STOCKTON (CBS13) — Alison Howell was the only student in her high school who took a gap year. She says that year was critical to her success at University of the Pacific.

“I decided to take a year off and become an exchange student in Belgium,” she said. “I came in way more focused I picked up a double major I didn’t go through the whole first year switching my major around I came in knowing what I wanted to do.”

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UOP doesn’t encourage all freshmen to take a gap year, but may honor a student’s request for a deferment.

“Some students travel in that gap year go abroad they may volunteer with certain organizations to become more mature to get different life experience,” said Dean of Students Rhonda Bryant.

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In the past, a gap year involved European travel, a pricy option for many students.

Howell’s gap year began a love of travel and changed her college track. She’s now pursuing a major in international relations.

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“It was an amazing once-in-a-lifetime experience,” she said.