Via blogger Jonathan Senchyne, here is an excellent list of questions that all potential humanities grad students should ask themselves before they take the plunge (I added one of my own, on research interests). Professors should also be required to ask these questions to any student who comes asking for a grad school recommendation letter.
What are your motivations? Do you see yourself in graduate school pursuing a profession and a set of skills, or do you see yourself going because you like what you are doing now?
Have you clearly defined your research interests and determined that there are people who can / want to guide your research?
Don’t go to a program that doesn’t give you tuition plus a stipend that will at least pay what you think is a reasonable portion of the bills given your situation.
On top of that be looking for health insurance and a year(s) off from teaching.
Pay attention to who gets what kind of jobs. Aside from the “best” placement they’ve had, where do the majority of graduates end up?
How many people leave the program without a degree, and why? How long are they there when they do finish the degree?
Is there travel and development money for grad students?
What is the ratio of junior and senior faculty in the department? Do the senior faculty have recent publications? Have earlier and more recent publications been cited by others?
What will you do if you don’t get a good offer? What might you do if you hate it or are indifferent after one or two years?