Purpose: To conduct a transnational study of universities’ mission statements (MS) through content analysis to identify characteristics related to language (e.g. number of words, the most and least frequently used words) and if those characteristics are related to universities’ location, size, focus, research output, age band and status (i.e. private or public). Design/methodology/approach: Content analysis by using Voyant Tools.Findings: The main results showed: (1) a necessity for self-awareness; (2) an overall emphasis on society and students, as stakeholders; (3) there were no discernible similarities in terms between firms and universities; (4) MS tend to be longer in universities from Asia and shorter from Europe; (5) the absence of quantitative elements; (6) small universities prioritized knowledge over research; (7) the youngest universities tend to use more of the least frequently used terms; (8) public universities emphasized students and private universities emphasized education; and (9) the private sector has a noticeable interest in the society and the public sector on community.Research limitations/implications: Sub-samples of certain regions should more inclusive in further studies. Considering that the mean sample of MS studies was 89.6, this study used a sample more than two times larger. Although, the African (4) and Latin-American (5) samples were not significant compared with European (94) or North American (79) subsamples. Thus, further studies should consider a more-inclusive ranking in research databases than the QS world university ranking.Practical implications: University planning offices can use these results and the digital database to construct a global outlook on MS trends or uncommonly used terms to define the purpose of their university and future course of action, embrace an overall isomorphism, or seek a distinctive strategy to differentiate their institution from others. In addition, this research can be used by strategic planning scholars to conduct regionally or nationally focused studies.Social Implications: Universities’ MS serve as public pronouncements of their purpose, ambition, and values. In this study, we presented and analyzed the contents of those purposes, in which mission-oriented universities, some of them as global influencers, seek to perform in multiple levels of importance for every country (i.e. education, research, and services with both private and public sectors and the community).Originality/value: Most of the previous studies are restricted to national contexts and based on reduced samples with no open access digital data. In this study we considered a wide sample of universities from Europe, North America, Asia, Oceania, Latin America and Africa; and delivered a digital open access database of MS from those universities.