Universidad de Costa Rica

Image of Universidad de Costa Rica

  • Join the Grupo de Kansas for a semester or academic year
  • Take classes from a wide variety of subjects in Spanish
  • Live with a host family to be immersed in Costa Rican culture
  • Option to participate in an Early Start Program prior to the program
  • Early Start Scholarship ($1,200), G. Wayne Burge Scholarship ($1,500), and Semester scholarship ($3,000) available. See Further Reading below for more information.

The University of Kansas Grupo de Kansas program in San José, Costa Rica offers students the opportunity to directly enroll in classes at the Universidad de Costa Rica (UCR), which is one of the top research institutions in Central America. Students will prepare themselves for the semester at UCR by participating in the on-site orientation that provides a well-structured introduction to the country and its culture and history. An Early Start Program prior to the on-site orientation helps students improve their language skills. Students will be able to experience Costa Rican culture and history firsthand by living with host families and participating in cultural activities and excursions. 

Costa Rica

Costa Rica is known for its natural beauty, extraordinary diversity of flora and fauna, social and political stability, high educational levels, and efficient infrastructure and services. The capital of San José is a vibrant and cosmopolitan city. It lies in the Central Valley on a plain surrounded by large forested mountain ranges, some of which include active volcanoes, green savannahs, and working coffee plantations.

Universidad de Costa Rica (UCR)

The Universidad de Costa Rica was established in 1843 under the name Universidad de Santo Tomás. In 1940, it was restructured and re-named the Universidad de Costa Rica. It is the oldest and largest university in Costa Rica, with a population of 35,000 students. The University of Kansas-Universidad de Costa Rica exchange program was initiated in 1958 and is the oldest inter-university exchange of its kind in the Western Hemisphere.

The San José program can be divided into three parts: the Early Start Program, the On-site Orientation, and Courses at UCR.

The On-site orientation and courses at UCR are required for all Grupo de Kansas students. The Early Start Program is required for students with 4 semesters of college-level Spanish and optional for students with 5 or more semesters. Many students with 5 or more semesters of Spanish choose to participate in the Early Start Program to improve language skills and spend extra time in Costa Rica. All courses and grades will be posted to a KU transcript.

Early Start Program

The Early Start Program is a one-month intensive Spanish course designed for students to strengthen their language skills prior to the beginning of the semester. Students will take a language placement test and are placed into an appropriate intensive Spanish language course with other international students. Students will receive 3 credits of SPAN 170, SPAN 270, or SPAN 371, dependent upon language level. One excursion is included in the Early Start Program.

KU Students-please see "Further Reading" below for information about the $1,200 Early Start Scholarship.

On-site Orientation

The On-site orientation is a one-month course especially for Grupo de Kansas students. It is designed to prepare students for the challenges of rigorous academic work in a foreign language and culture. The orientation provides a cultural and historical introduction to Costa Rica through lectures and excursions, with an emphasis on upper-level academic writing skills and the culture and history of Costa Rica. During orientation, students will participate in excursions where an expert will serve as a guide and lecturer to introduce students to the topic. When possible, service learning activities will also be incorporated into orientation. Students will receive 3 hours of credit of SPAN 370 Hispanic Language, Culture, and Civilization.

Courses at UCR

Students will enroll in courses at UCR with local students, taught by local faculty. Students are eligible to take most courses in a variety of departments at UCR if they meet the required pre-requisites. A normal course load is 12-18 hours, which is four to six classes. Course offerings vary from semester to semester, and it is not possible to guarantee that a course will be offered during a particular semester. Program participants should have eight to ten courses in a wide variety of departments approved by their home institution prior to arrival in San José. Students studying Spanish language should plan on taking one to two Spanish language courses and the rest from other departments. Enrollment in graduate courses at UCR is limited to graduate students and requires the permission of the professor.

Students can get an idea of the courses offered at UCR during fall and spring semesters by looking at the course schedules below. Additionally, the enrollment information gives more details about looking for classes and the UCR-KU course equivalency log shows how courses students have taken in the past at UCR have transferred back to KU.

Fall schedule of classes (.pdf)

Spring Schedule of Classes (.pdf)

Important Enrollment Information (.docx.)

UCR-KU Course Equivalency Log (.xlsx.)

Below is a guide for program dates. When exact dates are available from UCR, they will be available by clicking the blue button "Dates & Deadlines". 

Academic Year

Early Start + Academic Year: mid-June to mid-July

Academic Year: early July to mid-July

Fall Semester

Early Start + Semester: mid-June to mid-December

Semester: early July to mid-December

Spring Semester

Early Start + Semester: mid-January to late July

Semester: early February to late July

Costa Rica follows the Southern Hemisphere academic calendar which means that there is a two-week winter break in July and a summer break from mid-December to the end of February. Students who want to study in Costa Rica for an academic year may want to consider studying a consecutive spring and fall term with the two week break in between. Students may also study in the fall and spring, but need to know that housing isn't provided in January because of UCR's summer break. Students could use this time to return to the United States, travel, or volunteer at a national park. Sometimes it is possible to stay with the host family during the break, but it can't be guaranteed.

All courses taken and grades earned while abroad must be posted as KU equivalents on a student's KU transcript and grades will figure into a student's KU GPA. The relevant KU academic department will make the final decision regarding posting of credit and their application toward graduation.

Students live with host families during their time in Costa Rica. The Grupo de Kansas on-site staff members arrange individual host family placements for each student after reviewing each student's host family preferences. Some of the host families have been receiving Grupo de Kansas students for many years, so they are used to helping U.S. students adjust to the Costa Rican culture and are warm and welcoming. Housing includes three meals a day and host families can accommodate most dietary restrictions. When possible, several Grupo de Kansas students are placed in the same neighborhood. Students take the very reliable, inexpensive city bus system to travel from their residence to the University.

The program places students with host families because of the great strides students have in their language learning ability and it allows them to become more integrated in Costa Rican society and the culture. Students consistently report that host families are one of the highlights of their experience in Costa Rica.

The Grupo de Kansas office is located on campus close to many UCR facilities with two Costa Rican staff members, Zaida Ugalde, On-site Program Coordinator & Isa Alcázar, On-site Assistant Program Coordinator. 

Zaida Ugalde is a native Costa Rican who joined Study Abroad & Global Engagement in 1994. She has traveled extensively throughout Central America, loves gardening, TED lectures, hiking, and coffee, which she is trying to grow herself.      

María Isabel Alcázar (Isa) was born in Chile but her family decided to make Costa Rica their new home. Isa also joined Study Abroad & Global Engagement in 1994. She teaches at the Universidad de Costa Rica and one of her main goals has been to increase volunteer opportunities and community service for students. She is very knowledgeable about activities at UCR as well as off-campus.

Zaida and Isa’s duties include advising students on matters related to academics, enrollment, student visas, volunteer opportunities, housing, and medical and non-medical emergencies. They organize an intensive in-country academic and cultural orientation with classes, lectures, and excursions. They also serve as liaisons between UCR and Study Abroad & Global Engagement and coordinate all the logistics for KU short term study abroad programs in Costa Rica.

Student Life 

Students usually complement their studies by planning weekend excursions or joining University-sponsored activities, such as sports teams, volunteer activities, or cultural events. University Week, held each year in the spring, provides an opportunity for the academic departments to compete in sports, put on shows, and sponsor on-campus dances and festivities.

Volunteer Opportunities

The Grupo de Kansas staff can help find volunteer opportunities for interested students. Past student volunteers have worked in an orphanage or tutored UCR students in English. Students can also opt for a month-long volunteer program (before or after the UCR semester) at one of the Costa Rican National Parks through ASVO. This is a great opportunity for biology, ecology, or tropical studies students. Students are responsible for their own room and board costs during the program.

SAGE is dedicated to creating international engagement opportunities that meet the needs of all our students and providing resources to support you through the process of studying abroad. Study abroad is achievable for students of all identities including our BIPOC and LGBTQIA+ students, students with disabilities, and students with religious/non-religious viewpoints. Before selecting a program, consider how your identities may impact your experience abroad in unique ways and talk with your Program Coordinator about any program-specific concerns. Students with documented disabilities should discuss any accommodation needs with their Program Coordinator early in the planning process.

Additional Resources

Check our Identity Abroad page and resources listed below for information specific to you and other students who may be on your program.

The program is open to students from any accredited U.S. college or university, sophomore through graduate levels. Applicants must have a minimum 3.0 GPA and at least 4 semesters of college-level Spanish (or the equivalent). Students with 4 semesters of Spanish are required to enroll in the Early Start Program; it is optional for students with 5 or more semesters of Spanish. KU Spanish majors and minors must have completed SPAN 340 successfully prior to participating in the program.

Appointments for Students From Other Institutions

If you are a non-KU student interested in the Costa Rica program and would like to learn more about the program, please call Study Abroad & Global Engagement at (785) 864-3742 and set up a phone or virtual appointment with the Program Coordinator. 

Passport and Entry Requirements

All U.S. citizens must have a passport to enter Costa Rica and will take additional documents with them to Costa Rica to process a student visa. It’s recommended that the passport is valid for six months beyond the return date. Students who do not have a passport should view the processing times and apply for one right away. KU Study Abroad & Global Engagement has a Passport Center where local students can apply for a U.S. passport.

Non-U.S. citizens should contact the Program Coordinator to research entry requirements.

Useful Websites

Universidad de Costa Rica

Duncan McHenry's Travel Journal – Spring 2013

Andy Larkin’s Blog – Spring 2013

Jackie Langdon's Blog – Spring 2014

Scholarship Opportunities for KU Students

Early Start Program Scholarship

Funding provided with the generous support of Richard Paegelow, KU alumnus and former participant of the San Jose, Costa Rica program.  KU degree-seeking students who decide to participate in the Early Start Program before their semester at UCR will be awarded a $1,200 scholarship. The scholarship covers most of the expenses (tuition, room and board, on-site assistance, and an excursion) for the program. Interested students should complete the Costa Rica Early Start Program Scholarship Fund application.

University of Costa Rica semester study abroad scholarship

Funding provided with the generous support of Richard Paegelow, KU alumnus and former participant of this program. To be eligible for the scholarship, students must complete an application for the KU Study Abroad Merit and Financial Need Scholarship by the deadline. Scholarships are $3,000.

G. Wayne Burge scholarship

Funding provided with the generous support of G. Wayne Burge, KU alumnus and former participant of the San Jose, Costa Rica program.  Awards up to $1,500 designed to assist students on the semester Costa Rica program or more generally in a Central or South American country. Interested students should complete the Study Abroad & Global Engagement Merit and Financial Need General Scholarship application to be considered for this scholarship.