As her master's degree in economics is proving of little use in her job at a Sofia call centre, Rumyana Ganeva, 26, is thinking of leaving Bulgaria.
"I could do this without a diploma," she says bitterly and she is now planning another master's, but this time in Britain, which her grandmother will help pay for by selling her apartment.
Ganeva is joining an exodus of the best and brightest that is draining EU-member Bulgaria -- which holds elections on Sunday -- and exacerbating the problem of an ageing population.
According to a study by the Podkrepa trade union, between 20,000 to 25,000 Bulgarians aged between 25 and 39 years old emigrate every year to another EU country with some even younger in their wake.
"Most of our graduates can't wait to get their diplomas to leave for somewhere in Europe," says Ginka Slavcheva, a teacher in one of Sofia's best high schools.
And those who study abroad often stay there, knowing that if they return, a monthly salary of 1,000 leva (511 euros, $670) awaits.
Polls have shown Bulgarians are among the most upbeat in the European Union about membership of the 27-nation bloc, even if it remains the poorest member six years after joining.But as the Trud newspaper joked, "the main reason behind Bulgarians' love for Europe is the chance to escape there."
Other aspects of life besides wages also make it difficult to stay.
Hristo Mihaylov, who returned to Bulgaria after completing a law degree in France and works in a legal office in Sofia, says he is having trouble getting used to the culture again.
Money and arrogance are glorified, and petty corruption is rampant with bribes to doctors or police officers part of daily life, he complains.
It was public anger about rising poverty levels and graft that forced the fall of government in February, and it is unclear how the new government -- if one can be formed -- will tackle the country's problems.
This mass departure of skilled workers has created a severe labour shortage in crucial sectors such as healthcare and engineering, figures show.
But less skilled migrants also leave for Europe, where they work in construction, wait on tables or take care of the elderly -- mostly in Germany, Britain, Greece and Italy.
Since the fall of Communism in 1989, about 1.5 million Bulgarians have emigrated, cutting the country's population to 7.3 million in 2012, according to the national statistical institute (NSI).Coupled with deep gaps between outdated university curriculums and the needs of economy, this has created "a poisonous cocktail", says Bozhidar Danev, chairman of Bulgaria's largest industrial association BIA.
Universities produce too few engineers and professionals, he says, and companies can no longer find enough qualified workers.
As a result, youth unemployment has increased to 38 percent of the population under 30, according to recent BIA data.
Alarming illiteracy rates, especially among the Roma minority -- who are expected to make up 23 percent of the working-age population in 2020, according to the World Bank -- also threaten to produce many unskilled workers.
Meanwhile, the exodus of young people is ageing the nation, endangering a retirement system already burdened by severe underfunding.
In 1990, about 21.6 percent of the population had yet to enter the workforce, while 22.9 percent had left it, according to NSI data.
In 2012, the share of the population still under the working age was just 14.4 percent, while pensioners made up 23.8 percent.
Worryingly, the situation is not expected to improve.
"Both the brain drain and the immigration of ordinary, lesser qualified young people to Europe will continue," says Ognyan Minchev, director of Sofia's Institute for Regional and International Studies (IRIS).
"Decades will pass before the Bulgarian economy and society can offer comparable conditions for work and life for its young people," he warns.