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I'm a current Accounting PhD student so I can probably help you out with some insight. Here are some notes:
1) If a ranking exists (more on that later), it probably follows the regular MBA rankings closely. Schools such as Harvard, MIT, Stanford and Chicago are recognized across academia.
2a) The rankings for masters degrees in accountancy are utterly useless for PhD programs, although they might give you some idea about which public universities have good CPA-oriented masters courses. I don't think there's much of a correlation between MAcc rankings and the quality of the PhD program.
2b) The Financial Times doctoral program rankings are stupid and useless. They are mainly based on the number of doctoral graduates so they only indicate very large programs.
2c) There are studies that rank the quality of PhD programs based on articles published by faculty and graduates. This is a good starting point but remember that faculty members move around a lot, so a school that might have been bad a few years ago won't be on the radar even though some great people have gone there recently (ex: MIT).
3) There are 4 significant subfields in Accounting research: empirical capital markets research, theoretical accounting research (usually called information economics), management accounting research (mostly behavior theories), and tax research. The rankings, if any, are likely to vary depending on which subfield you're looking for. For example, Rochester has traditionally been a capital markets research standout, although they've lost some sparkle with celebrity Ross Watts leaving for MIT. On the other hand, Carnegie Mellon, Ohio State, and maybe Yale, Florida and Columbia are big in info economics. I don't know who's big in management accounting and tax, although I think Cornell has some management accounting bigshots and UNC has some people in tax. The coursework is unlikely to differ that much across all these universities although some places such as Florida make you read a lot more papers. So the difference is the professors that you'll see there.
4) IMO, the best thing you should do is make a list of 30-40 universities with PhD programs, and skim through faculty members and their research interests. If you're interested in tax, you'll find out that most schools have nobody who are, so they'll be easy to eliminate. Among those who are left, look for how many of those faculty working in tax have done anything interesting recently. Especially look at tenured (ie. non-assistant) faculty members as the assistants seem to move around a lot, especially those who are good. I'd also look for schools with more than one guy in tax, for safety.
Since you're currently in an Accounting PhD program, could you give me an estimate as to how many hours a week you work at it? I'm debating going into academia for a variety of reasons. I'm currently in audit at a Big Four and the work/life balance isn't great. But I've been told PhD is a lot of work too. How much is "a lot?" 50 hours?
Throughout coursework, I wouldn't expect much less than what you do now at a Big Four. Of course you work a lot of hours, but it's not very hard compared to PhD coursework. To some extent, your workload will depend on (1) how much of the stuff you learn you already know, (2) how motivated you are and what your approach to learning is (ie. do you want to know everything, or "just enough"?), (3) how good you want your research papers to be, and sometimes (4) how lucky you are in finding the right answers early to a difficult problem set. Overall, the number of hours spent on studying is not such a relevant variable, I would say.
After coursework, I can't tell you. Some "more senior" students here definitely seem to procrastinate a lot and have a lot more free time but this may be just an impression. I know for a fact that if you want to write good papers you have to read a bunch of other papers and work hard at what you do.
I'd been in a public accounting firm for 4 years and then taught at the undergraduate and MBA levels for 18 months before beginning the PhD, and I can tell you that doing this is the hardest thing I've done in my life, and I'm not always sure that it's worth it (although I am usually confident I've made the right choice). If you're looking into academia to stop living the "crazy Big 4 life", maybe in the long run teaching in a community college or second-tier university will bring some relief, but in the short run you're not going to have any more free time. Moreover, if your goal is to teach at a top school sometime, your life probably won't be much easier (and just as busy) as it is now.
I think it can be done. In my previous post, (2), (3) and (4) are largely up to the student, and I would suspect that they do not really count _that much_ (a very relative phrase actually) toward whether or not the student eventually _graduates_. However, at the PhD level, one's post-graduation prospects largely depend on the quality of the job market paper (and possibly other papers/the whole dissertation), not just the school. I'm at a fairly decent school now but I do not intend to land a Chicago or Wharton faculty position; hence I think school's a lot of work but balance is possible. If I had different objectives, I might answer differently.