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Beaches, tropical rainforests, highly developed society and an enviable quality of life: studying in Costa Rica may sound almost too good to be true.
In the 2012 QS University Rankings: Latin America, Costa Rica has just three universities in the region’s top 250 – relatively few when compared to countries like Brazil and Mexico.
However, its top ranking institution, Universidad de Costa Rica (UCR), comes in at a very respectable 29th, having climbed significantly from 59th in the previous year’s ranking. UCR is joined in Latin America's top 100 by the Universidad Nacional Costa Rica (also public), and in the top 200 by Universidad Latinoamericana de Ciencia y Tecnología Costa Rica (ULACIT), which is part of the private sector.
There are more than 60 universities to choose from in Costa Rica, of which five are public:
• Universidad de Costa Rica (UCR),• Universidad Nacional Costa Rica,• Universidad Estatal a Distancia (for distance learning),• Instituto Tecnologico de Costa Rica (ITCR),• Universidal Tecnica Nacional.
As well as being Costa Rica’s highest ranking institution, UCR is also the country’s oldest university, and its largest in terms of student enrolments.
Meanwhile Costa Rica's many private universities include Universidad Latinoamericana de Ciencia y Tecnología (ULACIT), Universidad Fidelitas, Universidad Hispoamericana, Universidad Latina de Costa Rica and Universidad Veritas.
Nature enthusiasts and those with a taste for adventure will find plenty to explore in Costa Rica: from active volcanoes to white-water rafting, and butterfly gardens to reef-break surfing.
Of course, natural beauty and outdoor pursuits are to be found in proliferation across much of the Latin American region. So what makes Costa Rica different?
Well, for one thing, it seems that – like the 1.5 million tourists who visit annually – the locals also agree this is a great place to be. According to the New Economist Foundation’s Happy Planet Index for 2012, Costa Ricans are among the happiest, healthiest and environmentally friendly nations in the world.
Costa Rica’s impressively high quality of life has in fact led to it being referred to as ‘the Switzerland of Central America’.
Of course, nowhere’s perfect – and Costa Rica is certainly not just all golden sands and smiley locals. Capital San José has shops, museums, restaurants and bars galore – but its rapid expansion has also sprouted slums and a rising crime rate.
The huge city is home to more than one third of the city’s population, and for many visitors may feel overwhelming. However, Costa Rica’s universities are not all here. Calmer but equally interesting options include Cartago (home to the science and technology-focused Instituto Tecnologico de Costa Rica) and Heredia (where you’ll find the Universidad Nacional Costa Rica).
The World Bank has pledged US$400 million between 2012 and 2015, to help improve higher education in Costa Rica. These funds will support public universities, to improve facilities, and strengthen teaching and research.
Compared to the public universities, private institutions in Costa Rica are smaller and often specialize in a particular subject area. For example, the private, non-profit international university EARTH (Escuela de Agricultura de la Region Tropical Humeda) specializes in agricultural sciences.
Meanwhile graduate students may be interested in the UN-mandated University for Peace, or INCAE Business School – the second of which claims to be the best business school in Latin America.
Admissions requirements will vary depending on the institution. As well as giving details of secondary-level education, applicants may be asked to demonstrate their ability to study in Spanish. Other required documents may include a police record, immunization records and birth certificate.
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