This study examines how conditional aid eligibility influences students’ application behaviors using extensive data from the French national application platform, Admission Post Bac (APB). Employing a generalized difference-in differences approach, we analyze the impact of an exogenous change in the income threshold for financial aid eligibility. Our primary focus is on high-achieving students, a group characterized by pronounced income disparities in higher education decisions. Our findings reveal distinct patterns among male and female students. Male students adjusted their program preferences upon aid eligibility, particularly favoring the elite tracks over public universities, while female students showed less pronounced responses. Notably, our study primarily involves students from middle-income households, with those from higher socioeconomic backgrounds driving our core results. Our study underscores the influence of aid eligibility on students’ initial educational choices, offering valuable insights for promoting equal access to higher education. However, it is crucial to acknowledge that our results unambiguously highlight that women, compared to men, seem to face challenges extending beyond mere financial limitations.