Costa Rica Study Abroad Program at Universidad Nacional
Study for a semester or a year in one of the most naturally beautiful countries in the world. Situated in Heredia, the Universidad Nacional combines excellent academics with extensive opportunities to get involved in campus life and the surrounding community.
What Universidad Nacional has to offer
What is the academic structure of UNA?
IFSA-Butler offers a semester and full year study abroad program at the Universidad Nacional (UNA) in Heredia, Costa Rica. The program allows you to enroll directly in classes at UNA with local students. In addition, it offers three program classes designed specifically for IFSA-Butler participants. These classes, taught in Spanish by local professors, are intended to provide you with an understanding of the events and issues that make Costa Rica what it is today.
What program courses does IFSA-Butler offer?
Advanced Spanish (4 U.S. semester credit hours) This intensive Spanish class is specially designed for IFSA-Butler students and is mandatory. The course is offered at three different advanced levels, and placement is determined by a series of assessments during orientation in Costa Rica. The class is taught intensively during orientation and continues less frequently throughout the semester.
Social History of Costa Rica (3 U.S. semester credit hours) This optional class introduces IFSA-Butler students to Costa Rica's dynamic social history. Starting in the pre-Columbian era, this course guides students through major historical events which helped shape Costa Rica into the peaceful country it is today.
Ecology and Sustainable Development in Costa Rica (3 U.S. semester credit hours) Due to its location in the tropical zone, Costa Rica hosts one of the largest diversity of species and ecosystems in comparison with other tropical regions in the world. Over 25% of Costa Rica’s territory is under a category of protection, thanks to private reserves dedicated to ecotourism and research. This course is designed to help IFSA-Butler students acquire a basic ecological understanding of Costa Rica’s rich diversity of species populations, communities and landscapes, from tropical natural forests to aquatic resources, taking into consideration the impact of human activity. Classroom lectures and discussion are enhanced by practical hands-on experience through two required field trips where students volunteer to support municipal and community groups that are developing ecotourism initiatives.
What is the Universidad Nacional like?
What UNA courses am I eligible to take?
Keep in mind the following:
Where can I find a list of courses that UNA offers?
Please note that UNA's online course listings are not complete. Some UNA departments have not posted their courses, while other departments have posted only a few courses that may be available. If a particular department or course you are looking for is not listed, contact your program advisor for more information. Course availability changes every semester.
Are there any restrictions or additional requirements for courses I can take?
I need to provide course descriptions and/or syllabi to my home university advisor. Where can I find those?
Please limit your request to 10 courses at a time. Keep in mind that it may take a few days to a month to obtain this information.
How are UNA courses different from the courses at my U.S. university?
Additionally, you might notice that your Tico classmates know each other very well. This is because students enroll in carreras rather than majors. Carreras are similar to majors in the United States but with a more structured program of study and fewer elective courses. Students from the same carrera enroll in the same courses together during their entire undergraduate career.
How will I register for courses?
Course registration takes place once you arrive in Costa Rica, typically during your second week of orientation. A designated day will be set aside for registration at UNA. During this time, you will receive the updated course catalog and be able to speak with departmental representatives or professors about courses in which you are interested in taking. You will then select your courses for the semester.
Before leaving for Costa Rica, it is a good idea to start thinking about the courses you want to take while you are abroad. A course preference form (see the Forms tab) is provided to help you with this process. While this form is not a final registration document, it is a great tool to help you decide which courses you may want to enroll in for the semester. Be sure to discuss your courses with your U.S. university academic advisor.
The order of registration is determined by your cumulative GPA. International students with the highest GPA register first. Make sure you select more classes than you actually need just in case the class you want to take is already full.
While we are sure that your time abroad will be rewarding, you must be aware of some of the challenges inherent in dealing with the Costa Rican educational system. The resident director will not only discuss these at orientation but will also be available to help you with any problems that may arise during the semester.
Keep in mind that the educational system in Costa Rica is different from the system in the U.S. For example, universities do not usually publish course schedules until just before the start of the semester. In many cases, current course listings are not available until you arrive on site. Registration can be a confusing and frustrating process; remember that IFSA-Butler staff will help you during orientation.
What if I need to take a required course?
Science and engineering courses everywhere require a high level of expertise, and students should be prepared for the increased challenge of studying these disciplines in Spanish. As these are fields in which there are generally few international students, visiting students may feel that the support system is not readily apparent. However, previous visiting students at UNA have found science and engineering course professors to be helpful.
What are the registration conditions?
All courses are graded on an A-F scale, and there is no provision for pass/fail or auditing courses unless pass/fail is the only method of assessment for the course. Students are not allowed to register for on-line, distance education or hybrid courses. See the "Academics" and "Program Fees and Financial Aid" sections in Preparing to Study Abroad for more information.
ExamsWhat do I need to know about exams?
Due to the difference in academic systems, your exam schedule will not be available until after you register for courses at UNA. Be sure to confirm exam dates with your professor at the beginning of the semester. You are not permitted to reschedule exams, request alternate assessment or arrange to have your exams proctored in the United States. If this occurs, IFSA-Butler will not be able to assist you in conducting an academic record query on the class in which you made this arrangement. Additionally, all academic obligations, including final exams, must be complete before leaving Costa Rica.
TranscriptsHow will my home university know what my classes were and what grades I received?
After you return to the U.S., IFSA-Butler will send a Butler University transcript to your home university. The transcript reflects the courses taken, credits attempted and grades earned at UNA during your study abroad semester or year. We will also send an official transcript to your permanent home address.
What if I need academic help during the semester?
Areas of Study
One the Universidad Nacional program, you are able to take university courses in a wide range of subject areas. Most departments at the university are open to IFSA-Butler students. See the "University Courses" tab for more information on departmental and course restrictions. IFSA-Butler hopes that students will be able to take courses for their U.S. institution degree requirements in order to stay on track for graduation.
Following is a sample list of courses that previous IFSA-Butler students have taken in Heredia during past semesters. Please keep in mind that this is not a complete list. There are hundreds of courses in Heredia from which you can choose. To see full course listings that may be available during your study abroad semester, click on the "University Courses" tab to access the online course catalog.
Film and Communication Studies:
* All courses listed on this page were available to IFSA-Butler students during previous semesters on the Universidad Nacional program in Costa Rica. IFSA-Butler cannot guarantee that a course listed here or on the university's online course catalog will be available or open to IFSA-Butler students during future study abroad semesters. Please contact your IFSA-Butler program advisor if you have questions about course availability.
Focus on environmental studies in one of the world's most eco-friendly destinations. This special concentration combines a specialized environmental studies course and an advanced Spanish class with integrated classes at Universidad Nacional. A wide variety of ecology, environmental science and environmental studies courses are available at the university, as are other subjects.
Environmental studies volunteer opportunities are part of this program, and special program excursions and activities focus on conservation, sustainable tourism and community development.
Click on the links below to view PDFs of the concentration courses. Click on the University Courses subtab in the Academics section to see more about integrated UNA courses.
Combine education courses at UNA and hands-on classroom interactions with a unique cultural experience in Costa Rica. This concentration is ideal for future Spanish or ESL teachers, or for any education major who wants to be prepared for the increasingly diverse U.S. classroom.
Core courses are in advanced Spanish and Development of Education and Education Models. Students choose the rest of their courseload from education courses or other subjects at UNA.
An optional non-credit workshop preparing students for the ACTFL test is also part of the program.
Click on the link below to view PDF of the concentration course. Click on the University Courses subtab in the Academics section to see more about integrated UNA courses.
What are my housing options?
Study abroad is much more than academics. Learning takes place not only during class, but 24 hours a day. One of the best out-of-class experiences is the homestay, which is a vital, required component of the IFSA-Butler program. One IFSA-Butler student is placed with a carefully selected, program approved host family for the duration of the study abroad semester or year.
In addition to the program application, be sure to click on the "Forms" tab to download and complete your Family Placement Form. Once finished, submit your Family Placement Form to IFSA-Butler via email, fax or regular mail.
Is my housing included in the program fee?
When will I receive my housing assignment?
Please keep in mind that while IFSA-Butler guarantees housing, we cannot guarantee your preferences.
Do I have to pay a housing deposit?
Can I arrange my own housing?
Location InfoLiving and Studying in Heredia
Population: 103,000 (greater area)
Location: Central Costa Rica, seven miles from San José
Dates & Fees
Universidad Nacional Dates
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Your program end date may change due to circumstances beyond IFSA-Butler's control. Upon arrival at your host university, be sure to verify your exam schedule and program end date. We also strongly recommend that you investigate fees and penalties associated with your airline tickets in case you need to make date or route changes.
Program housing is available only until the date listed as “Program ends” on the calendar.
Exams must be taken where and when scheduled. Under no circumstances may students request that an exam time be changed. In Costa Rica, exams are taken under formal examination conditions, and changes cannot be made for individuals.
Universidad Nacional Fees
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Calendar Year and Semester 1 Payments Due: December 15
Program Fee Bills
Personal Cost Estimates
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These figures are designed to assist students with financial planning but are only estimates based on past students’ experiences at the current exchange rate. They do not include any entertainment or vacation travel costs.
The above numbers are general estimates of expenses during a program abroad. We recommend taking into account your current spending habits, the cost of living in your host country and the current exchange rate. Your IFSA-Butler program advisor can be helpful as you attempt to work on a personal budget for your experience abroad.
Meals: The program fee includes three meals per day.
Personal Miscellaneous: Covers general expenses of college life, including course supplies, photocopying, toiletries, snacks, personal care, etc.
Commuting: Estimates are for transportation between housing and university. Transportation for personal or recreational purposes is not included in the above estimates.
All costs are in U.S. dollars.
To apply to the Universidad Nacional program, use our easy online application.
Applicants to the Universidad Nacional must complete two additional forms as part of the application process:
Please submit these forms with the remainder of your program application. They can be sent to IFSA-Butler via email, fax or regular mail.
If you have already started an application to the Universidad Nacional program, you can check the status of your application using the Student Portal.
Meet Your IFSA-Butler Team
IFSA-Butler has a dedicated team of staff who are here to help students prepare for their program in Costa Rica:
Program Advisor Jennifer McKibben assists with the application process and is here to answer program, cultural and academic questions before departure. Jennifer studied abroad in Costa Rica for a year through an IFSA-Butler program. After completing her undergraduate degree in Spanish at Butler University, she moved to Costa Rica for three years to immerse herself in the culture and pursue a Master’s degree in Spanish-English Translation at Universidad Nacional. She is very passionate about helping students have impactful, enriching experiences abroad. Jennifer currently advises students planning to study abroad in Argentina, Chile, Costa Rica, Mexico and Peru. She can be reached at the email link above or at 800-858-0229, ext. 4264.
Student Accounts Coordinator Marty Weinbrecht assists with the financial side of study abroad and processes payments and invoices. Marty can be reached at the email link above or at 800-858-0229 ext. 4218.
Once abroad, our students are in the capable hands of our on-site office, including our resident director.
View the embedded image gallery online at:
Volunteering while studying abroad in Costa Rica is an enriching experience, both personally and academically. Students report that even volunteering a few hours per week enhanced their study abroad experience by providing them with access to the local culture and a deeper understanding of problems that face Costa Ricans on a daily basis.
Opportunities to volunteer are available for IFSA-Butler students in many different fields such as environmental projects, working in rural communities or tutoring children after school. Additionally, many of the program excursions and activities in Costa Rica are focused on volunteerism and giving back to the local community.
IFSA-Butler has prepared a list of places where you, as a visiting student, could volunteer to do social service. While this is purely optional, a commitment on your part is needed in order to arrange a placement. Upon completion of your period of volunteerism, you will be issued a certificate indicating the number of hours you dedicated and the type of work you completed. Volunteering does not earn academic credit and will not appear on your Butler University transcript.
Examples of places where students can be placed:
This is just a sample of the volunteer opportunities available to our students, and these may change from semester to semester. If you have specific interests, please discuss them with your program advisor, who can research other opportunities that may be available in your area of interest. Your program advisor can help you determine opportunities that fit your interests (if they are not listed above), but you will not sign up for a volunteer placement until after orientation.