Getting my Spanish visa
If you are a U.S. citizen, you can go to the Europe without a visa and travel freely within the Schengen area for up to 90 days. (For clarification and comparisons between the Schengen countries and EU countries, check out this article from Lonely Planet.) If, however, you plan to stay longer, you need to apply for a Spanish visa before traveling. The two most common kinds of visas are work visas and student visas. In Spain, my experience is exclusively with the latter. I've now done this twice: once to study abroad for my Fall 2012 semester through UCF and again in 2014-2015 when I did a yearlong M.A. program with the Universidad de Alcala de Henares. The paperwork involved is daunting and sometimes frustrating, but fear not! for it can be done.
The requirements and guidelines for visas are often updated and changed, so always check embassy websites for the most current list. That said, here is a collection of posts from my original travel blog, hosted on Tumblr, in which I document the process of applying for my 2014-2015 student visa.
The best advice I have for any government paperwork is to start well ahead of time because of the myriad of possible delays. Other than that, get everything in writing and just be persistent!