I am currently a co-op at Company A and they have given me a job offer for permanent employment upon graduation in 9 months. I still have about six weeks of employment on this co-op term with them. I have been here for three work rotations, and while I like the company, I would like to pursue other opportunities. They have given me a job offer during my current employment, and I must respond within a week. I am concerned that if I turn them down, that I will lose my employment with them for the rest of my co-op term.
What is the most graceful and professional way to turn down the job offer, while still remaining thankful for the work opportunity and on good terms with my boss for the next six weeks?
I have had a great experience here, but this is a really tough and awkward position to be in. Normally these offers are made after the co-op term has ended, but they made this offer much sooner than expected partly to hold onto me permanently before I have the chance to receive offers from others. They have told me repeatedly how awesome of an employee that I am and that they are very excited to hold onto me permanently, and that I have done a fantastic job here.
I really need the next six weeks of pay to meet my budget for tuition and other expenses, and will be unable to receive the same compensation elsewhere. I also want them to reflect positively on me for reference in the future, especially since they will be my only reference on my resume for industry work experience.
I would also like to preserve the relationships with everyone here as much as possible, as there are chances that we may work together in the future since we are all in the same industry. I just feel that I have gained everything I can from this company at this point and want to pursue other options.
UPDATE AFTER DISCUSSING THE OFFER WITH THEM
They told me that they would reconsider me for the position further down the road if I was still interested in the job posting. My boss was also quite forward with me to say that the offer they had made was their best offer and that it was already considerably higher than what they would offer somebody with less experience (it was 25% below standard market value for entry-level). I assumed it was low to allow room for negotiation, and this was certainly news to me. I feel like I dodged a bullet and this job option has become a final resort.
In the end though, it did succeed and I got what I wanted, namely a fail-safe if I cannot find any other opportunities elsewhere. So thank you everyone for the advice!