Awards and recognitions are always beneficial to your college application. Enter into contests (e.g., essay, science, spelling bee, etc.) when you can. Since you report only the ones you win, they won’t know that you don’t make it 99% of the time. Sometimes you’ll win simply because you are one of the few entries that the sponsor receives. (One year, for a national report contest, my history teacher’s three students won the first, second, and third places in California. They were the only three entries in the whole State, and so of course they won!)
Contests that help you with academic achievements (e.g., Academic Decathlon) are particularly attractive even if you do not win national or regional recognition. If nothing else, those activities that require a great amount of work help show your dedication to a cause, and that’s a great quality they love to see.
For those science-
Finding these contests may be the hard part. Your teachers are probably better sources than your counselors. You should also search online. Don’t discount contests sponsored by groups that you do not naturally belong. Ethnic institutions may host contests that do not limit entry to people from their population. For instance, I entered into an essay contest sponsored by the Skirball Cultural Center, which is a Jewish organization. I won the Third Prize that year. Impressive? Well, there were 100 Third Prize winners that year!
Don’t have many opportunities to get recognition? Ask your church’s pastor or other community leaders to create such opportunities for you. People can give awards for anything, such as volunteering at Sunday school or youth programs, or helping out at retirement homes. I’m sure people thank you for what you do all the time. Just ask them to put their appreciation onto a fancy piece of certificate paper.