Every highly selective university in America has a mission, one that’s reflected in their respective mission statements. You know — it’s typically a few lines to a few paragraphs in length on the school’s homepage or about page. At UCLA, the school’s mission statement begins, “UCLA’s primary purpose as a public research university is the creation, dissemination, preservation and application of knowledge for the betterment of our global society.” MIT’s reads, “The mission of MIT is to advance knowledge and educate students in science, technology, and other areas of scholarship that will best serve the nation and the world in the 21st century.” While Harvard’s starts, “The mission of Harvard College is to educate the citizens and citizen-leaders for our society. We do this through our commitment to the transformative power of a liberal arts and sciences education.” Now that you’ve read the beginning of the mission statements for these three universities, don’t you feel like you’ve got a firm grasp of precisely what these institutions are looking for in prospective applicants? …Of course not!
University Mission Statements Are Gobbledygook
We can’t say we’ve ever written out the word gobbledygook. It’s one of those words you say for the fun of it but rarely write out. Who knew that’s how you spell it? But if ever there was an opportune time to write out the word gobbledygook, it’s when we’re writing about university mission statements. In a piece by Rebecca Zwick for “The New York Times” entitled “Why Applying to College Is So Confusing,” she writes, “What counts in admissions depends on the mission of the institution — and that can vary a great deal from school to school. The State University of New York, for example, strives to ‘provide to the people of New York educational services of the highest quality, with the broadest possible access, fully representative of all segments of the population.’ Yale’s mission, on the other hand, is ‘to seek exceptionally promising students of all backgrounds’ and ‘to educate them, through mental discipline and social experience, to develop their intellectual, moral, civic and creative capacities to the fullest.’ One of those institutions is seeking, in part, to represent the population of New York. The other is looking for the most extraordinary students in the country. Both make admission decisions accordingly.” And what do we have to say to Ms. Zwick? Gobbledygook!
Gobbledygook, gobbledygook, gobbledygook. Say that three times fast and a fourth for good measure. University mission statements are marketese often written by great and not so great copyrighters. Plain and simple. There is little one can glean about what a school is looking for in applicants from a mission statement alone. A school seeks students to disseminate knowledge? Or to advance knowledge and other areas of scholarship? Sure, the school likely paid a hefty fee to a marketing agency to craft the prose in their respective mission statements but Ms. Zwick suggests one can gain a real understanding of an institution by reading its mission statement and, well, we beg to differ.
What you’ll likely come away with from reading one university’s mission statement after another is how so many institutions can essentially say the same or similar things in different, fancy ways. And, ultimately, you will give yourself a headache. In fact, a quote from “Billy Madison” comes to mind if you take the time to read university mission statements, one from the principal to Adam Sandler’s character: “Mr. Madison, what you’ve just said is one of the most insanely idiotic things I have ever heard. At no point in your rambling, incoherent response were you even close to anything that could be considered a rational thought. Everyone in this room is now dumber for having listened to it. I award you no points, and may God have mercy on your soul.”
Students Should Not Cite Mission Statements in Why College Essays
When students who were not our clients come to us for the first time after begin deferred or denied admission, we often see mission statements cited in Why College essays. For starters, we tell these students that colleges want to hear from them. They want to understand how they think and what they hope to contribute to the university. What they don’t want is their mission statement regurgitated back to them. If they wanted to read their mission statement, they could visit their own website. And that quote from Albert Einstein…they don’t want to hear from Albert either. They want to hear from the applicant! Duh.
Mission statements don’t say much. They don’t say much about a school. They certainly don’t say anything about what a student will contribute to that school. Not only should they not be cited in Why College essays, but they also shouldn’t play a role in deciding which college is right for a particular applicant, as an editorial in “The New York Times” seems to suggest. Going forward, if when you think of the mission statements of universities, you think gobbledygook, well, you’ll be better off.
What do our readers think about the mission statements of universities? Let us know your thoughts, your musings, your concerns, your secrets, and what you ate for breakfast by posting a Comment below. We look forward to hearing from you.
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