I am sorry in advance this is so long, and I am thankful to anyone who takes the time to read it.

I know there are lots of people that have attended graduate school, along with a few professors lurking about around here. I could use your advice/thoughts about my current situation.

The backstory:

Five years ago I took a position with a government agency. It was a two year term position. Promises were made by higher ups. Higher ups then broke their promises. After one year I was told that I would not be given a permanent position, nor would my term agreement be renewed. I gave is some thought and decided to return to undergraduate school. I re-enrolled and borrowed money. Then at the last minute near the end of my term, some slightly less higher ups interceded for me. To keep me employed they somehow managed to get the agency to fund my position through an NGO and since they knew I had already enrolled in classes, they got the NGO to allow me to set my own hours. So for three years I have worked full time and attended classes full time under this agreement on yearly contracts.

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Now my yearly contract is up for renegotiation. For reasons that are beyond my control, I will no longer be able work on weekends or after 6:00 PM in the evening. There is no way I will be able to work 40 hours a week under these conditions. One alternative is to work part-time – maybe 26 hours a week on a very inefficient schedule. I am the only one currently working to support our family, so I do not think we could survive on this.

Another alternative was offered. With the passage of 5 years, the slightly less higher ups are now the higher ups. They have offered a full time permanent position with the agency at a grade higher than I currently make. This is nice, and very flattering of course. The salary is quite good for someone without a degree like myself. However, I would have little room for advancement from this point on and I would no longer be able to attend classes. The thing is, I am now intent on finishing my undergraduate degree, and I am hungry for graduate school, not to mention the fact that I have borrowed a bunch of money for my studies.

I want my degree. I want more. I am thoroughly enjoying school. So here are the alternatives as I see them:

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1. Turn down the permanent position and accept much less pay, zero benefits, and continue attending classes as I do now. I may however, financially implode.

2. Accept the position and work toward an online degree.

Ok so the first option is pretty straightforward. The second one is the one I am really worried and unsure about. My family really needs some financial security so I am sorely tempted, and am actually under some pressure from family members (parents and partner) to accept the position. I would also not have to deal with my 3 hour commute to school, so that is good. How much damage would this do to my desirability after I get the degree though? Obviously an online degree is not as optimal as one from a brick and mortar school. Could I still get into grad school? Some other positives though- after holding this job for 3 years, I would be able to apply for government jobs that are not open to the general public. Once the degree is complete, I could apply to some very interesting government positions in my field that would provide some public good, so this is a huge positive. I might even consider attempting a phd rather than just a masters. I have sent an email to the professor that serves as my advisor (who is also a friend) but he is in Bolivia for the summer and dealing with some family issues at the same time, so I have no idea if he will have the time to respond to me. Therefore I am asking for thoughts here on GT.

Some rough background:

I am majoring in engineering geology and working toward minors in math, business, environmental science, and maybe political science (due to having to work full time I cannot take classes toward the major on the normal schedule and since 12-18 credits are the same cost, I take quite a few classes just for fun- just to explain all the minors)

I took some classes back in 1992-1993 and dropped out. Including these classes (36 credits) my GPA is 3.54. I returned to school three years ago and have completed 71 credits and have a GPA above a 3.9 on those credits alone. (I mention this because my advisor says that any graduate school is likely to consider only the new stuff) To finish the major, I have 50 odd credits to complete that mostly consist of geology classes, plus physics. Up till now my advisor has been encouraging me to apply to graduate schools I never in a million years would have thought I had a shot of ever setting foot on.

The online degree that looks the best is offered at a state school in the Midwest. It is a BS in Geoscience, with an emphasis on geology. (It is not totally online- I would have to attend a class in fieldwork for 2 weeks for three summers.) This is not really what I want, but perhaps it would work? How much would this damage my chances of getting into grad school? I was previously looking at top 5 earth science schools. Would these be out of reach? Would graduate school be out of reach altogether? I know that an online degree is not held very high, but would those 71 credits at a 3.9 count for anything at all?

This is a huge decision for me, and I probably have to make up my mind and make all this happen in the next month if I decide to take the position. Thank you for reading, and please share your thoughts with me.