First step - you find lodging in Rome and commit to a lease. You say "What you say!?" because you have, cleverly, noticed that at this stage you have Not Been Accepted to your university of choice, that you have no way of knowing whether any of the apartments you've idly been looking up on craigslist are any good, whether the landlady (padrona) is nice, whether your roommates will be nice, etc. Why! You might not even know Italian! I didn't - so I networked with round-eyes (*cough*) I trusted and found something after a few months. I still don't know if my roommates are cool people - I don't even know their names. But, I'm sure they're nice ladies, for my padrona rents to women attending Pontifical Universities (PU's aren't noted for drawing thuggish folks), but they might be quite, quite boring. Their idea of a shockingly fun Friday evening might be playing Candyland and drinking herbal teas...before....a....PILLOWFIGHT!!!
Now - get a copy of your landlord's national ID card and get him to fill out a letter of invitation (available here). ***!!!!This is important!!!!*** You can't get a study visa without these documents. Srsly. I found out the hard way. Not all Italian consulate websites give detailed instructions as to what you need for a visa - it's just sort of assumed you'd know - and the national id bit was one of the documents that was not listed in my consulate's 14 page document concerning visa requirements. "La la la!," I said. "Here are my documents." "Young lady, do you know where your landlady's national id card is!?" "Oops," I said, outloud. Inside I said "@!#$%%^&%$#@!#$," only in a very ladylike and proper manner.
NEXT: I hope you're friends with your pastor. Your pastor needs to recommend you to the local ordinary (bishop)* who will write you a letter of recommendation (if you're good), and sign your declarations of sustenance (this "declaration of sustenance" bit is explained, quite nicely, here). Make this entire process as simple as possible for the bishop and your pastor. Send your pastor information that the bishop can use in your letter of recommendation: your academic standing, level of education, involvement with the diocese, etc. That information will likely constitute the letter that the bishop writes - and if you can add in awesome things that give you instant Catholic Street Cred, then do that! If, for example, you run a discussion group on Humanae Vitae, Theology of the Body, or started a local chapter of the Lepanto League, etc., that's the right sort of stuff to send - in an email/letter - to your pastor.
Once you've placed a request with your pastor, get in touch with your bishop or his secretary. Let him know the pastor's recommendation is coming and that you are sending him (the bishop) your declarations of sustenance and a self-addressed and stamped envelope. So - your bishop gets your declarations of sustenance (and, I'd suggest, supporting documentation to show your finances are as you state them), your pastor's recommendation, and your return envelope. That makes it *very easy* for him to compose a letter of recommendation, sign everything, and send everything back in a timely manner.
Now - get the bishop's signature verified by the Apostolic Nuncio. That sounds like a scary process (at least, it did to me), but it's really simple and quick. I found the address for the Nuncio here. You don't need to send any supporting documents (though you can), but you do need to send a return envelope with postage and an explanatory letter stating your intentions, which signatures need to be verified and where. Remember: MAKE THIS SIMPLE AS SIMPLE AS POSSIBLE FOR OTHERS. Don't force people to do the work - do it for them, and they will sweetly send it back to you, delighted and charmed. I even got a nice little card thing with the "compliments of the Apostolic Nuncio" - kawaiiiii!
Next, send letter of recommendation, declaration of sustenance, a copy of your passport (make sure it's legible, because if a university accepts you they send a letter with your passport number in it that you need to get a study visa), original study transcripts, etc., etc. DO send all documents before August, 'cause, you know, Italians take their vacations quite seriously and they need to send you a letter of acceptance. DO get in touch with the dean of the department you're trying to study in - introduce yourself, let him know the documents are on the way, etc.
Ok. Here's the tough part - the study visa. Dun dun duuuun.
Assuming the University sent you a letter (not a fax - a letter) of acceptance, in order to get a study visa (at the SF Consulate), you need**:
- your driver's license
- a copy of your driver's license
- your passport
- a copy of your passport
- your visa application (available here) -- !!!! with a passport sized photo glued in the upper-right corner of the app
- a copy of your passport
- affidavit of health insurance (I bought mine here)
- copy of affidavit of health insurance (they take the original, so it's best to have a copy for your own records)
- bank statements indicating you have not less than $900/month for your planned length of stay***
- signed letters, on letterhead, from your financial institutions stating the amount you have in your account (this is just bureaucracy - I totally had these signed letters and the consulate-worker simply discarded them!)
- copy of letters (some consulates will also ask for these)
- your declaration of sustenance****
- a letter from your employer (if employed) stating you're making monies (if you are) -- they liked this at the Italian consulate, 'cause it showed I was serious and had an income
- original letter of acceptance from your university
- copy of letter of acceptance
- airplane reservations *to* Italy (it's not necessary to have roundtrip reservations)
- the letter of invitation from your landlord (keep a copy for yourself)
- a copy of your landlord's national id
Hopefully, the consulate workers will like you and accept your application for a visa and everything will be smooth sailing for you! If not, try again, and again, and again.
This is information based off of my own recent experience as of 2009 - my experience was a horrible, horrible one, but I got it done in 8 months. Apparently, the norm for completing this process is more like 12 to 18 months.
*Your bishop may not need this. Mine did, however, request a recommendation from my pastor so if you want to speed things up, this can help.
** Check with your local consulate - the documents required VARY from consulate to consulate.
*** Again, this varies from consulate to consulate.
**** My consulate threw this out, along with the letters from my financial institutions. "What IS this!?!?!" the consulate worker asked. Le sigh. But it's best to bring, just in case, because some consulates do like 'em, maybe.