The first question to ask yourself when considering applying to graduate school is: Why?
- Are you passionate about your field of study, and want to continue specializing?
- Are you self-motivated, and looking for the opportunity to do more self-guided work and research?
- Do you have a specific long-term goal in mind that requires a graduate degree?
You might be able to answer the first two questions easily, and on your own ("Of course I love learning, it's great!" "Who wouldn't want have more agency and academic autonomy?"). But it's important to understand as clearly and realistically as possible what kind of academic work and ability is expected from potential graduate students, and what exactly you want to do with your graduate degree. This will require some thought and research - the resources provided by this site are intended to help in this decision-making process.
Love is Not Enough
Graduate school may seem like a natural next step if you love a particular field of study. But it is also important to think about how this initial "love" changes -- sometimes flourishes, sometimes withers -- when exposed to the intensive academic environment of graduate school.
Sometimes, simply "loving" something is not enough to sustain you through graduate study - you will need to provide structure and purpose for this love by creating some long-term goals to guide your graduate experience. The following articles discuss the contemporary culture of "Doing What You Love" in the context of graduate school, and offer some recommendations for appropriate expectations to set (or not to set) as you consider a graduate career:
Kelly J. Baker, "The Flaws of 'Do What You Love.'" (link to Vitae blog post)
Sharon Marcus, "Scenes from the Life of a Graduate Adviser" (link to Vitae blog post)
This second article ends with a particularly important piece of advice: "If you want students to get the best possible career advice, send them to the career center." Liberal arts graduate school is, at it's core, a professional degree; speaking to a career counselor at the Wasserman Center is a great way to understand graduate school in the context of a (or several different) career path(s).
This is also a great conversation to have with individual academic departments. You could speak with your major's Director of Undergraduate Studies, or with a professor that you've built a relationship with through coursework or research. If you have a very specific interest, but are at a loss for whom you could speak with about it, you can also try AS's Faculty page to see which faculty members may be the most knowledgeable about your own area of interest.
If you are unsure of your professional goals, attending graduate school is likely NOT a good decision. You will spend significant amounts of time and money without a strong purpose, while simultaneously delaying opportunities to gain valuable work experience. If you are unsure of your career goals, get to work; work experience will teach you about your interests, the skills you want to develop and use, the kind of work environment you enjoy, and the credentials you will need in order to progress in a particular field. As your career develops, you will develop a more accurate sense of when would be the most beneficial time to pursue graduate study.
Again, attempting to delay leaving school and entering "the real world" as well as avoiding making real-life decisions such as getting a job, an apartment, etc. are also NOT good reasons to to pursue graduate education.
Again, attending graduate school should be in service of a long-term goal - it is NOT a way to avoid real-life experiences outside of school.