I have, perhaps justly, been accused of being far too snarky with these questions, mainly because I have no idea whether any individual should go to grad school. That's a personal decision, with complex factors involved.
But let me start off with the short answer: Should you go to graduate school? Not unless you absolutely have to.
And now, to unpack that, in handy bullet points that reflect the letter-writer's reasons for considering grad school, and will likely resonate with others contemplating the same decision:**
- You've done the corporate thing, and decided you'd be happier out of that, even if it means working as a barista as you are currently doing (You see how this correspondent is playing to my weakness? Baristas make it possible for me to do my job without killing anyone, and I love them all unconditionally). I respect that: If your current job is making you miserable, then do something that makes you not miserable, and screw anyone who thinks you're "trading down." Only you can know that. But you'd really like to pursue a particular semi-obscure area of academic study, which you think will be better than both of those things. Here's the problem, though: If you left the first job because you were, as you say, "overwhelmed with the politics," then academia is probably going to present similar challenges. The politics are different, but they are very real, they're impossible to avoid in the long run, and they will, from time to time, wear. your. ass. down. You need to know that.
- You're thinking about going back to pursue a passion from your early university days that you shelved for a more "practical" major. Again: Hooray for pursuing passions. But do you need to go to grad school to do it? Does it need to be how you make your living? I've often called myself lucky for having a job that allows me to get paid for doing what I love, but I've recently heard some convincing counter-arguments that when you make what you love your job, you stop loving it so much. It's something to consider. Can you do something that pays the bills, and make this the non-vocational thing that you look forward to when you're not working?
- You'd like to make a career out of this, but are concerned with job prospects. And you're right to be concerned. Job prospects are bad, and getting worse, and even the jobs that are there aren't what they're cracked up to be: stagnating wages, states rescinding pensions, faculty unions under attack, increased teaching load (see my previous post) -- and that's if you're one of the dozen or so people in your field nationally*** who is both lucky and good enough to land a tenure-track job.
If I spent 6-10 prime income-earning years working towards a Ph.D., perhaps going into debt to do so, possibly being treated like a recalcitrant teenager (right or wrong, academia's a hierarchical world) by professors 10 years younger than me, and at the end of that, there was no job and no hope of one, and I'm back to slinging lattes again... would I consider it time and money well-spent? Would I be happier than I am now?See? Notice the lack of snark? I think I've grown.****
**This, of course, all leaves aside the question of whether you can even get into grad school, about which I have even less of a freakin' clue, so don't ask.
***Yes, you read that right: a dozen or so jobs for the whole damn country each year -- and that's being optimistic. And probably about 100 highly qualified people competing for them. We won't even talk about where in the country you'd "like" to work, because I'd fall down laughing.
****Okay, maybe a little snark in the footnotes, but it's at least marginally constructive. Now: where's my cookie?