Before you write any essay in German 101/102/103, start by leafing through the current and most recent chapters of the textbook to look for ideas. As much as possible, try to avoid coming up with ideas in English and then having to figure out how to translate them into German! Writing your ideas out in English and then translating them into German is very hard work, and produces very poor results. For this first essay, just address the bullet points in the essay prompt, and you'll be fine!
Look up words carefully. Your goal should be 95% confidence that the word you find is correct.
Start with the PONS dictionary (see the link in the navigation bar on the left).
Note the information provided about each group of words:
whether it's a noun, an adjective, an adverb, or a transitive or intransitive verb. A transitive verb can take an object (e.g. eat: I eat vegetables); an intransitive verb cannot (e.g. sleep: I sleep). If you're looking for the verb "to kick" [=treten], for example, don't choose a noun [e.g. der Tritt]!
often, there is additional info provided in parentheses about the sense of the word. E.g. for the noun "cup," there are sections on (container), (measure), ("SPORTS"), (chalice), ("BOT(ANY)"), ("FASHION") etc.
Once you've decided on a German word/expression, click on that word/expression to check its list of English translations, to see if it's what you were expecting
If after checking PONS you're still unsure which word to choose, try dict.dcc or LEO (see the links in the navigation bar on the left).
If you're still unsure, try googling the phrase you came up with in quotation marks, to see if it gets used on the internet, and if it seems to mean what you want it to mean.
This is a lot of work, and so before you look up a word, you should consider whether you might not be able to express the same idea more simply in another way using the vocabulary you already know!
I am 17/18 = Ich bin 17/18 ODER Ich bin 17/18 Jahre alt.
Remember "gern" is for verbs and "mögen" is for nouns: Ich schwimme gern; Ich mag SPAM.
German has no real equivalent to the verb "graduate." The verb "graduieren" exists, but is very awkward. Try to say things like "Nach [=after] der High School…" or "Wenn ich mit der Universität fertig [=finished] bin…" or "Ich mache meinen Abschluß…" [="I complete my degree"]. If you use this, cite it with a footnote as follows: "First Essay Hints, No. 5."
Be sure to look up the plural forms of nouns if you don't know them!
UofM is "Die University of Michigan" or "Die Universität Michigan"; "High School" is "High School" ["Hochschule" actually refers to colleges/universities in German].
Avoid beginning sentences with "auch." Put "auch" before the thing shared in common.
German adjectives come before the noun, like in English [for those of you who have had Spanish, Italian, or French].
Freshman = Freshman ODER Student im ersten/zweiten Semester. Or you can say "Es ist mein erstes Jahr an der Uni." Sophomore ==> drittes/viertes Semester; Junior ==> fünftes/sechstes Semester etc. If you use this, cite it with a footnote as follows: "First Essay Hints, No. 9."
At 5 o'clock = Um 5 Uhr, but to say you are at a place, you need to use "in" or occasionally "an," never "um.
"Ich" is not capitalized in German except at the beginning of a sentence. But all nouns are capitalized.
"Die Familie" and "die Polizei" are singular; "die Leute" are plural.