Women consistently report lower levels of nascent political ambition than men, which causes problems for the recruitment of women in politics. The aim of this study is to better understand the mechanisms behind this gender gap by simultaneously studying the extent to which gender differences in preferences for and perceptions about the typical goals attained through a political career (power, independence and communal goals) can explain gender differences in political ambition. Using data collected among Belgian political and social sciences students (N = 322), our results provide a strong confirmation of the gender gap in political ambition. We also find substantial gender differences in preferences for and perceptions about goals pursued through political careers. However, these individual-level differences in preferences and perceptions only marginally reduce the gender gap in political ambition, emphasising the need for active political recruitment.