If you are interested in discovering new things, inventing new things, or improving old things, research is the path for you. “Things” is used vaguely here to include technology, theories, and ideas. There are few options here for you to take on.
The first one involves enrolling in your school’s science research program. Some universities offer dual enrollment with local high schools, and often high school’s have their own programs. This would be the best option, as you will have the support of an instructor and school resources to work on your project.
The second one is to do the research on your own through data mining or the use of software. In the modern era, anyone can be a researcher with just a computer and access to the Internet. There are thousands of databases online that have data in them to be researched. This more difficult as you would have to learn the guidelines of writing a scientific paper and keep track of competition deadlines yourself.
The final option is to not work on a long-term research project, but instead participate in an internship program at a local lab that will involve you in their research project for a semester or so. This is a great way to gain exposure to the research world without a long-term commitment.
For the first two options, you need to take several steps that will ensure that your project is beneficial to you and your application. The key step being to make sure whatever research topic you choose, you are passionate about it. If you love music, do research that involves robots playing instruments, if you want to become a doctor contact a lab that handles the specific fields you are interested in. You should find a mentor that will serve as your guide in the research world. They should be an expert in the field that you want to do research in and should be able to help you form a coherent research plan. You should take into account the location of the lab when contacting researchers. Once you have a final project you should look into participating in the Intel Science and Engineering Fair and the Siemens Science Competition. Both are prestigious competitions that will help you show off your great research.
If you end up with a paper that you have written, it would be a good idea to submit it to the corresponding department at the colleges you apply to. Let them know you are an applicant and that you would appreciate if they sent a note to the admissions committee appraising your work. It is better to send specialized material directly to the department that deals with it, rather than the admissions committee, so that the committee gets an expert opinion of your work. This holds true for artwork, music pieces, and athletic achievements as well.