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Off-Campus Study

ACM Costa Rica: Community Engagement in Public Health, Education, & the Environment

Since 1974, the fall ACM Costa Rica program has prepared students to explore Central America and beyond through an intensive and extremely effective Spanish language program, along with coursework and experiences that further develop language skills, while deepening understanding in particular fields of student interest such as Public Health, Education, and the Environment.  A highlight of the program is a month-long rural community practicum, where students experience rural life in Costa Rica by living with campesino families while participating in a community engagement project and making great strides in Spanish proficiency.  Field trips around Costa Rica and guest speakers give students an appreciation for the country’s astounding biodiversity, and for the cultural and historical elements that contribute to the nation’s distinct path within Central America.  And students improve their Spanish language through an intensive program that includes customized classes in a small group format.

Program Type

Associated Colleges of the Midwest


San Jose, Costa Rica

Languages of Instruction


Program Dates

Fall 2018: mid-August to Late November

 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 or higher before participation. (Transfer students may participate after the first semester on campus) Junior status or higher is 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 (or 3.0 for dual enrollment option)
  • Second-year level college coursework in Spanish, taken in the year prior to the start of the program, is strongly recommended.  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.


San Jose, Costa Rica


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

The program includes four courses. To obtain the full Lake Forest semester credit equivalent of 4 credits, ensure that you enroll for a minimum of 16 semester hours:

  • Introduction to Costa Rica 
  • Spanish and Culture
  • An elective course, from choices including Education, Environmental Studies, or Public Health
  • A Spanish conversation elective course


More information on course offerings can be found here.  

Some students with advanced Spanish skills may choose to split their coursework between the ACM-taught courses and a direct-enroll option at the University of Costa Rica. The course offerings at the University of Costa Rica are vast, ranging from humanities to sciences to business. It is strongly recommended that your direct-enroll course relates to Costa Rica and Latin America, in order to get the most from the program.  For more information about the courses offered at UCR, please visit the ACM page.

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


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.


For those students considering the dual enrollment option, please understand that the academic system is quite different. Grades are based almost entirely on one end-of-term exam. Class sizes are often much larger and are usually lecture-based, instead of discussion or group work. Professors are often more formal than those in the United States. 


Course Approvals

(Coming soon)

Experiential Opportunities

A highlight of the fall program in Costa Rica is a month-long rural community practicum, which occurs midway through the semester.  Students leave San José for one month and are each placed in a rural village to live with a second host family and engage with a local community organization in the village where they live.  Placements are based on students’ academic and personal interests and typically fall into one of the broad areas of either education, the environment, or public health

The majority of the month is self-directed by the students, as they become involved with the local community organization they’ve been matched with, and work on class assignments woven into their activities.  The experience gives students a chance to compare and contrast urban vs. rural living in Costa Rica and also provides the opportunity to make even greater strides in Spanish language acquisition. (Note: Students doing the ACM/UCR Dual Enrollment option are not able to participate in the rural practicum, due to their class schedule at UCR, and will instead do a practicum with an organization in the San José area.)

Housing and Meals

The homestay experience is a central part of the Costa Rica program, as living with a local family provides an excellent opportunity to learn about Costa Rican culture and improve Spanish language skills.  All students live with a host family during their time in San José, and during the month-long rural community practicum, students will leave the San José area and be placed with campesino host families in other locations around Costa Rica.  Living with two different host families in both urban and rural locations gives students insight into family life and culture in two very different areas of the country.

Host families provide a room, laundry service, breakfast and dinner during the week, and all meals on weekends.

Financial Information

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

Here is an estimated budget for your Fall 2018 program:

Budget Item


Lake Forest College Tuition


Program fee (*ACM/UCR dual enrollment must add an additional $800 to this program fee)


Program Deposit (credit)


Total Expected Billed by Lake Forest College


Program Deposit (non-refundable)




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.

There will be an additional $149 liability insurance fee for students choosing one of the Masters & Workshops artisan classes or participating in an internship.

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