Sparks began working with teenagers in 1955, after attending the University of California at Los Angeles and Brigham Young University. She has worked as a music therapist at Utah State Mental Hospital and taught continuing education courses at BYU.
Critics have called the precise extent of Sparks' qualifications and experience into question. The editorial credit on some of the diaries published by Sparks identifies her as "Dr Beatrice Sparks, PhD". However, when journalist Aileen Pace Nilsen interviewed Sparks for School Library Journal in 1979, she was unable to find any confirmation of where or when Sparks earned her doctorate. Nilsen also wrote that Sparks was "vague about specifics" when asked about her counseling qualifications and professional experience.
Sparks said that her experience working with troubled adolescents made her want to produce cautionary tales that would keep other teens from falling into the same traps. Her first work, Go Ask Alice, was published under the byline 'Anonymous' in 1971.