research has broadened to encompass quality-learning options for natural history visitors and local schoolchildren who come to the OTS stations just for short visits.
The application process is simple.
Click on the Apply Now button on the program page and follow the online instructions to fill out the application on-line.
At the end of the application you will be required to upload the following documents in pdf format.
You will be required to request the following:
Please request that these documents be sent directly to firstname.lastname@example.org. We will not accept any reference letter, supplement or endorsement that is not sent directly from the referral person.
Prospective applicants from member institutions must consult with one of the two representatives of the OTS Assembly of Delegates at their institution. Advice and endorsement by the local representative are a necessary part of the application process. There are two Delegates at each OTS member institution and their names can be found on the Assembly of Delegates page or by contacting OTS Costa Rica Education Program at See list of member institutions.
Students are expected to make their own travel arrangements to Costa Rica. The cost of airfare varies tremendously; consult your local travel agent or study abroad office as they may offer reduced fares for students. Advance purchase discounts can be substantial. Students must have health insurance that is valid in Costa Rica.
The graduate courses are accredited through the University of Costa Rica. The credits count as graduate level semester credits and are transferable to OTS member institutions as well as non-member institutions. Please keep in mind that the transcripts from the course may take up to two months to process before they are sent out to your institution. Accepted students are encouraged to consult with their advisor and department what is needed to transfer the credits once the course is over.
OTS graduate courses are taught in the language that corresponds to the course title. As such, a course like Tropical Plant Systematics is taught in English while Sistematica de Plantas Tropicales is taught in Spanish. Students that apply to a graduate course are expected to have at least an intermediate level of the language the course will be taught in. No official language test is required to prove proficiency. However, the student may expect to be interviewed if the course they are applying to is not taught in their native language
You will live in and visit a variety of tropical ecosystems. The program emphasizes "hands-on" experiences, and all of your time will be spent at field stations in amazing natural settings.
Contact us for more information regarding specific field sites for each program.
A biological station provides direct access to exciting natural environments, but is by definition isolated from surrounding communities. At each station you will have the opportunity to meet senior researchers and other graduate students conducting dissertation research. In addition, you may meet natural history visitors who come to enjoy the stations’ biological wealth.
Living at a field station is definitely different from living in a college dormitory, and you will have less privacy and personal space than you are used to. In addition, OTS students are expected to conform to station rules on noise and conduct so as not to interfere with the ongoing work of other station residents and staff. But if you are flexible, outgoing and adventurous, you will find that few experiences match waking up to howler monkeys at La Selva or a having a quiet encounter with a hummingbird at Las Cruces
The independent project, or "IP", is conducted under the approval and supervision of your professors. In some cases, you will have the opportunity to collaborate with other students in the completion of the IP. Independent projects must test a valid, justifiable and interesting hypothesis. Whether you choose to test your hypothesis through manipulative or observational experiments will depend on the constraints of time and the biological system with which you decided to work. IPs are a great opportunity to be imaginative and develop skills in experimental design, data analysis and presentation of scientific results. This is a memorable experience that could change the way you see ecology and nature, particularly in the context of the tropics.
Student to resident professor ratios in our courses range from 5:1 to 12:1, depending on the course offering. In addition to Resident Professors, at least one teaching assistant will be with you in the field. In addition, visiting faculty and guest speakers participate in the course. You will have a tremendous opportunity to interact and establish mentoring relationships with a variety of professionals from the fields of biology and environmental science and policy.
OTS takes safety and risk management very seriously in all its course offerings. Accepted students receive information regarding strategies for managing risks that they may encounter while in the country, including a general risk management orientation at the beginning of the program and specific risk management orientations for each site visited. Students are expected to follow these guidelines and behave responsibly while on our programs. OTS also encourages prospective students from the U.S.A to visit the State Department web site at http://travel.state.gov/ and to contact OTS if you have any questions or concerns about risk management on our programs.
In the event of a serious illness or injury, excellent and modern medical care is readily available in clinics located near most of our field sites.
We offer partial scholarships principally to students that come from one of our member institutions. In some instances we may be able to offer partial scholarships to non-member institution students. These partial scholarships are assigned on academic merit and socioeconomic need. If you are interested in being considered for a partial scholarship please make sure to include a request for a partial scholarship along with the rest of the required documents. The letter should outline your financial situation, previous scholarships/grants (if any), and the amount you are seeking from outside sources to cover the costs of the course. The letter will help us assess your situation individually and determine you eligibility for a partial scholarship if you are selected for the course.
Please note that the scholarships are awarded and applied only to the tuition/course cost. They cannot be applied in any other way, for example travel expenses. Although we may be able to award a partial scholarship, we highly recommend that you seek funds for the course through your own means, such as applying for grants from your department or organizing small fund raisers.
OTS graduate courses are designed to be immersive field courses. Students will spend all their time out in Biological Field/Research Stations. The following is a suggested list of items that students may need when participating on a course.
Please keep in mind that not all items on the list may be necessary depending on the course, your research interests or habits.
Except for your "town clothes," most of your clothing will get muddy and receive rough treatment. Do not bring expensive watches or jewelry. Do bring large ziplocks or trashbags and put your clothes in them.
In addition, bring any special materials you expect to use for research projects other than everyday items that OTS will have. OTS provides microscopes, refractometers, densiometers, stopwatches, counters, scales, measuring tapes, fluorescent dyes, nets, traps, shared laptop computers, and many other items.
NOTE: Again, while the fully-equipped OTS student brings all of the items listed above, not all students need all items. Your own personal habits and research interests should be considered in deciding what to bring.