This will be an ongoing series that I hope can help other students planning to research abroad – especially other Chateaubriand fellows!
I’ve now successfully secured my visa, but the process was long and often stressful. In Part 1, I explained making the decision of what type of visa to get, and why. In Part 2, I describe the process I went through to prepare the paperwork necessary to submit your Campus France application – the first step towards obtaining a student visa.
Regardless of what type of student visa you decide to get, you’ll be required to make a Campus France account. Campus France tracks all American students going to France on a student visa. Here is a list of the paperwork that I was required to upload into my Campus France application:
- Undergraduate diploma
- Letter of acceptance from French university (i.e. a letter from my French PI certifying my stay in her lab)
- Because I had studied in France during undergrad, proof that I had previously spent time in France. In my case, I used a copy of my undergraduate transcript.
I was not required to upload my graduate transcripts or proof of enrollment into Campus France (they are not required if you are currently enrolled in an academic program). However, for Chateaubriand fellows, in order to get the Campus France fee waived, you will need to send proof of enrollment in either your home (U.S.) or host (French) university to the Embassy. You will also need to send a copy of the letter that explains the formal exchange agreement.
Also : make sure to check the box stating that you are a Chateaubriand fellow. This is how Campus France ensures that your application is tracked and ends up with the correct individual to approve your application. It also helps in situations where the Embassy and Campus France need to coordinate with any questions regarding the processing of your application.
Explaining my situation
The very first page of the Campus France application confused me! After selecting that I am not a study abroad/exchange student, the next menu asks for the “Situation” that you are in. I knew that the “I am in another situation” menu applied to me, was torn between selecting “PhD Program” or “Other”. I ultimately selected “Other” and explained my situation further down on the page.
My program was not listed in the menu because it was based on an agreement between specific professors at each university. Instead, I had to fill out information about the exchange agreement manually. When asked for Type of Diploma, I selected PhD. When asked for Year of Entry and Level of Study, I selected Year 4 and Bac +4, respectively, because I am currently in my 4th year of graduate school in the U.S. Under “Description”, I explained the situation, namely that I am participating in a formal exchange agreement between a laboratory in the U.S. and one in France, and that I will obtain a PhD from my U.S. university after the program.
It took me about an hour and a half to completely fill out my Campus France application from scratch. Some of the time was spent debating how to fill out the sections described above. Much of the rest of the time was spent resizing documents in order to meet the specifications of Campus France. Specifically, most files cannot be larger than 50 kb, but most photos must be at least 300 dpi. This meant saving text files, including my CV and letter of acceptance, as low-quality JPEGs instead of as PDFs in order to decrease the file size, and playing around with image file formats in order to increase the dpi of my headshot and passport photo.
Start things early
I waited almost 5 weeks to get my Campus France confirmation (3 weeks and a couple days from changing my address in their system – see below). However, I made a visa appointment at the Consulate in Washington, D.C. in anticipation that I’d get my Campus France confirmation in time. A word of advice – schedule your appointment early! Even if your Campus France application has not been processed yet, if you make an appointment for about 3 weeks or close to it after you’ve submitted your application, you should have all the documents in hand by the time your appointment rolls around.
If you go to school in a different state than your permanent address lists, you might have the option of going for your visa appointment at two different consulates. I’d initially given my permanent (New Jersey) address and not my school (Pennsylvania) address to Campus France. This would mean scheduling my visa appointment at the consulate in New York City. Much to my surprise and dismay, when I checked the NYC Consulate in mid-November for upcoming visa appointments, the earliest was late January! A far cry from the 4 week waiting period that’s mentioned on most documents, and too late considering I’d planned to leave for France the week of January 23rd, 2017. Luckily, I was able to update my address in Campus France to my school address in PA, which feeds into the DC Consulate that had available appointments as early as the first week of December. In retrospect, if you have an option of consulates like I did, I’d suggest checking each consulate’s visa appointment system before deciding which address to use, so that you can get an appointment that best fits your schedule and plans. And I’d suggest scheduling an appointment at that time, because you can always cancel or change it if you don’t have your paperwork ready in time.
Stay tuned for Part 3, which will be about the preparing for the visa interview.